Preparing for the future of work and leadership

Panellists at the first Wired for Wonder event in Sydney look at how authenticity, transparency and innovation seeking are keys to successful leadership in an increasingly complex business world

Successful business leaders of the future don’t have all the answers and embrace authenticity, innovation, and an emotional connection with their staff, a panel of business and innovation advisors claims.

‘The Future of Work and Leadership’ was the subject of vigorous debate during the first Wired for Wonder event in Sydney on 31 July and 1 August. While the approach to both subjects differed across the four panellists, all speakers agreed leaders are no longer the custodians of all wisdom and should be open to ideas and insights from across their organisation if they’re to operate effectively in the complex business world we now live in.

According to first speaker Silvia de Ridder, principal of executive coaching consulting group, Unconscious Potential, leadership is a way of being and needs to combine the head, heart and gut. Being authentic in your connections with individuals across the organisation is vital, as is being prepared to demonstrate vulnerability, she told delegates. Through awareness, sensory acuity and a holistic approach, leaders will inspire and earn respect.

“Leadership has nothing to do with position; it can be exercised from any point in the organisation. It is a behaviour and state of being,” de Ridder claimed.

“Admitting you don’t have all the answers creates a connection like no other and is the fastest path to creating trust within your organisation; it stimulates input, ideas and solutions.”

Leaders also need to use their ‘multiple brains’ if they’re to tap into the needs of their organisation and employees, de Ridder said, and not base decisions on logic alone. “The heart is about emotion and what’s important to us, values and connecting with others,” she explained. “The gut is about our core identity, self-preservation and taking action. The head is about cognition, thinking and making meaning.

“The complex nature of business today requires leaders to make a far more generative response than simply devising business models and new business strategies.”

Second speaker Lynn Gribble, who owns corporate training consultancy group, Talking Trends, said the future of work must take into consideration organisational needs that are not being articulated. Leaders in this new paradigm need to keep asking questions and challenge what they don’t know.

“Leaders are lithe figures… think about a ballerina and how she gracefully and effortlessly moves and changes,” she said. “True leadership comes from our ability to be able to balance very quickly and move seamlessly.

“Instead of seeking to be the leader, seek to do what you do well, focus on how you can add value and guess what: People will start to follow what you are doing.”

Co-founder and creative director of business nurturing group, Small Giants, and Dumbo Feathers magazine, Berry Liberman, pointed out the historical concept of work and leadership has been based on hierarchy, control, and climbing the corporate ladder without consideration for the emotions and needs of individual. The dynamic, however, is changing. Small Giants as an organisation is based on making work meaningful for individuals, and is based on a collegiate environment and intimate workspace, she said.

“The personal life vision of our staff is tied to the workplace – we spend more than half our lives at work and it’s an important part of our wellbeing,” she told the audience. “That alignment between who you are and what you do is the future of work.”

Future leadership also requires compassion and knowing why you are all in the room together, Liberman said. “You’ve got to know the bigger, better mission, step forward and create an awareness of where your organisation is going.”

The final speaker, Allan Ryan, founded the Hargraves Institute in 2006 to share knowledge and experience for the purpose of growth and development. He claimed having an innovative culture develops better innovative culture, and when organisations get that right, they get an exponential performance boost.

Like his fellow panellists, he said leaders must be willing to try and share new ideas while promoting a collaborative, creative working environment.

While there is no black book for leadership, Ryan said research undertaken by the Institute has identified every organisation will have a ‘catalyst’, or staff member that can help accelerate the company’s performance “while not being consumed by it”. These individuals provide the support and engagement mechanisms needed to drive innovation and change.

To identify them, Ryan suggested leaders ask the question: Who is it employees turn to for advice in the organisation besides their boss or direct team member? “These are the people at the heart of the social network of your organisation and are the ones people across the organisation listen to,” he said. “As leaders, you can build a network of catalysts in your organisation.”

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