Jacob Morgan
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Jacob Morgan

The Evolution Of Leaders: What Worked In The Past Won’t Work In The Future

The current COVID-19 epidemic we are all experiencing is forcing organizations around the world to challenge their conventional ideas around work. In this article I specifically want to take a look at how the “leader” is evolving.

Last week I looked at The Evolution of the Employee so it’s only natural to look at how leaders have to evolve as well. In 2014 I wrote a best-selling book called, The Future of Work and I developed a concept in there called “The Evolution of the Leader” which shows how this leadership is changing. This change has been gradual but COVID-19 has dramatically sped this up.

This is how leaders are evolving and what organizations around the world need to embrace, prepare for, and encourage.

There’s a constant debate around whether we need more managers or more leaders or if someone should be called a manager or a leader. Nobody wants to be managed and many don’t even want to be called a manager. In fact if you look up the word manager in the dictionary you will find that synonyms include: slav-driver, boss, and my personal favorite…zookeeper. Anyone who is responsible for others must not only be good at things like delegating, team-building, and executing on strategy but they must also be good “people” leaders who can engage, empower, and inspire others. With the current pandemic we are all experiencing, it’s never been more important for leaders around the world to put the needs of their people first and the priorities of the business second. You can’t just be put into a position to lead others because you are good at office politics or because you closed a big deal…leadership is earned from those you serve, it cannot be commanded by how much you earn. There are 9 skills and mindsets which make up a truly great leader.

I talked about this in a previous article, they are:

1) Globalization: the barriers to doing business anywhere in the world are decreasing

2) Changing demographics: with multiple generations in the workforce and people working longer, we need to rethink what “employee” means and looks like.

3) New behaviors: originally I attributed these new behaviors to technologies such as social media, but it’s clear that COVID-19 is another factor here that is forcing us to think differently about work (and life).

4) Technology: things like artificial intelligence, blockchain, the internet of things, and the like, are forcing us to think differently about work.

5) Mobility: working anytime, anywhere, and on any device

Leaders must understand what these five trends are and how they are going to impact their respective organizations, their careers, and the lives of people they serve.

We can no longer have leaders in the workplace that resemble robots. It’s bad enough that there is quite a bit of concern around actual robots taking jobs away from humans, the last thing we need are humans that act like robots. It makes me think of the saying, “I’m not a doctor but I play one on t.v.” — applied to leaders this would be “I’m not a robot but I play one in the workplace.” Brene Brown said it best when she quipped that there is no innovation without vulnerability. This is because people want to build relationships with other…people. This requires trust and a human connection. When leaders put up a wall of being stoic, all-knowing, emotionless beings, they kill off any hope of innovation, trust, and connection. Leaders embracing vulnerability in the workplace isn’t important because it’s a nice thing to do but because it’s crucial for effective communication, collaboration, and innovation.

One of the things that I’m particularly fascinated by during this pandemic is how many of the stories about robots and automation taking away jobs from humans have been replaced by stories of leaders who practice compassion, vulnerability, and service to their people. In other words, we are reminded that business is still fundamentally a human thing and we should never forget that.

Leaders must challenge convention

Why is it that we constantly hear about leaders who are “putting out fires?” Leaders must be the fire-starters! That is, they must be constantly thinking of ways that they can challenge the assumptions that we have around how work gets done, ESPECIALLY now. In fact leaders today don’t even have much of a choice, they are being forced to do this.

Should leaders make all the decisions? Do we need annual employee reviews? Can flexible work become a standard practice for everyone? Why is leadership training only offered to longer tenured employees and not all employees? Are profits still the primary goal of our company? These are the types of questions and ideas that leaders should be thinking about.

Today, we have too many managers, their stereotypical role focuses on constraint, control, order, diligence, and sticking with the common assumptions that have long guided how we work. Instead, leaders must become “fire-starters.”

The world of work is changing quickly and there is no place for those who are not willing to adapt. We all need and deserve to work for a new type of leader. Are you that future leader?

Do you have the skills and mindsets that over 140 of the world’s top CEOs say are crucial to be an effective leader? Take the assessment and find out!


If you enjoyed the article and want more content like this here’s what you can do:

1. Subscribe to The Future of Work Podcast where I interview business leaders around the world each week.

2. Grab a copy of The Future Leader which has been endorsed by the CEOs of MasterCard, Best Buy, Oracle, Audi, Unilever, Domino’s Pizza, Ritz Carlton, Kaiser, and Marshall Goldsmith. It explores the most essential skills and mindsets for future leaders.

3. If you are or want to be an entrepreneur then my wife and I just launched a brand new podcast on how to Be Your Own Boss, called the BYOB Podcast where we share what we did and how we did. You can subscribe to that here.



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Jacob Morgan

4x Best-Selling Author, Speaker, & Futurist. Founder of FutureOfWorkUniversity.com. Exploring Leadership, Employee Experience, & The Future of Work