Succeeding in an IoT World: 5 Essential Leader Characteristics

May 9, 2017

Succeeding in an IoT World: 5 Essential Leader Characteristics

Succeeding in an IoT World: 5 Essential Leader Characteristics

“Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.” –Steve Jobs

The Internet of Things (IoT) is positioned to bring more efficiencies to life and work as data flowing to and from billions of connected devices transforms the supply chain of our daily lives. While these changes are a given, the value to our lives is not. This value will ultimately be determined by how we manage the challenges of living in an IoT world. With implications for our personal lives—from how we connect devices in our homes to how we redesign transportation networks in our cities—and our lives at work, in the end, success will largely depend on people who will consume, produce, and act on the efficiencies and information provided by the IoT.

While others have highlighted the technological, environmental, and even societal implications of the IoT, there is a need to focus on the workforce impacts. How will living in an increasingly interconnected and data saturated world influence the relationship between people and the organizations where they work? Specifically, what will it take to lead others in a future workplace defined by the IoT?

The IoT provides leaders an opportunity to create novel solutions to solve complex problems.

In this new reality, people will be on both the consumption and production side of the IoT. At multiple points, the internet of things will intersect with a network of people. As consumers, the IoT is likely to affect our expectations for where, how, when, and even why we work. Consequently, organizations will have to adjust to new lifestyles and work-life expectations in order to attract and retain the best talent. Further, on the production side, managing and acting on the data captured by the IoT will become many people’s jobs. As we suggest, the talent implications for organizational leadership are significant.

Below we highlight five core competencies that we believe are requirements for organizational leaders working in an IoT world.

  1. Act with integrity. The IoT has increased our ability to track and fact check, enabling us to answer questions and detect issues faster than ever. As such, organizations and their leaders will be under increased scrutiny to demonstrate that they walk-the-talk and follow through on commitments. To maintain trust with workers and society, displaying high integrity is a fundamental attribute of leaders in this data-rich work environment.
  2. Adopt a growth mindset. Change is the only constant in the age of the IoT. Yet, before leaders can drive high-impact organizational change, they need to have a self-belief in their ability to continually grow and develop. According to Carol Dweck, a leading researcher on work motivation, people with a growth mindset tend to be more successful because they focus on what they can learn from success and failure. In addition to these individual benefits, recent research from Dweck and her colleagues shows that organizations who employ growth-mindset leaders experience positive worker outcomes like increased feelings of empowerment and commitment. The IoT provides leaders an opportunity to create novel solutions to solve complex problems. With setbacks and mistakes likely to be experienced along this learning journey, leaders who adopt a growth mindset will be ready to navigate and embrace change that comes their way.
  3. Empower others. The IoT will take us from the age of Big Data to the age of Massive Data, requiring organizations to quickly scale their ability to derive, review, and act on data insights. People will need to be empowered to consume and act, just in time. Further, as the IoT empowers people in their personal lives, expectations may also increase for individual empowerment at work. Empowering others is one of the tenets of shared leadership (Pearce & Sims, 2000), a style of leading that involves a broad distribution of decision-making authority and influence within a group so that individuals can lead one another to achieve business goals.
  4. Coach. With the current rate of change and progress, it will be increasingly difficult for leaders to gain influence based on technical expertise or specialist knowledge alone. However, leaders still play a critical role in supporting and growing their teams. There will be an increased need for strong leadership coaching skills, as workers will require impactful guidance to help them navigate and derive meaning from all of the noise emerging from the IoT. In particular, coaching and development around timeless skills such as creative problem-solving, complex data analysis, and clear and concise communication will become increasingly important. 
  5. Inspire. Inspirational motivation is one of the key elements of transformational leadership (Bass, 1999). A leader with inspirational motivation offers an engaging vision of the future that creates enthusiasm, communicates optimism, sets high standards, and provides others with meaning. These leadership behaviors will be essential for boosting job satisfaction and engagement in work environments impacted by the IoT. For example, the IoT will likely create a more dispersed workforce and jobs that are increasingly specialized. Leaders with inspirational motivation will be better equipped to hold the interest and focus of workers who are offsite and in different geographic regions. Further, as jobs become more specialized, two important job characteristics (Hackman & Oldham, 1980) will be at stake: task variety and task identity. Both of these job characteristics are important for workers to experience the meaningfulness of their work. Effective leaders will leverage inspirational motivation to continually put work in perspective and create meaning.   

So, what will it take to lead others in a workplace defined by the IoT? We believe that at a minimum, leaders who act with integrity, adopt a growth mindset, empower others, coach, and inspire their teams, will be successful in the future world of work.

The Authors: 

Lauren Garrison, Ph.D., is an organizational effectiveness consultant with Slalom where she has helped organizations support and grow their people by utilizing her expertise in instructional design, leadership development, change management, and agile processes. Lauren has conducted research on leadership development evaluation, mindsets toward feedback, and contributed to a book chapter on coaching for meaningful work. Lauren is also a CTI trained coach.

Stefanie Putter, Ph.D., is an organizational effectiveness consultant with Slalom where she specializes in providing talent development, executive coaching, and change management expertise to her clients. She has worked internally in a Fortune 10 telecommunications company and externally consulting with organizational leaders from the front-line to the C-suite. Stefanie is passionate about helping companies solve tough people problems.