During 2020 and early 2021, we at Optimum had the exciting opportunity to research the skills required for the Operator in the 21st Century. After completing the research, and surviving three waves of the Covid-19 pandemic, it occurred to us that we should use our findings to focus attention on the role of the leader. Specifically, how should we be developing leaders to cope with the Fifth Industrial Revolution?

From our research and interviews, what are the implications for leaders in the exponential age?

Four elements currently stand out, namely;

Let’s expand on each.

1. Collaboration

In every aspect of business, the value chain, our stakeholders (suppliers and customers specifically), and at all levels of the organisation, we need engagement and collaboration. To provide immediate real-time responses everyone needs to be working together, sharing information. Leaders need to foster a culture of engagement and trust, people with passion driving for a common purpose, everyone working in the same direction. Those leaders that can build an organisation that collaborates internally and externally to achieve a common purpose will be successful. Coaching, counselling, mentoring, sharing, recognising and developing people will create this culture of collaboration and engagement and will ensure speed of delivery.

2. Agility

Leaders themselves and their followers must be agile on multiple levels, quick to think, quick to learn and quick to decide and act. Solving problems, making decisions, implementing and living with ambiguity, this is the nature of business now and in the future.

3. Resilience

The world is complex and dynamic, those who take risks and fail but try again and again will be successful. Being able to live and flourish in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world will be the only standard. Only those motivated by a common purpose will have the strength to adapt and move forward.

4. Thinking

Our leaders must develop the “ying and yang” of thinking; in other words, they must be able to think rationally and logically utilising quantitative problem-solving and decision-making techniques and analysis. At the same time, they need all the creative skills that are required to ensure innovation and blue ocean thinking. Simultaneously be able to drill down and see the big picture, the root cause and the system implications and consequences to continuously improve and innovate. A useful approach is to focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics (STEAM).

In order to focus on these four elements leaders need to have the skills to collaborate, communicate, and to think critically and creatively. Just as important is a significant competence in technology and, finally, a level of emotional intelligence to ensure agility and resilience, as well as purpose.

In conclusion, leaders need to be agile, be resilient, work with others and be thinking all the time. Leaders need to create an environment where people are comfortable with risk, change and ambiguity, and to ensure this people need to feel that there is trust, honesty and transparency. Successful leaders will be balanced, as strong in the soft skills of influencing, communicating, coaching, mentoring and design thinking as the hard skills of decision analysis, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Finally, outstanding leaders will listen and learn. They will be strong but not egotistical, they will be humble and follow a policy of servant leadership.