Op-eds

Less boss is more in the new world order

  • RonenAyres
I’m a recovering control freak. Growing up as a Gen X-er, my parents and my parents’ parents made sure we cut our teeth on three very simple truths: 1. hard work; 2. more hard work; and 3. leadership. The latter only happened if you worked hard though. Very hard. Like until-you-retired-due-to-exhaustion. That kind of hard.
by RONEN AIRES | Sep 25, 2020

Our generation was taught to revere great leaders, ones that held the power, the secrets, and the right to control anything in their domain. And we all wanted to be one.

But that’s not the shape of the new world order. Old patterns and top-heavy structures are dissolving themselves into the abyss of chaos. There is mass disruption in our society and in our environment. We’re seeing young professionals in companies disconnected and disillusioned with the current leadership.

And if you think COVID-19 is to blame – you’re wrong.

For decades, these young people have fought against hierarchical structures that were too rigid, too slow, and far too punitive for their liking. They were arguing for shared, collaborative, and flexible working environments pre-pre-pre-COVID-19: a way of working that negated “the leader” and replaced it with “the tribe”.

Today, with the current pace set on relentless, change as we are experiencing it is rough and it’s ruthless. And if it’s not calibrated, it will take you out with the trash.

COVID-19, it seems, has given rise to a sense of necessary urgency that we didn’t want, but needed. How will old-school organisations survive if they’re not able to adapt fast enough? They won’t.

As more and more leaderless structures are mushrooming, they are proving more robust, quicker to gather, and quicker to respond to conflict, change, and inequality. Leaders need to be strong now – in a different way. They need to release control, and make it okay to be human in the workplace, while driving their teams with inspired thinking towards greatness.

Perhaps the idea of a “leader-less” society isn’t so much advocating the absence of a leader as it is the reshaping of the front-runner, with less ego, less bravado, less control. More transparency. More empathy. More creative collaboration.

This is easier said than done, of course. I’ve spent the past 20 years consulting to large companies on how to rewire themselves to be more relevant to the younger consumer and professional. As a company that hires young people, I’ve realised the extent to which I need to upgrade my own leadership style to ensure that I don’t become irrelevant in my own organisation.

For those of us who are still a work in progress, just take a look at how leadership is changing at high-school level. Instead of the antiquated prefect system that celebrated individuals, there are now self-directed committees consisting of students of various ages using design thinking principles and technology to co-create magic.

And there’s a lot of heart that follows that smart, as young ones are showing us how to infuse empathy, kindness, and resilience in creating initiatives. These initiatives will not only better their schools, but their communities too.

These are the new leaders. This is the new order. And less, is the new boss.

  • Ronen Aires is the founder and chief executive of Student Village, is a thought leading pioneer of Afrillennials, and a long time scholar of the generation gap. He has spent more than two decades understanding and researching generational behaviour and statistics.

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