Five ways to transform leadership in the 4th Industrial Revolution

By Michelle Simmons,
General Manager,
Southeast Asia New Markets, Microsoft Asia Pacific

When we talk about “digital transformation”, we often focus on its impact on businesses and nations. There is no doubt that the 4th Industrial Revolution has the potential to deliver amazing new opportunities in Asia. But there will also be massive challenges. So, every organization will need effective leadership to navigate the way ahead.

Recently, I had the pleasure of being a panelist at a recent Singapore British Chamber of Commerce discussion on leadership in this “knowledge age”. Everyone agreed that traditional leadership models have to change to stay relevant as the workforce evolves. But the big question was: “how”? In my opinion, organizations must pause, reflect, and hit the “refresh” button. Here are five ways leaders can step up their game in these fast-changing times.

  1. Earn trust by driving CULTURAL change. Building trust with employees is fundamental to successful leadership, and learning is a prerequisite to winning that trust. When managing a workforce in the knowledge age, a leader’s role is no longer just about conveying knowledge. It is also about the capacity, willingness, and dedication to constantly learn and grow with the team. At Microsoft, we not only emphasize the power of learning, we have made it part of our cultural DNA. 
  1. Create a sense of PURPOSE for employees. Having a strong sense of purpose in everything we do provides us with a clearer direction, and motivates us to achieve more. Increasingly, employees see their role in a company as a representation of their values and identities. They are eager to contribute to the company as an extension of value-adding to their personal endeavors.
  1. Show CURIOSITY. Curiosity has its own reason for existence, especially in these times of information overload. Aristotle once said, “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” And I believe this ancient statement stays relevant today. As the internet exposes us to large amount of information (sometimes excessive!), leaders should transform from being “know-it-alls” to “learn-it-alls” who are willing to seek out learning opportunities to continue growing.
  1. Pay attention to the needs of the MILLENNIAL workforce. Getting tired of talking about millennials? I’m afraid it’s going to continue! This group of tech-dependent, innovation-driven people are now in charge of the workforce and are driving its transformation. A recent study indicates they will make up nearly 75% of the workforce by 2025. So, it is crucial for leaders to pay close attention to their unique needs, and identify appropriate solutions to address those needs. After all, millennials want to be heard, and have the potential to advocate for positive change.
  1. Use technology to SUPPLEMENT employee interactions. While technology has made most tasks at work easier, it can never completely replace human communication. In-person interaction allows both parties to be fully engaged. It builds a connection that communicating through screens and devices, however effective, cannot achieve. Leaders who spend time engaging with employees are also perceived to be more authentic and dynamic, and this helps align people around a common vision.

Just as businesses are being challenged, leadership models across industries are also being scrutinized. Leadership in these complex times requires a wholesale shift of our mental models, a step change in collaborative engagement, and the ability to collectively envisage the futures that we want to create.


CAPTION for top image: Panel speakers (from L-R) — Sean Boyle, BEM, General Manager, The British Club; Ray Bigger, Managing Director, Think8; Michelle Simmons, General Manager, Southeast Asia New Markets, Microsoft Asia Pacific, Jeremy Blain, Managing Partner, Cegos Asia Pacific and Lauren Bradbury, Director, People Advisory Services, EY.


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