Future Of Work: The 4 Mindsets Of Effective Leadership In The Digital Age

Leadership is changing, and the idea of top-down leadership is becoming a thing of the past.
  • A new research report looks at four leadership behaviors that leaders must adopt for their organizations to thrive in the future of work.
  • “The idea of top-down leadership is a thing of the past”, and decision-making will become more distributed so that every person takes the responsibility to lead.
  • Leaders must be digitally savvy, but above all, the most important behavior in the future workplace is trust.

To thrive in the digital economy, organizations need leaders that are not afraid to adopt new behaviour and, more importantly, that are willing to let go of past leadership behaviors. 

MIT Sloan, in collaboration with Cognizant, recently published the research report, “The New Leadership Playbook for the Digital Age: Reimagining What It Takes to Lead”. The report argues that today’s workforce requires more from leaders than what most can offer and that leadership needs to be democratized. 

“The idea of top-down leadership is a thing of the past, or should be anyway. It’s not what people are looking for. Leadership needs to be democratized. Decision-making has to be more distributed so that every person feels it is his or her responsibility to lead, because that is what will lead to speed, which is so important for business success today.” 

The research report looks at some emerging leadership behaviors that leaders will need to adopt for their organizations to thrive in the future of work. 

Reimagining Leadership 

“The need for change is urgent, and time is running out for leaders who are holding on to old ways of working and leading.”

This is because the changing nature of competition, work, and society is influencing change in the role of leadership. Take for example the rise of the gig economy; rather than managing talent, most leaders are now faced with the task of inspiring and engaging people as part of their organization’s community.

MIT Sloan found that:

  • Just 12% of respondents strongly agree that their leaders have the right mindsets to lead them forward.
  • Only 40% agree that their companies are building robust leadership pipelines to tackle the demands of the digital economy.
  • Only 48% agree that their organizations are prepared to compete in digitally driven markets and economies
  • While 82% believe that leaders in the new economy will need to be digitally savvy, less than 10% of respondents strongly agree that their organizations have leaders with the right skills to thrive in the digital economy.

Already, the role of leadership is changing, which is why some leadership behaviors are diminishing in importance (top-down leadership and micromanaging). At the same time, other behaviors are becoming more critical to success (i.e. digital savviness). 

In fact, the report found that 82% of respondents indicated that “digital savviness is a non-negotiable leadership skill required for the future.”

While it is true that some cultural and behavioral leadership norms of the past are no longer effective, there are some leadership qualities that have withstood the test of time and remain as important today as ever:

  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Inspiration
  • Trust. 

It’s worth noting that the most important behavior for leading teams is, “by a wide margin, trust”. 

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“People want to trust their leaders and have their leaders trust them. Trust enables individuals and teams to be more willing to take chances or go the extra mile for their organizations.” 

The 4 Mindsets of Effective Leadership

The report argues that one of the deeper challenges leaders face today is developing a mindset that anchors, informs, and advances new leadership behaviors while letting go of old ones that are no longer effective. 

MIT Sloan identified “four distinct yet interrelated mindsets that together constitute the new hallmarks of leadership in the digital economy.” 

  • Producer Mindset
  • Investor Mindset
  • Connector Mindset
  • Explorer Mindset

These mindsets, according to the report, will make it possible for communities to be bound together by a shared purpose

1. Producer Mindset

“The producer mindset combines a focus on customers with a focus on analytics, digital savviness, execution, and outcomes.”

Producer leaders embrace analytics and emerging technologies to accelerate innovation and identify changing customer needs and preferences. One of their priorities is to improve the customer and user experience. 

2. Investor Mindset

“Leaders with an investor mindset pursue a higher purpose beyond shareholder returns.” 

While leaders with this mindset are concerned with profitability and business outcomes, they are more concerned about achieving their goals in a sustainable fashion. When making an executive decision, these leaders are likely to think about how it will impact the environment, the community, and their employees’ quality of life.


Suggested Reading: “Future of Work: Should You Focus on Finding Your Business Purpose?


3. Connector Mindset

In an interconnected world, it only makes sense for leaders to have a connector mindset, a mindset that empowers them to build strong relationships, partnerships, and networks. Leaders need to master collaborative relationships inside and outside of their organization. 

The connector leader will bring together stakeholders, which will be key to success. “With more diverse interests, spread across individuals, functions, companies, geography, and industries, the challenge of aligning interests becomes more complex and more urgent.

4. Explorer Mindset

As things stand today, leaders that will succeed are those that are open to change and are flexible in different situations. 

Explorers, according to MIT Sloan, “engage in continuous experimentation and learn by listening to many, and varied, voices. Organizations whose leaders have an explorer mindset often have cultural norms that tolerate, and indeed encourage, failure, reverse mentoring, and a deep curiosity about how the forces of digitalization are reshaping the competitive environment.”

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