In the past, family business founders were able to lead through their positions alone– sourcing power and authority from their titles. This traditional form of leadership was based on the idea that authority is derived from the leader’s superior knowledge as a result of their experience and/or age.
Today, next generation leaders find themselves in a completely different environment. The fast-changing pace of business today which has been initiated by the fourth industrial revolution necessitates a new style of leadership. In the past, the elder generation have not had to contend with this rate of change. This is exacerbated by the fact that the next generation is often leading staff who are older and have more years of experience. As a result, positional leadership lacks legitimacy and effectiveness.
To be able to successfully navigate in this rapidly changing and disruptive business environment, the next generation needs to embrace a more collaborative and persuasive style of leadership. Over the next century, the world will see even greater technological changes in artificial intelligence, blockchain, big data, and robotics that will rapidly transform the economic and business landscapes. Therefore more than ever, next-generation leaders must be capable of building agile, adaptable, future-focused organizations. To do so, they must embrace persuasive leadership which allows for effective change creation. Otherwise, they will fail to ensure the continued success of their family enterprises.
An unprecedented rate of change
The rate of change that our world is currently going through is unprecedented and is expected to only accelerate in the future. By 2030 one third of all jobs will require skills that don’t currently exist today. In addition, the effects of climate change and income inequalities across the globe present an immense challenge for the next generation of leaders.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”Charles Darwin
These turbulent times call for a leadership style that is adaptable to change – one that is quick to identify and execute on opportunities in order to create maximum impact. Positional leadership is a disadvantage in such times as it relies on a top-down approach: the leader is the custodian of ideas who issues instructions to their followers to implement.
Given the complexity of the challenges the next generation will continue to face, a diversity of thought will be key to co-creating the best business ideas. In this instance, the leader needs to be surrounded by co-creators rather than followers who also contribute towards defining strategies and building the organisation. In order to do so, the leader will need to embrace a persuasive leadership style whereby they are able to influence and inspire the other stakeholders. Collaboration enables us to move from the individual as the custodian of ideas, to a collective contribution.
Great ideas are not enough to successfully navigate the winds of change. According to a McKinsey 2015 survey, 74% of organisational transformations fail. These transformations fail not for lack of a desire to change, but due to lack of a carefully-crafted implementation plan. Effective change creation requires both identifying a new vision, as well implementing it. To see successful implementation, stakeholders need to have buy-in and take responsibility for the change. This only happens when we have cultivated a collective vision, benefits and commitment through collaboration.
The 4 C’s of Persuasive Leadership
Although a persuasive leadership style is characterised by strong and centralised decision-making abilities, there are some fundamental characteristics that differentiate it from positional leadership. There are 4 fundamental skills needed to enact persuasive leadership:
- Conviction: A deep understanding of purpose is fundamental if leaders are to engage others and foster a conducive working environment. Conviction is about having a steadfast commitment to this purpose and identifying how this relates to your family business.
- Curiosity: Whilst being committed to purpose is fundamental in persuasive leadership, leaders should also stay open to opportunities and challenge their own point of view. Curiosity is about being able to identify signals that will enable them to push the envelope.
- Courage: In order to take action and act upon opportunities identified, family leaders need to be courageous. They furthermore need courage in their ability to challenge their own perspectives.
- Collaboration: Fundamental to winning over the hearts and minds of employees and family members is gaining buy-in early on. A collaborative mindset and approach allow others to take joint responsibility for creating change.
Engaging older generations
For the first time in history, we have five generations in the workforce. We are seeing increasing life expectancies, as well as an increasingly youth population. In Africa for instance, the median age of population is 18. With her population set to double to 2.5 billion by 2050, we can expect to see an even younger average age.
The implication of this trend is that we will not only increasingly see a younger workforce, but we will also see more incidents of ‘young’ leaders managing older subordinates.
The challenge is that many next-generation leaders lack confidence in their leadership capability as they feel they do not have legitimate authority to lead. Many feel that they do not have sufficient war stories to earn their stripes. To be able to lead their businesses through the choppy waters of business today such that they thrive, next-generation leaders will need to optimally manage their people – older subordinates included.
“You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.”Albert Einstein
However, if young leaders take on a purely authoritative leadership style they will lose the game of leading older staff members.
In fact many of the next generation leaders are unable to play the leadership game due to a misinterpretation of the rules. Next generation leaders must create new rules, rather than copying old ones.
In the leadership context whereby the authority is derived from experience and age alone, the next generation will never be able to succeed. To be able to win the game, young leaders need to lead in a persuasive style, where they lead by example but still listen to and learn from older subordinates, and ultimately build trust and mutual respect.
Managing younger generations
In the US, millennials are now the largest generation in the workforce, and Gen Z’s are the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in US history. The large entrance of young people into the workforce requires business leaders to engage these distinctive generations.
In particular, the next generation of leaders will therefore need to be able to foster organizational cultures that allow for diversity, inclusion and empowerment. Employees of different ages, genders and races should have opportunities for their voices to be heard.
Concepts of individualism and ‘onlyness’ are important in this new age of business. As
Nilofer Merchant suggests with her concept of ‘onlyness’, each individual has a unique point of view to offer, with this point of view being shaped by a person’s accumulated experience, perspective and vision. This point of view is influenced by gender, ethnicity, race, class, age, and other factors. Diversity, inclusion, and empowerment initiatives can take this concept of onlyness from theory to action. 21st-century consumers are making purchasing decisions that are radically different from those in the past. Businesses can no longer simply rely on the differentiation of the technical features and the benefits of their goods and services. In order to appeal to this audience and have a competitive advantage, businesses have to keep their pulse on the change values and attitudes of consumers. They have to demonstrate a deeper purpose that consumers can align to and live this purpose through concrete action. Having a diverse workforce that mirrors the diversity of 21st-century consumers cannot be overstated.
Towards a demographic mix
The rapidly changing and disruptive business environment of today places greater emphasis on leaders’ ability to build agile and adaptable businesses that will withstand the test of time. Given the complexity of the challenges posed, it is critical to ensure that there is a diversity of thought when co-creating the best solutions. A persuasive leadership style allows for greater collaboration, adaptability, and inclusivity of thoughts.
The ability of the next generation of leaders to influence and inspire older generations is fundamental to leading the business into the future. A collective contribution and commitment to business from a multi-generational workforce will result in higher levels of creativity and innovation – key tenets if business are to survive the choppy waters of change.