• Jeff Doolittle

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


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).