Leadership as we know it will be remodelled over the next five years, as baby boomers leave the workforce in droves and make way for younger generations with new, flexible and transparent approaches to management.
The overhaul is something Avril Henry and Associates founder, Avril Henry, has predicted for 15 years. The leadership consultant and author says the ageing workforce will see baby boomers (born 1946-1964) represent just eight per cent of the workforce (down from 30 per cent currently). Replacing them will be Generation X’s (born 1965 -1979), Generation Y’s (born 1980-1995) or Generation Z’s (born 1996-2010).
Younger generations’ values, such as empathy, authenticity and trustworthiness, will reshape workplace culture into one of inclusivity and flexibility. The baby boomers’ more authoritative, closed-book approach is likely to disappear, and leaders who fail to adapt to the changing landscape will not survive, Henry says.
“We are going to see some pretty dramatic changes. Ninety-two per cent of our workforce will be motivated by things like the empathy, authenticity and trustworthiness of leaders as well as work with purpose and meaning – it will be huge.”
“My generation [baby boomers] were all about having a place you go to work, with set hours, and often more than 40 hours per week. Younger generations see work as something you do, not a place you go – it doesn’t matter where you go, just that the job gets done,” Henry told Women’s Agenda.
It the leadership overhaul that Henry has waited 40 years to witness. When she began working in 1980, many women had jobs as opposed to careers. She was almost always the only or one of two “women in the room” in meetings in the financial and mining industries. A self-described resilient person, Henry has had to challenge management regularly to achieve gender equity and call out practices that were sexist and discriminatory. Her strategy was to never be-friend the people she managed throughout her international career across several sectors, but act in a way that was fair and transparent. “It was difficult and always challenging.”
“While I was working in financial services, I noticed that there was a man I was working with who was less qualified than me and doing the same job as me, but was being paid more for his salary and his annual bonus,” she said. “By that time, in 1984 the sex discrimination act had been enacted and I challenged my boss on it. His response was: ‘Well this man is the main bread winner for his family. I said: ‘I have children and I am also the main bread winner for my family.’”
Increased levels of education for women are slowly changing leadership structures, Henry says. For example, about 40 per cent of tertiary qualified Gen X’s are female and that number increases by 20 percentage points to 60 per cent for Generation Y’s.
One of the biggest changes over the next five years will be the improved attitudes to workplace flexibility and how and when people work. Henry – who has provided demographic commentary for more than two decades – says the term “flexible work” will become an outdated term. Instead, it will “just be work”. Men will demand greater flexibility and there will be more emphasis on “parenting” as opposed to “mothering” as society continues to break down gender stereotypes.
Young leaders will also treat the pursuit of skills and knowledge differently to their predecessors, Henry says. Baby boomers view “knowledge as power”, whereas younger leaders see “knowledge as empowering. The new leadership structure will be relatively flat, as opposed to hierachical, with leaders willing to “roll up their sleeves” and understand the needs of their employees.
“It is a very different approach. Younger generations want to share that knowledge and they have the expectation that someday, down the track, you might reciprocate,” Henry says. “Of course, this kind of attitude helps to build a much more positive, inclusive workplace too,” she says.
It is not only businesses that will experience a paradigm shift in leadership structure, Henry says. Politics will need to evolve from its current status as a “pale, male, stale brigade” in order to remain relevant.
“Current governments are led by predominately white, prescriptive, Christian, middle-aged men and that is not representative of Australia’s demography at all,” she says. “They’re not perceived as trustworthy…and honesty and empathy are two characteristics that young Australians value most.”
Authenticity and trustworthiness will be crucial elements of leadership over the next decade. Authentic, trustworthy leaders often attract followers, because they inspire and motivate people. Henry says the quote by writer, Oscar Wilde, is one she often reminds leaders to draw inspiration from: “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.”
As for Henry’s career, her plans to be semi-retired by 2020 have been shelved for now. She has adult daughters and a baby grand-daughter that she wants to witness reap the rewards of the equality she has fought so hard to see be enacted over the years.
“Retirement: are you kidding? I have been predicting this for years, and within the next five years it is going to happen – a complete shift in leadership. I want to be here and see it happen!”
In 2025, Henry believes the top leadership attributes will include:
“Actively listening, asking questions and being fully present will increase employee engagement”
“Leaders and organisations will represent the values of the people that work for them. They will care about employees as human beings and what matters to them”
“Authentic people are interesting because they aren’t afraid to be themselves. We listen to, and respect authentic people and that create trust in teams”
“Flexibility will just become the norm. Work is something people do, not a place they go. Work will fit in with peoples’ lives and not the other way around.”
“This doesn’t just mean learning new skills; it also means a leader’s ability to ‘un-learn’ old, outdated ways of thinking and doing things.
“Having the trust of our leaders is already becoming a crucial aspect of work for younger generations.”
Avril Henry and Associates amongst a range of leadership services in consulting, executive coaching and inhouse training programs are running a unique breakthrough leadership development program for women called Great Leaders are Made (GLAM), with dates scheduled across the country in 2020 from capital cities to major rural regions. Find out more here.