The Future of Work and the Future of Leaders

When we think of the Future of Work we most often think of how millennials are going to be calling the shots in how work should be organised and in relation to such things as "flexible work". However the Future of Work will be impacted much more profoundly by the combination of collaboration platforms and the identification of leadership than just "flexible work".

The Future of Leadership and the Future of Leaders

As Jacob Morgan points out in his (excellent) recently released "Future of Work" the effect of millennials on the Future of Work is important but is just one of five trends shaping that future:

  1. New behaviours
  2. Technology
  3. Millennials
  4. Mobility
  5. Globalization

In other words the future of work isn't just about millennials and it isn't just about having a flexible work environment. A key difference will be how leadership is identified and how leaders are grown

For one thing the "traditional" HR process of identifying "high potential" employees and formally cultivating them is going to become as antiquated and irrelevant as the T-Model Ford. Equally the days of corporate or Board-anointed leaders is rapidly coming to end, although perhaps they don't know it yet. In the Future of Work it is game over for leadership by dint of rank.

Leadership by Crowd-sourcing and Leaders by Performance

We all know that social media gives everyone a voice - the Arab Spring and all that. It's that voice which companies have to listen to in relation to their brands, products, customers and competitors in order to be effectively enable their business plans. Similarly when internal social networks are deployed - collaboration platforms - everyone again has a voice and an equal voice. The contributions that employees make in such a collaboration platform are visible to all, or to a subset but in any case to a working group of fellow employees and also potentially to customers who have been invited into these groups.

Because these platforms include the ability to up-vote down-vote or otherwise rank both contributions and people, and the system can aggregate and rank people by those who are most highly regarded based on the engagement and endorsement of their peers, then leadership emerges by actions

"Leadership" by rank or role or appointment simply does not exist. Leadership only exists via the engagement and subsequent endorsement of those people whom the leader is supposed to be leading. The idea of HR working in a dark room to come up with the "High Potential" list is simply ludicrous, as the collaboration platform and the community is doing that on an analytical and community-driven basis, and a continuous basis. With respect to the latter, leaders are now only leaders as long as they continue to drive positive engagement by their contributions. In other words the future of leaders is dependent on continuing recognition of their leadership.

Holding on as a Leader means Performing not Norming

At all levels of the firm, in all specialities, in all roles, the Future of Work means that leadership will need to be earned, and once earned leaders will need to continue to perform to maintain their community-endorsed recognition. This is going to have a massive impact on the complacency in the corner office and the executive floor.

That is a such a profound change from what we have today that it seems that it could only be how just a few companies will operate in a very distant future. However I don't believe that is the case. This is a Future of Work which could be how many companies start to work within the next 5 years. The driver not so much a burning desire to do so but part of a necessity to attract and retain competent employees. The single biggest impediment won't be a resistant culture per se, but in my view it will be resistant reward and remuneration systems holding back this change.

Unintended Consequence - the Rise of Women Leaders

According to reputable research women rate higher in leadership effectiveness than men in many aspects and at many levels. This is attributed to women having greater average competence and effectiveness than men in such things as building relationships, collaboration, innovation, teamwork and championing change. Women have also been found to excel in participatory decision-making.

Guess what? Collaboration platforms amplify all these strengths of women, and allow these strengths to be leveraged at scale. Therefore it would seem inevitable, perhaps an unintended consequence, that the introduction of collaborative platforms will enable the identification of more women than men having leadership skills and then rising to be leaders. Something well overdue.


It is an exciting future for those at all levels who can contribute, engage and inspire others, and a rather tough outlook for the entrenched "entitlement" "leaders" of today. That's the beauty of social technologies and the waves of change they bring.

by Walter Adamson 

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