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Connecting Leadership in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Addressing the crowd at Davos 2016, World Economic Forum founder and Chief Executive, Klaus Schwab declared “There has never been a time of greater promise, or one of greater potential peril.”

Schwab introduced the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ (4IR) into the global business vernacular that year, and it has since been one of the primary focuses, and fears, of the world’s business leaders. Disruptive technologies and trends such as the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) are changing the way we live and work, and this is only set to continue.

A 2018 Deloitte survey found that while executives conceptually understood the profound business and societal changes Industry 4.0 may bring, they were less certain how they could take action to benefit. One year on, the 2019 study shows that whilst business leaders are more aware of their position in 4IR, there has been little fundamental action to mobilise their organisations to cope, begging the question: are we running out of time?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution represents a unique challenge to the world’s businesses and their leaders, many of whom are struggling to come to terms with the result of their own successes. They understand the need to think broadly about all stakeholders and the impact technology will have across organisations and society; but, at the same time, feel constrained by current financial and operational demands.

Deloitte’s 2018 study found that most leaders favoured to continue operations on their original business model, despite only 14 percent feeling that their models were ready for 4IR. Today, many are still reluctant to invest in technologies outside their area of expertise citing lack of understanding, desire to alter leadership vision and concrete regulation protocols.

To overcome the many organisational and industry-wide challenges presented by 4IR, business leaders need to bring the ‘outside-in’ perspective, connecting their business with society and improving their social contract. In this context, the adoption of Connecting Leadership becomes even more relevant and necessary than before.

There have been significant improvements in this respect over the last 12 months. One of the 2019 research’s most positive findings is the increased emphasis on “societal impact” as an organisation’s performance factor.

Three quarters of leaders said that they have adapted their products or services to increase their positive contribution to their local and global communities over the last 12 months and rated the measures ahead of financial performance and customer or employee satisfaction in terms of importance.

There’s no doubt that the adoption of Connecting Leadership will determine an organisation’s degree of success as we progress through the 4IR. Ensuring purposeful collaboration between Big Business and all necessary stakeholders including government, civil society, academia, investors, NGOs and faith-based organisations is a must to achieve prosperity and sustainable development.

For those heads of businesses who have not adopted the Connecting Leader framework, the time is most definitely now. The good news is that in today’s interconnected environment, leaders are learning from each other’s successful practices. However an increased sense of urgency is needed to harness the positive outcomes that the 4IR could bring.

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