A Leadership Evolution.
By Roger E. Herman, CSP, CMC, FIMC
Saturday, 1st July 2006
Some significant changes will take place in the leadership arena over the next few decades. We'll move from a group leadership concept to one that places responsibility and accountability much more in the hands of individuals. The work mode of the future will be much more individual-centered than group-centered, with considerable self-determination and high levels of shared-goal collaboration.

Leadership teachings of most of the twentieth century focused on directive, autocratic (or at least top-down) management. The boss was expected to know the answers, or at least what to do. He, and it was usually a man for most of the period, would tell people what to do . . . and they did what they were told. Strict rules were in force and there were serious consequences for violating the social system.

In the spirit of McGregor's Theory X , it was assumed that most workers could not think for themselves and, therefore, needed a superior to direct their efforts. Sometimes the "leader" actually was superior in intellect, experience, skill, understanding, or longevity, but often the power came from the position itself. "I'm boss, so you must do what I tell you."

As the nature of work evolved, expanding from manual labor and crafts into white collar occupations, the directive system was decreasingly effective. Some workers had the audacity to believe they could think for themselves, that they could manage at least some of their own work.

Suspecting that an opposite style of management would be more appropriate, the concepts associated with McGregor's Theory Y came into play. While old-liners warned that the tail would be wagging the dog, new leaders adopted what became known as a democratic leadership style. The movement went so far that whole companies tried to operate practically by committee.

Participative Management

Discovering that neither extreme was really satisfactory, managers moved to center ground. Enter: Participative Management. Now managers made decisions again, but only after some consultation with workers who would be affected by those decisions. People felt more included, more listened-to, but the system still was not working optimally. In those days, most managers had been trained to be directive managers, so it was difficult for them to change their stripes.

The term "leadership" had been used in most of the 20th century, in ways that were synonymous with "management". Now great thinkers began to suggest that leadership and management were different concepts. People followed managers because they were supposed to, it was argued, but they followed leaders because they wanted to.

Why would someone want to follow someone else? Someone that perhaps didn't have power over them? Rich discussions explored all the wonderful characteristics of leaders and managers began to think of themselves as exercising leadership as well as using the power of their position.

The Rise of Teams

As people worked together to get things done, "teams" entered our lexicon of work relationships.

The concepts of "team" and "leader" merged and team leadership became the next stage in the progression from "just a manager" to something on a higher plane. Indeed, terminology labeling in-charge people on the front lines as "supervisors," their bosses as "managers," and those at the top as "leaders" reinforced the higher nature of this thing we called leadership. One had to move higher up the organizational ladder to be considered a leader.

Labeling work groups as teams changed the balance. Teams had to have leaders, so leadership words, concepts, and performance trickled down to the lower levels of hierarchical organizations. Now anyone could be a leader. New vistas were opened as we shifted from management to leadership . . . at least in the way we talked. Even today, many workers are managed much more than they're led.

The light bulb of innovation flashed as we realized that maybe teams could operate without a separate leader guiding their work. Welcome to the world of self-directed work teams. This concept, alive and well in many organizations, is a huge threat to the directive manager, still in place in many companies. The two concepts are in conflict, causing some serious concern about what to do with all those autocratic managers who resist change to more effective modes of human interaction.

For a number of years, there was heavy emphasis on team leadership being the top of the evolutionary cycle. It's a nice concept, if teams are intact, focused, and honored above individuals. And therein lies the problem.

Focus on the Individual

The workforce has changed, and with those changes come new problems and opportunities. We're moving away from team-ness into a new environment focused on the individual performer. Much work will still be accomplished in team relationships, but those teams will be comprised more of unique individuals deliberately collaborating to get things done. The energy will come from the individuals and their connections with each other, rather from an external leader.

Worker attitudes are shifting. People in their twenties and early thirties, a cohort often called Generation X, are much more independent and self-motivated than their predecessors. They have a tendency to want more control, more autonomy, more power, centered in self-leadership. Their highest productivity comes when they understand the desired results, have the resources to get the job done, and are left alone to get results. Heavy supervision irritates them, motivating them to leave companies that limit their freedom to perform.

Today's hot economy has created so many jobs--far more than can be filled with available workers, that there are abundant opportunities for people to easily move from job to job. Society has accepted, almost blessed, this movement; job-hopping is now practically encouraged. Many people will change jobs every two to four years, making long-life cohesive teams unusual or impossible. There's too much churning for the teams to be intact with the same membership for very long.

Facilitative Leadership

In response to these changing circumstances, leadership will evolve to be focused on the individual instead of the team. Leaders will not direct or guide, they will facilitate. The next phase in the cycle is the "facilitative leader."

Facilitative leaders will concentrate on making possible the high performance of each of their direct reports. Roles will include assuring an understanding of objectives, providing resources, coaching, teaching, encouraging, measuring, and giving objective feedback. (While this description may sound like that of a good supervisor, this style of leadership is not currently in wide practice.)

While receiving this coaching, the individuals will choose to form their own teams, internally motivated, to collaborate for results. The job of the leader will be to prepare people to perform independently, then help them to grow and achieve capitalizing on their individual strengths.

Over the next ten years, the facilitative leadership model will become much more prevalent--in all occupations. Some workers in some environments will require closer support, but will still want to be more responsible for their own performance. Initial impetus for this model will be a rise in telecommuting, forcing managers to become less enamored with management principles and more engaged with the principles and techniques of results-oriented leadership.

By 2010, directive leadership will be practically obsolete. Participative leadership, with leaders making decisions after increasingly strong involvement from workers, will continue until about 2020, responding to the needs of older workers who still want, and hence need, some direction. Note that the design will be participative leadership, rather than the earlier style of participative management.

The term "management" will apply to managing processes, product lines, and other inanimate aspects of economic life. Anything relating to people will be described as leadership, support, or facilitation, more accurately reflecting the actual work associated with the role. To describe someone as a "manager of people" will be tantamount to an insult or a reference to the leader not doing the job that is desired.

Leaders will become more invested in training during the first two decades of the 21st century, helping workers adapt to using new technologies to accomplish work and build productivity. Older workers, in their late sixties, seventies, and eighties will have more need for close support and training.


Generation X workers will become gradually more independent and self-driven as later-borns of this cohort enter the world of work. Right behind them are the workers from the Millennium Generation , who will be even more fiercely independent. They will respond to--demand--a much different style of leadership.

Even with the efforts of the educational system to teach them to work in groups, the Millennials will be more comfortable driving their own lives. They're more connected through the Internet than they are through personal face-to-face interactions. These workers will be considerably more self-confident, self-reliant, and self- motivated than any predecessor back to the pioneering days.

Millennials will manifest significant similarities to the pioneers who built new lives for themselves in the 18th and early 19th centuries. They, too, will build for themselves and their neighbors--using intellect, imagination, innovation, technology, and creativity to create things we can't even envision today. They'll use computers instead of axes and plowshares, coupled with the same dogged spirit that characterized the early pioneers.

When we think of the early pioneers, the terms of leadership and management don't immediately flash to mind. Those trailblazers didn't need managers; they were independent and self-driven. If they needed help from others, they asked for it--and got it--in a spirit of cooperation and synergy. A similar attitude prevailed in the world of business. Expect the same spirit to prevail in the first half of the 21st century. The environment is much the same.

The cottage industries, which served as a foundation for our developing economy as America was settled, will be reflected in the strength of home-based businesses. A variety of arrangements of living and working will emerge, but they will be dispersed physically and geographically. The leaders who own or run these businesses may rarely see their employees, and may not even meet some of them personally. By the year 2005, we expect at least 20% of the working population to be home-based. . . and perhaps even 40% by the year 2020.

Coordinative Leadership

So what of the role of the leader? In an environment of self-determination, leaders will participate by sculpting the "big picture" and contracting with self-workers to accomplish the work. The superior-subordinate model will be outmoded in these relationships.

Leaders will coordinate the efforts of a wide range of independent workers and consortiums. The skills will be less directive and supportive, though those functions will still be operational. New skills will include persuasion, negotiation, sourcing, stimulating, and high levels of networking.

This emerging leadership role, substantially different from earlier roles, will be a challenge for older leaders. Late Xers and Millennials will lead easily, but the elders (early Xers and Boomers) will have difficulty with the new style. These elder-leaders will work more with older workers whose roles will be less pioneering and more functional. The transformation will begin around 2010 and will be much more aggressive by 2015--the speed of change will unsettle the middle-aged Generation X folks.

Born after 2005 and coming eagerly behind the Millennials, will be a generation more attentive to refinement and building systems that will endure and will serve more people. Global outreach will surpass the previous period, and extra-planetary work will bring great progress.

Collaborative Leadership

In these fast-moving times, searching for opportunities to achieve maximum impact for their participation, leaders will concentrate on connecting independent performers into networks focused on specific goal accomplishment. Motivations will include various forms of compensation, but will be strongly focused on making a positive difference for others.

People will look to leaders as specialists who can aggregate widely diverse resources who can they collaborate to produce results. They'll work with that leader, that facilitator, because they respect the leader's qualities of looking toward results, respecting the qualities of each individual, and a desire to help each individual grow, achieve, and fulfill potential. The model will be heavily based on caring relationships with a mutual opportunity for economic and intrinsic gain. Workers of this time will be looking for these connections with their leaders.

Systemic Leadership

Around the middle of the 21st century, systems will develop to provide some of the leadership functions performed by the collaborative leaders. Using artificial intelligence, these computer- driven systems will build and maintain connections between people with interdevelopmental needs. People's needs will be met through relationships with others who can to fulfill those requirements . . . and get their own needs fulfilled by their interconnected partners. Elaborate networks of interlocking relationships will maximize human potential and productivity.

Leaders will oversee the operation of these interconnecting systems and provide the human-to-human caring that machines can't deliver with adequate quality. We'll still desire a reasonable balance between technology and the human touch. Mid-century leadership will evolve to more of a paternal model, coupled with a relationship that is a sort of combination of caring friend and pastoral guide.

Globalization and World 1

The trend towards globalization of business will have a substantial impact on World 1. Not only will World 1 recruit the best and best and the brightest from World 2, but it will also locate factories and service facilities in World 2, where real estate and labor will continue to be less expensive. World 1 leaders will need to be sensitive to the differences between the leadership styles that are appropriate for their World 1 offices and plants versus those that are located in Worlds 2 and 3.

Geo-Sociological Leadership

The evolution and timetable presented above will be the flow in developed World 1 countries. Less-developed Worlds 2 and 3 countries will experience a different leadership transformation.

During the coming decades, developing countries will benefit from the strong global economy. The increasing need for workers will draw more people into productive endeavors, but not quite the same way it happened in developed countries. Work-for-pay will become a part of people's lives, but not a central focus. Sensitive employers will facilitate a blending of conventional work with traditional lifestyles of the people: a work-life balance.

In World 2 countries, more accustomed to a management model, there will be a gradual shift to a more participative style.

The evolution of leadership will follow the pattern of the World 1 countries, but with a lag of one to two decades at first. They will come closer to the developed countries model during the 2050-2060 period, as new generations transform economies and lifestyles.

Western influence will be strong, led by higher education. A large proportion of potential World 2 leaders will gain their university experiences in developed countries. Not being as needed in industry, many exemplary leaders will be teaching on the campuses--preparing the next generation of leaders for their pivotal responsibilities. These young, eager leaders will carry the transformational message home and implement new designs.

A number of World 2 countries already have work-life balance built into their systems--culturally and legislatively. The new leadership designs will enhance the concept of partnering life balance with productivity, and will create a need for more work to be done by others around the globe. More work opportunities will be created for people in World 3 countries.

Leadership in the World 3

Work for pay, in a corporate setting, is not the mode for the majority of the people in underdeveloped countries. To raise their standards of living, this kind of work will be introduced so people can become more self-sufficient. In the Star Trek? spirit of avoiding interference with other cultures, employers will find ways to bring employment and higher levels of prosperity to developing regions. Work arrangements will be designed to remain relatively congruent with existing lifestyles--to ease the transition and to support gradual, rather than shocking, change.

While congregate work sites will establish places for group-work, the cottage industry model will be applied wherever possible. This alternative will avoid the intrusion into the community of new buildings and systems that can be disruptive and create company towns or competitive environments.

Leaders will be more coordinators, assigners, supporters, and teacher-trainers. They'll become caring members of the communities in which they work and, eventually, leaders will actually come from those communities. It will be a natural process, with informal leaders emerging to assume more formal roles, as indigenous workers learn what productive work-for-pay is all about.

The autocratic-directive style won't even be introduced in World 3 countries. It simply won't fit in the environment. As workers become more comfortable with their roles and their results, a more participative style will emerge. A self-governance model will develop, with leaders-appointed and/or elected-charged with providing support, coordination, and relationships with outside entities. Some of these work groups will operate almost as collectives; others will be similar to self-directed operations under the sponsorship of larger corporations-domestic and international.

The evolution of leadership will necessarily be slower in so-called World 2 and World 3 countries, given the nature of their workforce and work-culture development. They will move at their own paces, coming closer to World 1 styles in the latter part of the 21st century. As this stage is reached, even greater opportunities for cross-cultural leadership exchanges will emerge.

Cultural Cross-Over

Our discussion has centered on employment organizations. Certainly this venue will be more receptive and encouraging of the transformation in leadership. Leadership is performed in other environments, as well. Volunteer organizations, ranging from civic and professional groups to churches to parent-teacher organizations, are wonderful laboratories for leadership.

Since volunteers don't have to do what they're told, leaders in these environments already apply advanced leadership skills such as persuasion, negotiation, and reward and recognition. Traditional management techniques typically don't work where people participate voluntarily.

As we move through the 21st century, leadership in these organizations will evolve in a similar pattern, but will lag somewhat behind the process in economic organizations. Career drives are somewhat stronger than volunteerism drives; the motivations and expected outcomes are different. The personal investment is different.

While people will operate increasingly independently in the work environment, they will belong to volunteer organizations for opportunities to collaborate with others. The same shifts will gradually occur, but without the same level of intensity. They'll be reflective of the people who will join, typically those more receptive to the leadership of others.

In 10-20 years, as we bring life and work into greater balance, people will have more time to become involved with community and other volunteer organizations. As they join with more time and a different sense of mission and desire for fulfillment, we will see higher levels of intensity that may drive shifts in leadership styles. The group focus will, however, remain strong.

Leadership Integrators

As leadership evolves at different paces around the world, a new type of leader will emerge. This leader will understand the various phases of leadership and be conversant in them. Able to interpret and interface with any style, this leader will serve as a diplomat of leadership. This new job role will emerge about 2010 and will be in greater demand as the century unfolds. Gradually, integrative leadership will take on a strong international flavor as more and more work is done across geo-political lines.

Around 2015-2020, universities will offer interdisciplinary graduate degrees in Multi-phasic Leadership. Courses will be team-taught by academic gurus and practitioners who can link real-world experience with management theory. Newly-minted MBAs with a minor in Multi-phasic Leadership will be in high demand in developed countries until the late 2040s.

In the 2020s, universities will begin integrating Multi-phasic Leadership and the traditional MBA with international studies, already a strong major. The product will be well-prepared leaders who can operate globally to link all the world's productive resources.

So what are the implications of this evolution for human resource planning?

  • Begin now to recruit individuals who will be able to grow into tomorrow's facilitative, participative leaders.
  • Create a professional development program aligned with the evolutionary leadership styles that will be required in the future.
  • Start talking with your facilities planning people about the spaces that will be needed by tomorrow's teams and individual employees to foster creativity and collaboration.
  • Initiate conversations with MBA programs to lay the foundations for the relationships that will help you recruit tomorrow's leaders.
  • Continue to watch the trends so that you may continue to position yourself and your organization for future success.
Roger E. Herman describes himself as a Strategic Business Futurist concentrating on workforce and workplace trends. A Certified Management Consultant, speaker, and author, he is CEO of The Herman Group in Greensboro, NC. A significant part of his work is building workforce stability and preparing leaders for the future. 

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