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Lead differently for a different workforce

4 people sharing ideas illustration

When I get on the elevator at work these days, it's a much different scene. Employees are younger. They're more diverse. And they often speak multiple languages.

"Company leaders must re-evaluate their leadership style."

Numbers tell the tale of this new workforce - there are more women and more people of color than at any point in U.S. history.

Baby boomers are entering the back third of their careers, and by 2020, millennials will represent half of the global workforce.

But I've also noticed another striking change in the workforce. It's attitude.

There's been a shift in workplace expectations. Employees now emphasize technology, professional fulfillment and work-life balance.

To keep this new generation of workers inspired and engaged, company leaders must re-evaluate their leadership style.

Command-and-control leadership, a military-style management approach from the first half of 20th century, continues to outlive its usefulness.

From my perspective, failure to change how we lead is leading to high turnover rates, especially at larger companies. And that turnover is expensive.

Acts and activities

Today's workforce wants to be led differently. They are thirsty for coaching and professional development.

They want to participate as equals in strategic planning and consultative projects. They want to collaborate and co-create with their leaders.

I've spent the past few years learning about and advocating for the Blue Ocean Leadership model - a leadership philosophy that challenges companies to stop asking people to change who they are (their values, qualities and behavioral styles) and instead asks them to change what they do (their acts and activities).

And how the change is based on asking and engaging both the leaders and their teams inside the company.

This tailored, inclusive approach helps a company uncover how its people want to be led. These three e-principles are the building blocks for a new brand of leadership:

The 3 e-principles of fair process
The 3 e-principles of fair process

The game plan

How can you bring the three e's to your company?

It's important to understand these two Blue Ocean Strategy principles:

One is the concept of non-customers.

In Blue Ocean Strategy, big ideas are formed when you look beyond your customers to think about your non-customers.

Consider that as a leader, you are selling leadership. Who is not buying your leadership? Why not?

The second concept is the reduce-eliminate-raise-create grid.

When developing new products, Blue Ocean Strategy calls for taking inventory and creating value by reducing and eliminating features without a market.

In turn, you increase and create features that have a robust market. In leadership, the same principle applies to our actions.

What activities are valued by our customers - both our bosses and our employees?

Once you understand these principles, you can then implement the Blue Ocean Leadership model. Here's a four-step guide:

1. Take inventory

Record your company's leadership reality.

Managers (front line, middle management, senior leadership) should organize conversations and focus groups to document core values shared by everybody.

Identify the cold spots (activities people don't value) and the hot spots (activities that energize and engage people).

2. Map out your current leadership profile

Outline the activities commanding leaders' time. Give this leadership profile a name.

3. Map out a new leadership profile

Determine - with your team - which activities should be reduced, eliminated, raised or created. Give this leadership profile a name.

4. Institutionalize new practices

Because you applied the three e's of fair process, everyone participated in making the changes.

They bought in. Now it's time to communicate and hold each other accountable.

Distribute leadership profiles and hold meetings to reinforce the activities that need to be eliminated, reduced, raised or created. Hold regular meetings to gather feedback and adapt.

Here's an example of a middle-manager profile:

What middle managers should do

Here's an example of a senior-manager profile:

Diagram showing what senior managers should do.
What senior managers should do

Dive in

Today's workforce is different, which means leaders must lead differently as well.

"Failure to change becomes failure to survive."

If your company or your team is struggling to attract and retain top talent, you may want to look at where your leaders are spending their time and effort.

Rather than asking leaders to change the values, qualities and behavioral styles that define who they are, make change easier and more effective by asking people to change what they do.

Involve managers and team members throughout the inventory and communication process and share visual profiles to ensure adoption of and commitment to the new leadership rules.

Change is never easy but in today's disruptive times, failure to change becomes failure to survive. It's time to dive in to a different way of leading.

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