World Economic Forum founder and executive chairman Klaus Schwab coined the term “Fourth Industrial Revolution” to describe “a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another.” Since the 2015 “Foreign Affairs” article in which he named and described this revolution, a variety of institutions and leaders have discussed its implications. What does it mean for the people who lead organizations – and for the people who train them to do so?

How Leadership Is Changing

“Many leaders understand what it will take to succeed in Industry 4.0, but organizational roadblocks are limiting the development of effective strategies, and many leaders are continuing to shy away from bold technology investments that will drive innovation and disruption,” says Michele Parmelee, global chief talent officer at Deloitte. Recent research from Deloitte found that there are four types of leaders who succeed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0:

  • The Social Supers, who “are prioritizing societal impact initiatives and have been able to generate new revenue streams from socially beneficial products or services”
  • The Data-driven Decisives, who use “a meticulous, data-driven approach to strategy development and are confident in their ability to capitalize in Industry 4.0”
  • The Disruption Drivers, who demonstrate “a willingness to invest in disruptive technologies that upend their markets and [who] have already made investments that have achieved or exceeded intended business outcomes”
  • The Talent Champions, who “are ahead of the curve at preparing their workforces for the future and [who are] making aggressive moves to continue this development”

There are “universal fundamentals that all managers need,” says Tom Griffiths, co-founder and CEO of Hone, and they haven’t changed over time. “It’s more the medium through which people have to operate” that’s changed. For example, only recently has coaching “been embraced” as an important part of leadership. “The principles are universal, but how they get applied has changed, because of the technology distribution and the way that people work.”

Similarly, “The huge macro trend that we’re trying to solve for is the distributed workforce,” he adds. Between the technologies that enable remote work and “the real talent crunch that we see in traditional hubs like New York and San Francisco,” it’s important that leaders be able to manage employees who don’t work in the same office or even the same city, state or country.

How Leadership Training Is Changing

In response to that trend, Hone focuses on training “for the next generation of leaders in the modern workplace,” which means training managers of a distributed workforce, who may be remote themselves. Hone uses a blended approach with virtual instructor-led training (VILT), online reinforcement and discussions, and coaching. The startup announced $3.6 million in seed funding last month to accelerate its expansion and program development.

This blend of the digital and the interpersonal is prevalent across leadership training companies. LEAD is a mentoring platform launched last month to streamline mentoring and enable data collection and analysis. It uses machine learning to match mentors with mentees and identify goals for them to work toward. Then, companies can use the platform to measure success.

“Companies spend a lot of money on employee experience enhancement,” says Yumi A. Kimura, founder of LEAD, “and a lot of them don’t get insights into the efficacy of their programs.” She believes that 2019 will see an even greater focus on demonstrating ROI “without data gaps or blind spots.”

Parmelee says that the number of executives who are preparing their workforces for Industry 4.0 dropped by almost half from 2017 to 2018. “While daunting, this presents an opportunity for leaders across the globe to reconsider their approach to succeeding in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, with a focus on preparing their workforces for what’s ahead,” she says.

Balancing Hard and Soft Skills

Much has been written about the growing importance of soft skills in an automated, Fourth Industrial Revolution workplace. “In a business climate dominated by human/machine collaboration,” as Alexandra Levit, author of “Humanity Works,” pointed out last fall, those skills that are uniquely human are an employee’s – and an organization’s – competitive advantage.

Still, modern leadership requires a balance. “The ability to leverage technology and interpret data can’t be understated, but it is equally important to hone skills such as critical thinking and interpersonal and social skills,” says Parmelee. “Those leaders who seek out and develop employees’ IQ, as well as their emotional intelligence, will better prepare them for what’s to come.” Leaders need to understand artificial intelligence but, more importantly, its implications for the people they lead and the businesses they manage. They need to understand data but, more importantly, how to use it to improve engagement and performance.

Leadership development “is shifting from a top-down HR solution to a bottom-up people solution,” says Kimura. As current and future leaders seek ways to develop their skills, it’s up to L&D to ensure that the skills they’re learning are the ones the organization will require to succeed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

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