The Future of Leadership is Certainly Human 

Each month a member of the Engage for Success Thought & Action Steering Group pens a short article on an engagement ‘hot topic’. With the backdrop of AI, robots, driverless cars and all the other technological developments in the news, Nigel Girling makes the case that …

The Future of Leadership is Certainly Human

Interesting isn’t it, to consider how much people’s views are influenced by their immediate context?

To read the opinions of some commentators, you could be forgiven if you came away with the belief that most jobs would soon be replaced by artificial intelligence and that our lives would inevitably be governed by robots. News articles shriek dire warnings that all our children have become obese automatons, scarcely able to order another burger while messaging their friends and playing Call of Theft or some other dystopian piece of gaming. Have a look around you at home, at work, among your friends – is that what you see?

It is, as these things tend to be, largely nonsense. The most recent statistics show that, across the world, twice as many people do not own a Smartphone as do. Earlier today I saw, on the morning news, a moorland fire raging in my home county of Staffordshire and an army of people attempting to fight it using long handles with a piece of material on the end to beat out the flames. Much as they would have done two or three hundred years ago.

This run of sunny days has sent my local farming community out to make hay. Much of that is still happening through the sweat and toil of human labour. OK, tractors have replaced the heavy horses of old, but otherwise the picture looks very similar to the images I remember of my Grandfather’s youth.

Obviously, I accept that much has changed in the world of work over the last decade. But still much remains the same. Because work, while driven by the hunger for efficiency and viability that encourages the adoption of any technology that can reduce the cost of employees, is also driven to a very great extent by human nature. We require interaction and collaboration with our fellow humans. We like to be part of something (Maslow understood that and said as much long before many of us were born) and to feel that we belong. We crave satisfaction from a job well done and from the support of the teams – tribes – that we choose to be part of. We, in the main, like to do work. It is the embedded structure of most of our societies and most of our lives. We need it.

That isn’t going to let us change into some sci-fi, Skynet, Tomorrow’s World society any time soon. I recall watching many of those programmes decades ago promising us all robot butlers, flying cars and time travel. Well, some of those predictions have come to fruition to a degree, but very few. In the main, my Grandfather would recognise much of my daily life as being very much like his. I think the Smartphone and email would be a surprise and I’m not sure what he’d make of sun-dried tomatoes or tapas, but still much would feel normal.

My point is this. Much of the rhetoric about technologies, change and trends is created by people who live in an urban ‘bubble’ – often in London. Their views are driven by the world they inhabit. A world very different from the one where, just 100 miles away, I live and work.

As a leader and a mentor to leaders, from my viewpoint the world of leaders for the next 20 years will retain many of the characteristics it has exhibited for most of my lifetime. It will require a deep understanding of human nature, the ability to interact effectively in a huge range of contexts, highly-developed communication skills, a deep well of compassion and human understanding and the desire to engage colleagues in a compelling vision which inspires and motivates. The future of leadership remains – stubbornly and essentially – human.

by Nigel M Girling CMgr FCMI FRSA

Photo by Christian Hebell on Unsplash

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