Success personified in the Fourth Industrial Revolution | Four leadership personas for an era of change and uncertainty

The fourth industrial revolution (or Industry 4.0 or 4IR) is here. With the advent of complex artificial intelligence systems, ‘The Internet of Things’, quantum computing and nanotechnology (to name just a few) Industry 4.0 marks the beginning of a more integrated world – one that will see our digital lives rapidly and increasingly intertwined with our physical ones.
Industry 4.0

For leaders, gaining a comprehensive understanding of new 4.0 technologies and drawing out the implications of 4IR are key to strategising and preparing a future workforce. While 4IR is currently much less ‘Black Mirror’ as it is wireless refrigerators, questions must be asked: How are leaders moving forward in 4IR? Where are they making progress? And; importantly, what is setting apart the most effective leaders?

Aim

In their second annual industry readiness survey, Deloitte sought to answer the aforementioned questions to understand how leaders are currently performing in 4IR and to determine which leaders (or what leadership styles) were performing best.

Method

Deloitte surveyed 2,000+ executives and public leaders from across 19 countries to assess their industry readiness for 4IR. Entitled ‘Success personified in the Fourth Industrial Revolution| Four leadership personas for an era of change and uncertainty’ the report addressed four Industry 4.0 impact areas: positive societal impact, business strategy, utilisation of 4.0 technologies, and talent and workforce needs.

Findings:

1) Sorting the standouts from the majority

Across the board, leaders appeared more aware and realistic about the challenges brought by Industry 4.0; however, far fewer were fully confident in preparing for 4IR challenges. Across the four impact areas defined in the survey (societal impact, business strategy, 4.0 technology and talent), the majority of leaders expressed:

Societal Impact

  • A genuine commitment to improving societies through developing their products and services with 66% ranking positive societal impact within the top three factors used to evaluate success. However, 52% also expressed difficulty with aligning these positive societal impacts with their bottom-line.

Strategy

  • Lack of leadership vision as a major challenge to strategising in 4IR with 33% ranking this in the top three challenges facing their organisations.
  • Lack of understanding of 4.0 technologies (35% of leaders) and too many to choose from (35% of leaders)
  • Difficulty in amending their strategies in response to 4IR due to the rapid rate at which the technology is changing (21% of leaders).

Technology

  • Apprehension to invest in 4.0 technology to disrupt markets, opting to use it to protect their market positions instead (67% of leaders).

Talent

  • A greater sentiment to train rather than hire employees (43% of leaders)
  • An unease about their talent readiness, stemming from a mismatch between current skills sets and those needed for success in 4IR (55% of leaders).

2) Stand-out leaders

Notably, some leaders appeared to be blazing the trail for success in industry 4.0, seeing their organisations grow 5% more than their counterparts. According to the authors, these leaders were thought to fall into four somewhat distinct “leadership personas”:

  1. The Social Supers (aka the ‘do good-ers’) – Leaders who had aligned their societal impact with their bottom line (think Fed Ex’s biofuel initiative)
  2. The Data Driven Decisives – Leaders who followed a disciplined approach toward decision making that relied on data/evidence
  3. The Disruption Drivers – The maverick-like leaders who were unafraid of investing in new technologies to “upend their markets” (think Steve Jobs and the iPhone)
  4. The Talent Champions – Leaders who had a clear understanding of where the skill gaps in the industry lie, and what it takes to close those skill gaps

Most importantly, over and above excelling at those individual areas, these standout leaders generally appeared to share four characteristics:

  1. They were highly focused on using Industry 4.0 technologies in an ethical manner, which led many to develop new products with a more positive societal impact
  2. The decision-making processes within their organisations were structured, clear, and data-driven (likely reducing the ambiguity in selecting the right 4IR technologies to invest in)
  3. They maintained a long-term focus, choosing long-term investments in 4IR technologies to disrupt markets, not only to protect their short-term positions
  4. They actively embraced opportunities to train existing employees, and were considerate of the skills needed for the future.
Implications

So what to take away from these results? Well, to drive success in 4IR, it appears that leaders must be:

  • Highly attuned to the societal impact of their organisations,
  • Maintain a clear understanding of how and why (i.e. evidence-based) they make decisions
  • Balance their focus between long and short-term objectives
  • Focus closely on identifying the necessary skills and training required for future workforces.

Of course, an obvious counter-argument to adopting these findings would be that 4IR is still in its early stages, meaning that even a slight change in the winds could change what is required of future leaders. However, with few blueprints for success in 4IR, it appears that development across these four areas may be one key to driving initial success in 4IR.


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