Op: Ed by Ronen Aires

I’m a recovering control freak. Growing up as a Gen X’er, my parents and my parents’ parents made sure we cut our teeth on three very simple truths: 1) hard work 2) more hard work and 3) leadership. The latter only happened if you worked hard though. Very hard. Like until-you-retired-due-to-exhaustion. That kind of hard.

Our generation was taught to revere great leaders, ones that held the power and the secrets and the right to control anything in their domain. And we all wanted to be one.

But that’s not the shape of the new world order. Old patterns and top-heavy structures are dissolving themselves into the abyss of chaos. There is a mass disruption in our society and in our environment; we’re seeing young professionals in companies disconnected and disillusioned with the current leadership.

And if you think Covid’s to blame — you’re wrong.

For decades, these young people have fought against hierarchical structures that were too rigid, too slow and far too punitive for their liking. They were arguing for shared, collaborative and flexible working environments pre-pre-pre Covid: a way of working that negated “the Leader” and replaced it with “the Tribe”.

Today, with the current pace set on ‘relentless’, change as we are experiencing it, is rough and ruthless — and if it’s not calibrated with, it will take you out with the trash.

Covid, it seems, has given rise to a sense of necessary urgency that we didn’t want, but we needed. How will old school organisations survive if they’re not able to adapt fast enough? They won’t.

As more and more leaderless structures are mushrooming, they are proving more robust, quicker to gather and quicker to respond to conflict, change and inequality. Leaders need to be strong now — in a different way; they need to release control and make it okay to be human in the workplace while driving their teams with inspired thinking towards greatness.

Perhaps the idea of a ‘Leader-less’ society is not so much advocating the absence of a leader as it is the reshaping of the front-runner — with LESS ego, LESS bravado, LESS control. MORE transparency. MORE empathy. MORE creative collaboration.

This is easier said than done of course. I’ve spent the past 20 years consulting large companies on how to re-wire themselves to be more relevant to the younger consumer and professional — and as a company that hires young people, I’ve realised the extent to which I need to upgrade my own leadership style to ensure that I don’t become irrelevant in my own organisation.

For those of us who are still work in progress, just take a look at how leadership is changing at a high school level. Instead of the antiquated prefect system that celebrated individuals, there are now self-directed committees consisting of students of various ages using design thinking principles and technology to co-create magic.

And there’s a lot of heart that follows that smart, as young ones are showing us how to infuse empathy, kindness and resilience in creating initiatives; ones that not only better their schools, but their communities too.

These are the new leaders. This is the new order. And less is the new Boss.

Founder and CEO of Student Village (est 2001), Ronen Aires is a thought-leading pioneer of Afrillennials ® and a long time scholar of the generation gap; Ronen has spent over two decades understanding and researching generational behaviour and statistics. His written works and motivational talks have led to transformative shifts within organisations globally and Student Village has created thousands of opportunities between companies and youth. Ronen has been responsible for contributing entrepreneurial strategies across University curriculums and is currently Global Chair for the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation (EO) Accelerator Program.


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