For the past 20 years, business organisations have been undergoing an evolution and slowly moving away from pyramidal hierarchies.
Tech giants, for example, that need to adapt to technology and fierce competition are 'delayering' – that is, reducing the number of levels in a hierarchy. They have been introducing Artificial Intelligence (AI) and converting huge corporate centres to a network of decentralised units in which tools such as videoconferences replace in-person work meetings.
The Covid-19 crisis has considerably accelerated these trends. This year, organisations have been forced to adapt to exceptional circumstances. But what does this mean for business leadership in the future? And what does it mean for the education of future leaders?
Business organisations are becoming fluid. And fluid organisations cannot solely be led from the top anymore. It will become impossible to control organisations that constantly need to adapt. Corporate leadership will rather be about engaging people for a shared business purpose, cutting across different areas of expertise, cultural backgrounds and organisational structures. Leaders will have to connect with a great diversity of people, inspire them, build trust and empower talents instead of commanding or relying on power to get things done.
These changes have already affected employers’ expectations and management relations.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a Paris-based intergovernmental body, also highlights the shortage of skills such as adaptability and co-operation. We have seen surveys that point to a growing sense of discomfort vis-à-vis traditional managers and executives who seem to be out of touch with these new trends in leadership.
Looking ahead, the new way of leading will require a new set of skills and a new mindset. Future leaders will need to leverage the full spectrum of human Intelligence. Of course, what we all refer to as intelligence – which actually should be labelled rational or cognitive intelligence – will remain important.
It will still be crucial to analyse complex problems and perform rigorous critical thinking. But this will not be enough. As Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, the leading market place in China, puts it: “Do not try to compete with artificial intelligence. You will lose.”
That is why leaders will need to develop other forms of specifically human intelligence such as: social intelligence – to engage people across different areas of expertise, cultures and organisations; emotional intelligence – to manage one’s own sense of balance, to be mindful of others and to tap into the potential of emotions for creativity and communication; practical intelligence – to adapt to constant change and uncertainty, organise decision making and cut through complexity; technological intelligence – to understand and harness the potential of the latest technologies.
The more global and the more digital the world becomes, the more well-rounded leaders will have to become to keep up with the demands of the new world. The question is: how do we train new generations of entrepreneurs and corporate leaders?
In order to help our students develop this full spectrum of human intelligence, we believe it is time to reinvent higher education.
We need to move away from a model where students are asked to remember and apply knowledge to one where students are asked to develop all forms of human intelligence through experiences.
Instead of simply imparting knowledge so that students get good grades, teachers need to provide students with the tools and strategies that will enable them to become active learners and equip them for the workplace.
Future leaders should strive to not only be highly knowledgeable; they need to be excellent learners throughout their lives in order to constantly decipher, make sense of and leverage new technologies, new organisations and new cultures.
Practical and business skills develop mainly through concrete experience like projects. When we are confronted with unexpected situations, new tools, uncertainty, and sometimes even helplessness we start to wonder, learn intensely and transform ourselves for the better.
In a revamped system of education, social life, connections and friendships should be central in the learning process.
We all know that our growth and improvement depends on the quality, benevolence and frequency of feedback we receive – whether in early learning years or at work. It is thus imperative for educational institutions and organisations to develop social and emotional skills through peer-to-peer learning, teamwork, dedicated workshops and training.
At an educational institute, inter-cultural exposure should be at the heart of student experience. Higher education is the best time to discover the world. It should be a journey to get a sense of the diversity of the world and develop one’s ability to adapt to different cultures and engage with people of different backgrounds. It is what will help build well-rounded future leaders.
Boris Walbaum is the founder of Forward College with campuses in Amsterdam, Paris and Lisbon. He is based in Paris