Leadership 4.0: People Development in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

When thinking about manufacturing in America, what comes to mind? Big data processing, cloud-based systems, advanced robotics, and artificial intelligence? If not, they should. The significance of these technologies cannot be overstated. Take AI for example. When used for predictive maintenance AI’s greatest value to manufacturing comes from predictive maintenance, yielding $0.5 trillion to $0.7 trillion across the world’s businesses.1 So this Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as Industry 4.0, has ushered in an unprecedented technological revolution, and with it, paradigm shifts that affect us all. The complexities and infinite possibilities of Industry 4.0 can be wondrous, and overwhelming. For many automation companies, it’s presenting a management challenge in terms of ensuring individuals, teams, and the organizational structure as a whole can adjust accordingly when new technology and software is introduced. 

In this fast-moving innovative environment, what is to be expected and what will be required from Industry 4.0 leaders? How should we adapt in what has been defined by Oxford Leadership2 as a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous (VUCA) environment? Radical changes in the work environment present a call to action to rethink and revamp our collective approach to leadership and organizational change.

Leadership 4.03, a relatively new concept, was designed as a blueprint for workforce adaptability in the Industrial Internet of Things era. It aims to harness the talents of individuals in order to maximize technological advancements. Fifty years ago, the average lifespan for most large companies was 60 years, today it’s 15 years. Advancing people development and closing the skills gap is becoming more urgent since leadership can make or break a company’s ability to adapt and remain agile amidst rising global competition, frequent market changes, and volatility.

Oxford Leadership identified seven key principles4 of Leadership 4.0 that consistently emerged in their research. Their findings reveal the following characteristics for redefining leadership for the fourth industrial revolution:

  • Immersive Customer Focus: Customer-centricity is always the starting point
  • Alignment of Purpose: Leadership is personal, with internal motivations matching business strategic intent
  • Digital and Data Mastery: Intuitive intelligence is augmented with digital and data fluency
  • Transformer Mindset: Curiosity and willingness to learn exist alongside comfort with paradox
  • The Great Man is Dead: Harnessed collective intelligence is greater than edict from above
  • Hyper-Agile Teams: Rapid adaptability, through devolution of authority, evolves into agile, flexible, decentralized, empowered teams
  • Collaboration: Cooperation skills and tools for co-creation are integrated into work and the work culture reflects this

If this sounds like a tall order, it is. It’s not just younger, incoming workers who feel the pressure to do more and be more. According to a 2019 Deloitte survey5 on Industry 4.0 readiness, most Industry 4.0 C-level executives reported feeling empowered to explore the possibilities of Industry 4.0 but said they feel less confident in their abilities to translate Industry 4.0 into tangible business strategies. Additionally, 86 percent of leaders surveyed thought their organizations were doing enough to create a workforce for Industry 4.0, compared to 2018, when leaders recognized the impact of the growing skills gap and as a result, only 47 percent reported feeling confident in their efforts.

At Festo, the more we think about our future as a global automation company, the more we understand how our future success is inextricably tied to student success. This is why our work within Festo Didactic is so rewarding. Some of the most significant progress we experienced as a company last year happened in classrooms. From our new certification program6 to the Mechatronics Apprenticeship Program (MAP) in Mason, Ohio in partnership with Sinclair Community College, to sponsoring high school students at SkillsUSA and other vocational competitions; my colleagues and I found ourselves inspired over and over by students and teachers.

We have a choice in how we design our future work cultures, so let’s do it thoughtfully. The key is not resisting change, it’s knowing how to adapt and plan ahead. Elements of the fourth industrial revolution like AI are impressive, but they can’t replace human emotions, ideas, communication, creativity, and intuition. Pursuing the right balance of letting machines do the work will hopefully free human capacity to dream more, create and expand, and redesign our time in advantageous, meaningful ways.


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