Recently, I’ve been thinking about Leadership in the 21st Century Leadership. More specifically, in what ways will leadership change over the next couple of decades due to artificial intelligence?
Indications suggest that AI will have a profound effect on leaders and leadership. McKinsey forecasts that 40% of our current management/leadership tasks will disappear due to AI while the majority of Fortune 500 CEO’s listed AI as very important to their companies dwarfing “hot” technologies such as robotics and blockchain.
Let’s look at what’s caused this trend.
The big shift has been from the traditional “Command and Control” approach to leadership to an “Empower and Engage” one. While boosting productivity through telling people what to do and then monitoring what they do – Command and Control – works ok in a manufacturing or tangible services environment; that approach has real limitations when employees work more autonomously or virtually and have discretion over how they chose to do their work and where they manage the customer relationship from.
The 3 E’s – Empower + Engage = Effectiveness
The concept of Empowerment is accepted to have emerged in the late 1980’s (although it can be traced back to Douglas McGregor’s Theory X/Theory Y model). And, interest in the concept of Employee Engagement was triggered by an article by William Kahn in 1990 and popularised by global HR firms like Gallup and Hewitt. While they’re both 20th Century ideas, many leaders are still coming to terms with how to apply them properly in the 21st Century.
AI is going to accelerate the need to make that transition.
A much bandied about term, empowerment can be defined in both “relational” and “motivational” terms.
Relational empowerment refers to the formal delegation of authority while motivational empowerment is grounded in self-efficacy beliefs – boosting employee confidence in their competence to undertake challenging tasks, their sense of personal agency and control to perform them and their belief that effort will results in attainable outcomes.
So what is the importance of this distinction in 21st Century terms? Leaders need to focus on the motivational aspects of empowerment and not just the relational ones.
In its’ simplest form engagement is about stimulating the “discretionary effort” of employees. What does that mean in practice?
While doing my PhD a few years ago, I found a really good working definition for “Work Engagement” from some Dutch researchers. They defined engagement in terms of: Vigour, Dedication and Absorption. It’s basically a 21st Century leadership approach using a Positive Psychology framework. What’s particularly interesting is that it’s based on the concept of Job Burnout which is a 20th Century management framework defined as: Emotional Exhaustion (Vigour), Cynicism/Depersonalisation (Dedication) and Lack of Accomplishment/Inefficacy (Absorption).
In effect, (and the important takeaway is that) the focus on Engagement from Job Burnout parallels the shift from a 20th to 21st Century leadership approach.
So what can we learn from all of these definitions?
Engagement that works
From a practical leadership perspective, improving employee engagement by focusing on vigour, dedication and absorption is a proven approach that lifts performance. In particular, team leaders need to focus on boosting their employees’ self-efficacy to increase their level of absorption and performance. My research in this area found that employees who’d participated in a training intervention designed to boost self-efficacy beliefs experienced higher levels of absorption compared to those employees who didn’t do the training. The result? Higher levels of quantitatively measured performance …. including sales! In fact, the intervention paid for itself in 4 months.
So what’s the bottom line?
It’s simple: By empowering and engaging their employees, 21st Century Leaders will be more effective in their roles and boost organisational performance.