​Work and Leadership 2028: Better act now!

31 August 2018

​Work and Leadership 2028: Better act now!

Planning for the future of business is an intimidating thought considering the current pace of change. What new technology will there be? What will the workforce look like? Will the work style be different?

At Henley Centre for Leadership, and in collaboration with Deutsche Telekom and Detecon Consulting, we researched how work and leadership will look in 2028 and identified 16 projections and subsequent implications. These trends will help businesses facing the fourth industrial revolution to debate and make choices for the future today.

The following highlighted areas are just a selection of the trends drawn from interviews with 50 influential business and societal leaders from a number of sectors and countries – sometimes not providing straight forward answers, but rather dilemmas and food for thought and action.

It is getting serious - a cry for societal purpose

In view of societal divisions and inequality, our study projects that businesses are at a junction; societal responsibility will define and decide their existence. Profits will be allowed within a
long-term perspective but to have legitimacy in 2028, successful organisations will need to pursue truly sustainable business models and strive for human-centricity.

Organisations should question prescribed purposes, learned patterns of economic behaviour, narrow societal contributions, and involve many managers and employees in deep debates regarding organisational purpose.

Leading a hybrid workforce - preparing leaders to facilitate people-machine ecosystems

Sounds awkward? People-tech ecosystems and digital arenas, consisting of people and artificial intelligences, robots, machine learning, social platforms will be the reality.

Managers must start now to understand what leading in these new environments means. Who is accountable for the decisions and consequences in people-machine ecosystems? How can they inspire and motivate people-machine ecosystems? Who leads whom in an AI-human ecosystems?

Gig leadership in transparent settings - translucent, collective and rotating leadership

Episodic working and technology will shake up leadership as we know it, creating more translucent, collective and rotating leadership, coined as gig leadership. Our interviewees expect this will be accompanied by radical transparency and immediacy amongst employees and managers.

Organisations need to prepare people for transparent leadership by incorporating more agile leadership structures and organisation-wide leadership development. This will enable them to find hidden leadership talent and redefine assessment of leadership success and promotion.


Episodic loyalties and the need for belonging - people and firms as temporary companions

Our study shows that organisations will face a paradox of flexibility and gig and episodic working, while people will show a need for belonging and to engage episodically with deep loyalties. With reduced touchpoints, firms need to establish a strong pull: for instance life-long learning paths or treating people as ‘alumni’.

Organisation should explore now if they suit being an episodic home or adapting to become one.

Leading for human centricity – in search of leadership capacities and personal qualities

While technology will be ubiquitous, our research predicts that successful organisations will radically focus on human centricity; employees will be genuinely valued as humans.

Successful business leaders will address two areas:

  1. Multifaceted complex leadership capacities that embrace networked relationships, enable other people to thrive and lead, or navigate cross-boundary working
  2. Deep personal qualities where leadership becomes self-directed, enables survival and is virtuous and generative

We have to get uncomfortable – unlearning leadership development

Our study shows that it is time to unlearn some development habits for 2028 leadership; this will be uncomfortable and exciting, and include shedding well-nurtured blinders of leadership learning.

Businesses will have to focus on transformative development that nurtures whole-person learning and people-tech system development. Multi-level leadership learning for all employees or cross-career, disruptive leadership learning and unlearning will help.

If you have more appetite for 2028 work and leadership, you can find more projections in our ‘Work 2028: trends, dilemmas & choices’ report …join the debate!

Professor Bernd Vogel and Obiageli Heidelberger-Nkenke