The Sense of Purpose of Leaders 4.0NO LONGER A CONDUCTOR BUT SOMEONE WHO IS ABLE TO CONVEY THE IMPORTANCE OF THE ORCHESTRA: TEAM LEADERS ARE EVOLVING. THIS IS WHY STUDYING THEM AND ANALYZING THEIR STYLES AND ABILITIES WILL CONTRIBUTE TO EDUCATING THE LEADERSHIP CLASS OF THE FUTURE
by Massimo Magni, Dept. of Management and Technology
Evolutionary trajectories in technology are radically changing the paradigms associated with employment. The Future of Jobs report, published by the World Economic Forum (2018), highlights how artificial intelligence and automation are challenging the balance between workers and technology. According to this report, technological evolution will lead to the obsolescence of 42% of currently existing skills by 2022 to make room for the demand for skills more oriented towards critical thinking, active listening and the capacity for continuous learning.
The evolution of skills reflects the need to innovate and deal with increasingly complex problems by leveraging the ability to share different experiences and skills.
Take for example the case of EpiBone, a company in the field of biomedical engineering that focuses on the complex and high-impact problem of bone reconstruction. The CEO of EpiBone, Nina Tandon, explained how the company operates at the frontier of bone reconstruction: "We take only two things from the patient: a three-dimensional scan of the bone and a sample of cells. We then use these cells to build a living bone and model it based on the findings from the three-dimensional scan. After three weeks we have a bone that can be implanted in the patient's body." To reach such a level of innovation, EpiBone employs highly differentiated teams, made up of scientists, engineers, doctors and entrepreneurs who are all able to share knowledge to reach a common goal.
EpiBone is just one example, but it is now clear that when faced with the need to evolve skills, we cannot ignore the need to rethink the role of leaders and the ability to lead a team.
In situations where there is a need to manage complex problems that require high innovative potential, leaders are called on to shift their center of gravity from coordinating and harmonizing relationships to an intervention more focused on making the impact clear and the purpose of team activity appealing. Leaders are no longer conductors, but rather have the ability to convey the importance of an orchestra to arouse the passion of the listeners. I encourage you to watch the TED Talk by Benjamin Zander, Director of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. In 20 minutes, he demonstrates the power of change that can be inherent in classical music, without citing statistics and playing only a few notes. The question is no longer how we do it but why we do it.
The need for a shift in perspective is also corroborated by data from a study that was recently conducted in collaboration with Georgia State University. It showed that the ability of leaders to provide a sense of purpose stimulates a more experimentation-oriented and less execution-oriented attitude, thus activating a drive for innovation.
Leaders who work on communicating and sharing the impact and purpose of their teams’ activities help their employees energize and develop the desire to go the extra mile, to give that extra effort that makes the difference. An example could be Sammie, employed by a courier company in Florida. Sammie's phone rang on a Sunday morning, when she was home for the weekend, and she was asked to redirect a package to be delivered to the hospital in Tampa for Monday delivery. The package contained material for a particularly delicate surgical operation that would take place on Monday. It would have sufficed for Sammie to redirect the package, but knowing the importance of the contents, she got in her car and set off. After a full day driving around Florida (without getting into the details), she delivered the package directly to the nurses. After delivery, Sammie returned home. It was late by then, and the weekend was pretty much over. We cannot be sure, but we can imagine that Sammie came home tired, but satisfied with what she had done: she had gone above and beyond her job description for a greater purpose.
However, there is a boundary that leaders must not cross when encouraging this type of behavior, which is that of responsibility towards the people they manage. Developing a vision oriented to the purpose of their activities and stimulating the desire to go above and beyond are sources of satisfaction for the members of a team, but at the same time, they require people to invest considerable cognitive and emotional energy. Leaders must not ignore this expenditure and should be balanced in making sure these efforts do not become situations of undue stress and discomfort for the people they coordinate.
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