Busting the myths of the future of work: How not to lead in the 21st century

I am often invited to share interactive keynotes on the future of work and too often I am asked to highlight the best practices of companies like Google and Facebook.

I rarely comply and mostly ask, “How is that relevant? What makes your organization unique and how can we tap into that richness of what works well for you? Why do people love working here and doing business with YOU?” An entirely different conversation emerges when we start asking questions and listening than providing the traditional seven steps to success. We have somehow not only gotten lazy by believing there is a formula for success, we have lost our common sense.

Predictions are rampant around us on how leaders should prepare for the future of work, with cookie-cutter formulas and best practices that are telling us what we should and should not do to be successful. Yet the fundamental elephant that is not in the room is how each of us defines success as an individual and as an organization. How does anyone else know what will work for us? Why would someone else’s way of working be good for us? Why are we stuck in a sameness mindset when we publicly pursue “innovation?”

And when you can see that this is one of the best times to be alive because we live in an open and connected world, all you will see when it comes to business is opportunities to thrive.

Tell stories and lead with purpose

The 21st-century leader understands that her role is to bring people together in conversation to imagine possibilities and go create them. She is not mired in a state of solving problems but generating opportunities. She understands that innovation and corporate social responsibility do not need to be separate departments in her organization but part of the fabric of the organization that is so tapped into the needs of its people — employees, customers, vendors, partners and community members — that it simply becomes part of how the organizations continues to create and deliver its richness in the world. We allow structure to flow instead of always leading with structure as our shared purpose is clear. We don’t need to define ourselves by the organizational box we report into since we care more deeply about why we do what we do and with whom than where we are on an organizational hierarchy.

The 21st-century leader is an amazing storyteller. He deeply understands that creating meaning and purpose with others is about transparency. He does not delegate his communication responsibility to a function, but knows how to take people on the journey with him by listening and sharing. He makes everyone feel like a leader and encourages people to join him in delivering on the purpose of the organization.

The 21st-century leader leads with purpose. Through her storytelling, she creates a shared purpose of why we are here and builds amazing relationships to realize the purpose. She no longer needs to be the expert and always have the answers. She has an uncanny ability to bring people together in conversation around key projects. She no longer focuses on branding as she uses simple language to bring people to care about the purpose (no buzz words or elevator pitches needed). Stories that touch people work better than canned messages on a PowerPoint slide. Her slides have images that tap into the human imagination and creativity rather than lines of words or models. She takes people on a journey of possibilities.

Build communities and embrace work

The 21st-century leader is a community builder. He tears down the walls of separation and brings people together in lively conversations. He busts the myth that the only way to lead is with fear and consensus. He knows that there is nothing to fear in the 21st century as we have everything we need. He brings the best technology that is valuable to the business and integrates it into his leadership. He does not talk about platforms but integrates them into how work is delivered seamlessly. He remembers that when Instant Messaging and Texting appeared, no one needed training or massive change management programs because they were useful and people simply adopted them because they were valuable. He no longer needs to be the information source as his biggest contribution to the business is to bring people together in open dialogue focused on actualizing the purpose of why the business exists. Communication no longer needs to be a function that provides a one-way message but a driver of amazing two-way conversations that flow naturally and provide the information people need when they need it. There is no longer anything to fear in a culture where people jump out of bed to live their purpose instead of celebrating hump Wednesday, TGIF and dreading Monday mornings.

The 21st-century leader sees life as a fearless adventure where work is part of it. We, as 21st-century leaders, do not try to balance the mythical work-life separation as we recognize there is only life. There is no need to balance. We don’t need mindfulness practices as we respect our lives fully and understand work is part of who we are. We stop defining ourselves by our job title and what we do to make a living because in the 21st century, our biggest opportunity is to regain common sense and make a life. All the mindfulness programs have made us recognize that we want full lives and to pursue our own heartbeat. We move from the myth of being a workaholic to the reality of being a LIFEaholic where we put people first.

The 21st-century leader knows business can be a force for good: good for the planet, good for our communities, and good for our co-workers. We want to make an impact in the world and see how business will become the most powerful force for good that human society has ever experienced. Sustainability is integrated in the fabric of organizations as we care deeply about the impact we have on the world and are mindful in how we build our business.

And here is the biggest myth of all that needs some busting: leadership is top-down. In the 21st century, we are all leaders. There are no followers. 

It’s up to each of us to wake up to our own divine leadership essence and co-create the world we want to live in. There is no one else apart from each of us.

What are you doing today to share your art and purpose in your life and your work? Tell us in the comments below.

Are You A 21st Century Leader?

Ayelet Baron
Ayelet Baron
Ayelet combines lessons learned from more than a decade as a high-tech industry executive with her roots as a researcher, change catalyst and strategic communicator. This rare blend of expertise enables her to assess and advise individuals and organizations that seek to embrace new ways of working. She helps leaders transform and build healthy and resilient organizations. She is also a sought after keynote speaker on collaboration, leadership and building 21st century organizations. Her award winning business book, Our Journey to Corporate Sanity, helps you navigate a new path for business as a conscious 21st century leader.

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