There is no doubt that technology is the driver of competitive advantage. But the truth is that people are needed to unlock that competitive advantage.

Leaders need to bring together people with the right skills, and crucially, the right mindsets. This is the key to maximizing the value promised by technology and innovation.

This means that leadership itself needs to adapt as fast—or faster—than the Fourth Industrial Revolution causes economic and political upheaval.

As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman said at the Aspen Institute Conference back in December 2016: “All the things that are important today are the things you cannot download. It’s all the things you have to upload the old-fashioned way: one human being to another.”

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has identified six leadership behaviours that are the key to unlocking the competitive advantage that every company’s people represent.

1. Inspire with empathy and vision

In the days of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) the problem statement and solution are often unclear. To deal with this, it is more important than ever to create a vision, rooted in empathy, that people can connect with in an authentic way. A compelling vision connects people’s hearts before their heads—and that is what motivates people to believe in the vision and to overcome the obstacles to achieve it.

2. Innovate with purpose

Build a culture of experimentation that tolerates failure and links innovation to a purpose. The key word here is “purpose.” Every innovation should contribute to the overall purpose of the product, service, or company. Apple provides a good example of this. Rather than innovating to keep adding features to existing products, the company’s purpose puts the user experience first. This requires the discipline of including everything that is necessary to serve the customer, and nothing more. Steve Jobs famously removed the on/off switch from the first iPods, intuiting that the device didn’t need a separate switch for that function.

3. Advocate empathy, humanity, trust and transparency

Automation will take care of many repetitive tasks. Even so, many activities in the value chain will be performed by humans, including making AI even more capable. Paradoxically, as AI performs more rote or mechanical tasks, inspirational leadership that recognizes human contributions and aspirations will be a key differentiator in helping organizations attract, inspire and retain the best talent.

4. Orchestrate for agility and growth

Fourth Industrial Revolution leaders must transform their organizations for the future—and still meet today’s expectations. Leaders will need to manage the tension between innovation and safeguarding existing revenue streams. They will need the courage to radically re-think and re-organize legacy businesses.

5. Collaborate across the ecosystem

Work is moving out of the organization and onto the desks of freelancers. Leaders who re-think their organizational boundaries to include SMEs, other companies in their industry, labour unions, academia—even government and civil society—give their own companies an edge.

As industry lines continue to blur, no one company will be able to meet its challenges alone. Leaders in the 4IR will need to co-opt and inspire players from beyond their own company borders to achieve the compelling vision they set for their company. (see point 1). Leaders therefore need to mobilize a Liquid Workforce that will be fundamentally different to anything they have managed before.

6. Embrace social responsibility

When corporations displace low-skilled workers, it affects society negatively. Leaders have a responsibility to examine and adopt more sustainable approaches to production. After all, that’s what it means to have value-based, moral leadership. And it’s also good business. It’s difficult to sell to people who are unemployed or have such low skill levels that they have little disposable income.

What this list really means is that leaders need to change themselves faster than the environment around them changes. This requires tremendous curiosity and the desire to be voracious learners. Older and more static learning models where learners disengage from work for a week at a time every year or two need to be replaced with pull-down or “on-demand” learning where learners can dynamically learn in bite-size chunks, and where learning is continuous and is always on. It transcends tech-savviness and data-fluency, involving a much deeper understanding of how disruptive technologies, consumers, politics and new market players create new business opportunities by transforming traditional, established structures and assumptions.

By doing this, leaders will be able to guide their people through times of significant change—with confidence and agility.

For more information on how leadership will need to adapt to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, please free to contact me directly.