3 Powerful Forces That Are Completely Changing the Way We Lead

How should leadership style change over the course of a person's career? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Maxim Sytch, Associate Proffesor of Management, University of Michigan, Ross School of Business, on Quora:

Early in your career, you may be preoccupied with tactical managerial issues and have fewer opportunities to select your own team. One straightforward implication of career progression, however, is that you tend to move into more senior roles. This would naturally require you to be more focused on selecting, developing, and empowering the people whom you are leading. Mark Hurd, the co-CEO of Oracle, listed strategic talent development as "the number one issue for CEOs today." He is not alone. The Conference Board CEO Challenge report listed the focus on talent growth, training, development, engagement, and retention as the number one challenge for senior leaders.

I believe three current dynamics will lead us to significantly alter our leadership style in our lifetime: 1) the influx of millennials into the workforce, 2) the changing organizational design, and 3) the impact of big data and artificial intelligence.

The Impact of Millennials

The infusion of millennials into the workforce may lead leaders to revisit assumptions on motivation: Millennials, for example, are less likely than previous generations to be driven by money or even a more interesting job. Instead, millennials tend to value leisure, which points to the fact that work simply becomes less central in their lives compared to both Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. Millennials will also have numerous employers in their careers, working for four different employers in just the first decade after graduating from college. For many current senior leaders, this would constitute their entire resume! This dynamic is likely to make leaders revisit and reevaluate how to approach retention and career development. We must think hard about how to engage the incoming workforce, what incentives to offer, how to facilitate their personal and professional growth, and, really, how to make them hang around to see their career come to life.

The Impact of Changing Organizational Design

We used to live in a world where organizations were built around deep reporting verticals, which were typically focused on distinct markets or geographies. You might have reported to your boss in the Asia Division or the Widgets Business Unit, and your ultimate goal might have been to become the Head of the Asia Division or the Head of the Widgets Business Unit. Responding to the needs for a more customer-centric design, most companies have now either revamped or are revamping their organizational design toward a more matrix-like structure.

In a matrix design, companies organize simultaneously around two or three dimensions, such as both products and geographies (e.g., Widgets Asia). Many companies have introduced account manager roles, which cut across product or geographic verticals. This is another common element of a matrix design. In this organizational design, leaders often have to work across verticals rather than within them, where your formal power and authority--the power of your rank and title--is limited. Market demands increasingly lead many organizations and their leaders to work with numerous strategic partners, thus collaborating across organizational boundaries. Again, your formal title can carry you only so far in terms of getting things done. As a result, your ability to lead through influence and persuasion and to build and leverage interpersonal relationships with key stakeholders will become more important than ever.

The Impact of Artificial Intelligence

Senior leaders are rewarded handsomely for their experience. We expect this experience to translate into a superior ability to exercise sound judgement and to make effective decisions in complex and ambiguous situations. In fact, when I talk to executives and ask them about their number one criterion for hiring top talent, judgement often rises to the top.

And yet, we are accumulating significant evidence that people in general are very poor decision makers. We are prone to decision making biases, we tend to see systematic patterns where there are none, and we cannot consistently screen out noise in the information that is supplied to us. Unfortunately, these problems do not go away with experience or seniority. Even experienced decision makers make different decisions when they are presented with the *same* information on two different occasions, and the discrepancy in two experts' recommendations based on viewing the exact same information can swing all the way to 40%. In many of these situations, rather simple decision-making algorithms, which are based on just a few parameters, tend to outperform humans.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is not prone to biases, does not fatigue, is immune to noise, and--with the availability of big data--can base decisions on many more data points than any human can conceivably process. For example, Google's AlphaGo AI used information on and "learned" based on 30 million expert moves in beating the best human Go player in the world.

What this means for leaders going forward is that we must make decisions regarding when, where, and how to outsource some of our decision making to rapidly evolving computer-based tools. We must grow more comfortable with a world where our frail judgement may be corrected by a beeping electronic device.

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