In the first two-part interview, I caught up with Dimitris Kourepis to discuss organisational transformation and leadership challenges.
Dimitris, how does technology affect organisations and our role at work?
The role of humans in the economy keeps changing, mainly because of technological advances. Looking at the last couple of decades, a large part of the workforce became digital technology slaves or operators. We now spend most of our time in front of a screen, feeding computers with data and doing repetitive and boring tasks. Often we are simply exchanging the same piece of information over and over with each other.
Technology is becoming smarter and faster in the new knowledge economy stage, and the world is increasingly interconnected. Our role has evolved to become the ‘master and coach’ of digital technology. Gradually, most of us – in parallel to expertise and our primary role – will also become digital scientists to unleash technology’s new capabilities. Helping automate most of the tedious and time-consuming tasks to have more time to use our intellectual and social capabilities. Our role as employees will become more interesting and valuable to companies and organisations.
Do we (employees) have the right skills for this knowledge economy?
More than ever, there is a need for higher-level cognitive skills and a combination of curiosity, creativity and strategic mindset. We need people with a holistic understanding of how the whole organisation and ecosystem operate to unleash the technology’s tremendous capabilities. To succeed, we need to keep changing, learning and adapting faster.
Employees will become more autonomous, and we will decide what to do and how to do it and take more initiative. For this reason, organisations will need people with an entrepreneurial spirit and social skills to collaborate and effectively align with many other experts in the ecosystem who are also becoming more autonomous and agile.
The continuously increasing agility and democratisation of autonomy will require more effort for effective alignment to succeed as a team.
That’s a significant change and requires a significant mindset shift, starting with the leaders.
What type of leadership is needed?
We need higher quality distributed leadership. We need more and better leaders to align and develop those valuable autonomous talents in a personalised way instead of the old-style mass leadership where we communicate to everyone in the same way, without knowing them personally or listening to them.
Personalised leadership requires coaching and aligning the ‘entrepreneurs’ within the organisation, effectively facilitating discussions and debates, nurturing the spirit of collaboration, creating an agile self-managed and self-governed organisation.
I would even say we instead talk about cross-coaching, having leaders capable of coaching but open and capable to get coached by their subordinates, peers and partners in the ecosystem.
As with well-managed, well-governed countries where we hardly know their leaders, we shouldn’t know who the executives are in self-managed and well-governed organisations.
What’s extremely important is whether the organisation generates positive value for the whole stakeholder ecosystem (customers, society, employees, partners, shareholders).
In this evolving WE-economy and society, the role of the leader should change from the egocentric hero – who knows everything, has a solution for every problem, and talks a lot – to a servant leader, focusing on attracting, aligning, coaching and developing better leaders in the ecosystem. Smart people know that “leaders are as good as the leaders they lead”. The hero model doesn’t serve the organisations of the future.
What barriers stand in the way of changing leadership focus?
Most executives rarely invest time to coach and align their direct reports, no matter what they say in their interviews. Indeed, they all have meetings, discussions, lunches and dinners with their direct reports, discussing business, including some small talk about personal and social topics, but this communication is rarely coaching.
We all prefer the old style of hierarchical organisation, where the executive talks a lot and where employees, partners and media worship the hero. The hero model is an easier and more appealing role for leaders to play, and to date, it’s still better for their careers.
This is a model that is constantly promoted and monetised by the media. Certainly, the stories of charismatic egocentric executives get more attention, and they are sexier than servant leaders, who usually prefer to invest time with their team instead of seeking publicity.
Additionally, effective coaching is a problematic additional job, and it requires excellent listening skills, empathy, patience and time investment. Often, this doesn’t always bring visible positive business results and certainly not with the speed we all expect in the digital economy. Most executives have neither the capabilities nor the appetite to change.
This is why it will remain a challenging transition because both leaders and their broad stakeholder ecosystem love the superhero leader stories. I don’t think anybody appreciates the servant leader role yet.
Very few executives today have the character and capabilities to change. Those are confident leaders who believe that creating value and leaving a positive legacy through coaching and alignment is more important than their career, glory and fame. They invest time coaching and aligning their leaders, giving the right example to cascade this approach across the organisation.
Are there any solutions to help facilitate change?
Of course, there is a practical solution for executives who understand the value of such a change but can’t find the additional time needed to coach.
They can hire a capable coach who will become the executive’s “alter ego” in coaching and aligning their direct reports. In that case, they should select a qualified coach who already has executive experience and match or complement the executive’s personality.