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How to Lead a Complex Workforce in Today's Digital Marketplace

Updated: Oct 21


According to a 2020 MIT Sloan Management Review survey, modern leaders are struggling with leading a complex workforce in today’s digital marketplace. Over 4,000 leaders from more than 120 countries were recently surveyed, interviewed, and engaged in focus groups. Only 12% of executive leaders indicated that their leaders have the right mindset to move them forward.


Modern leaders are running fast from meeting to meeting every day with many different stakeholder groups compete for their time. While success with all stakeholders is essential, if all stakeholders are the focus of a leader, then in reality none are essential. Leadership creates decisions between right and right and a leader's focus holds the key to a complex workforce in a digital marketplace. Leaders would benefit from reflecting on the question, who do you serve?


The Needs of Today's Complex Workforce

Followers are looking for contemporary leaders that possess these ten characteristics: (1) listening to self and others, (2) empathy, (3) healing self and others, (4) awareness, (5) persuasion, (6) conceptual thinking, (7) foresight, (8) stewardship of other’s needs, (9) commitment to people development, and (10) building community. Foundational to these leading with these characteristics are the virtues of:

“love, humility, altruism, vision, trust, empowerment, and service” (Patterson, 2003).

Contemporary Servant Leader – Liz Theophille, Chief Technology & Digital Officer at Novartis AG speaks in this TEDx Talk about leading with the heart. Liz reveals examples from her personal life and that speaks to the challenge of leading a complex workforce in a digital marketplace.


Are Leaders Born or Developed?

Contemplating the characteristics and attributes of great leadership brings to into question, can leaders be developed, or are they are born? While research experts frequently debate the answer to this question, it is likely a combination of innate characteristics and experiences that make a great leader. Both the characteristics and associated virtues can be developed.

Does Servant Leadership Belong in a Multicultural Workplace?

The Cultural-Endorsed Implicit Leadership Theory infers that followers are more motivated to establish a relationship with a leader if they behave consistently with the follower’s expected mental model. Servant leadership characteristics and virtues are not a western civilization concept. The characteristics and virtues of servant leadership are a global model aligned with other cross-cultural concepts (see Infographic).


What are the benefits of Servant Leadership?

One of the most sought-after performance benefits in organizations is discretionary effort also known as organizational citizenship behavior (OCB). Discretionary effort is when employees take actions outside of the expected roles for the benefit of an organization. Consider two employees walking down a hall, both seeing a piece of paper on the floor and only one employee stopping to pick it up even though it is neither employees' job responsibility. Servant leadership improves the workplace climate and increases discretionary effort that benefits the organization.

Servant leadership creates an increase in the leader and follower commitment yielding increased intrinsic motivation. Increased leader-follower commitment amplifies the benefits of workforce alignment. Workforce alignment is the difference between created strategies and realized strategies.

High levels of intrinsic motivation cause people to do more and results in higher performance. Scholarly evidence supports a positive link between higher levels of employee intrinsic motivation and work productivity. Furthermore, intrinsic motivation is a moderating factor in employee engagement, independent of a leader's style. Organizations should place an emphasis on creating intrinsic motivation.

Contemporary Servant Leader – Cheryl Bachelder, Former CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen increased market share by eight points, increased margin by 400 basis points, and improved her leadership training by 22% in just seven years. In this TEDx Talk video, Cheryl speaks on the topic of daring to serve.


It all comes back to the question, whom do you serve? The Servant Leader focuses on the follower. Maybe now more than ever in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world, followers and organizations are looking for the virtues, behaviors, and outcomes achieved by servant leaders. Leaders with a focus on service to their followers first and leading second.


You may also enjoy the following related article: https://www.organizationaltalent.com/post/how-leadership-can-respond-to-racism-and-poverty


Servant Leadership Webinar and Workshop


Register for an upcoming FREE webinar on servant leadership. Here is what you can expect:

• What is servant leadership?

• Contemporary Leadership Theory Comparisons

• Servant Leadership Value

• The 5 Best Resources on Servant Leadership


If you register today, we’ll send the recording as an added bonus at no charge. Use this site to find registration links for upcoming leadership development webinars: https://www.organizationaltalent.com/webinar-series

Learn how you can bring a virtual or in-person Servant Leadership Program to your organization: https://www.organizationaltalent.com/contact-us


Based on the best ideas from leadership gurus of today, leaders learn how to apply a head, heart, and hands approach to ancient principles that reinforce selfless service. This one year program for leadership teams includes a pre/post servant leadership 360, pre/post leadership style inventory, quarterly development workshops, and much more. "The signature of the greatest executives we studied is their humility" Jim Collins.


References:


Becchetti, L., Castriota, S., & Tortia, E. C. (2013). Productivity, wages and intrinsic motivations. Small Business Economics, 41(2), 379-399. http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.regent.edu/10.1007/s11187-012-9431-2

Boerma, M. Coyle, E., Dietrich, M. Dintzner, M., Drayton, S., Early II, J., Edginton, A., Horlen, C. Kirkwood, C., Lin, A., Rager, M., Shah-Manek, B., Welch, A., & Williams, N. (2017). Point/Counterpoint: Are outstanding leaders born or made? American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 81(3), 58. doi:10.5688/ajpe81358

Kopaneva, I., & Sias, P. M. (2015). Lost in translation: Employee and organizational constructions of mission and vision. Management Communication Quarterly, 29(3), 358-384. 10.1177/0893318915581648

Patterson, K. (2003, October 16). Servant leadership: A theoretical model [PDF]. Regent University School of Leadership Studies Servant Leadership Research Roundtable. http://www.regent.edu/acad/global/publications/sl_proceedings/2003/patterson_servant_leadership.pdf

Ready, D., Cohen, C., Kiron, D., & Pring, B. (2020). The new leadership playbook for the digital age. MIT Sloan Management Review.

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University. (2014, April 2). Dirk van Dierendonck - Servant leadership [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/OV6QQxPWMUk

Shu, C. (2015). The impact of intrinsic motivation on the effectiveness of leadership style towards on work engagement. Contemporary Management Research, 11(4), 327-349. http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.regent.edu/10.7903/cmr.14043

Spears, L. C. (1998). Servant-leadership. Executive Excellence, 15(7), 11.

TEDx Talks. (2015, July 4). Dare to serve: Cheryl Bachelder -TEDxCentennialParkWomen [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/WBWP2dASNSk

Walumbwa, F., Hartnell, C., & Oke, A. (2010). Servant leadership, procedural justice climate, service climate, employee attitudes, and organizational citizenship behavior: A cross-level investigation. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(3), 517-529. 10.1037/a0018867

Winston, B. (2003, October 16). Extending Patterson’s servant leadership model: Coming full circle [PDF]. Regent University School of Leadership Studies Servant Leadership Research Roundtable. http://www.regent.edu/acad/sls/publications/conference_proceedings/servant_leadership_roundtable/2003/proceedings.htm

Winston, B. & Ryan, B. (2008). Servant Leadership as a Humane Orientation: Using the GLOBE Study Construct of Humane Orientation to Show that Servant Leadership is More Global than Western. International Journal of Leadership Studies, Vol. 3 Iss. 2, pp. 212-222


About the Author:

Jeff's knowledge and expertise include leadership development, servant leadership, and coaching to grow individuals and organizations. Jeff has experience from start-ups to Fortune 50 public, Forbes 25 private, for-profit, and non-profit organizations across diverse industries. Jeff Doolittle is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI. He can be reached at info@organizationaltalent.com or by calling (616) 803-9020. Visit his blog at https://www.organizationaltalent.com/blog-1 for more ideas to stimulate individual, team, and organizational effectiveness.


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