From Augustus to baby boomers, how leadership is adapting

In the Communications Directorate at the Department for Work & Pensions, we blog about thought leadership, current affairs and matters we hope will be of interest. I've decided to use my KHub blog to share them with the team and more widely. Here's my first one since joining back in February 2015.


I'm relatively new to DWP (and govt) and I know many of you are too. I feel I need to let you know a little bit about me which will put this, and future blogs, into perspective.  I confess. I have a number of obsessions. The first is the Roman Empire - post Republic, post Julius Caesar. The second is Greek tragedy (I defy anyone to read or see Aeschylus' The Persians or Euripides' Medea & not be hooked) The third is local government (or perhaps, more precisely, local governance). I reckon this explains my interest in Rome which successfully managed a more or less 500 year rule by devolving local decision making, economic powers & growth.

History has many great leaders. I cite Augustus as my hero. I could have said Napoleon (timely with the anniversary of Waterloo & arguably more leader than the manager Wellington) or Alexander the Great (tutored by Aristotle & probably the most successful conqueror in the ancient world.) However, the reason I like Augustus is that he knew that to be a great leader you must take people with you and, most importantly, adapt.

Last year, #Teacamp (check out @TeacampLondon & @lily_dart) asked me to talk at an event on #digitalwomen. I did some research and realised it wasn't so much about women getting on in technology, it was more about how leadership is changing in all sectors and its relevance to all genders.  We're in changing times. A revolution. Did you know that one of the biggest and most under-appreciated upheavals of our time is the retirement of our current generation of senior folk across all sectors? These leaders, who predominantly come from the baby boomer generation, have an outlook on life which has uniquely shaped the world as we know it today.

As these leaders prepare to hand over the baton to the next generation, it becomes ever more pertinent to ask: what will follow in their wake? Cass Business School conducted an in-depth research study in 2013 to look at this, interviewing leading senior executives across a wide range of industries and geographies. One major take out was: "The rapid rise of developing economies, retiring baby boomers, greater international mobility & more women rising to senior leadership ranks are converging to create a fundamentally shifting business model."

82% of respondents recognised that a different leadership style will be required to motivate people to do business in a global environment and attract (and retain) talent from a far more diverse and fluid workforce.

It went on to say that leaders of the future will need to…

  1. Be more collaborative
    Transfer knowledge, coach, mentor and codify
  2. Re-evaluate organisational structures
    Focus on incentive philosophy, and how they recruit and retain talent
  3. Be culturally aware
    Designing leadership programmes that develop cultural diversity, flexibility and people skills.

Basically, emotional intelligence, people skills and flexibility, will be particularly highly valued in the future.

At the end of the day, leadership is not a means to an end in itself. It's about empowering people to achieve great things and make places successful.

An organisation that I value highly in terms of employee engagement is 'Engage for Success (a movement committed to the idea that there is a better way to work, a better way to enable personal growth, organisational growth and ultimately growth for Britain by releasing more of the capability and potential of people at work. Supported by public, private and third sectors). They set out four enablers of engagement

  1. Visible, empowering leadership
    … providing a strong strategic narrative about the organisation, where it’s come from and where it’s going.
  2. Engaging managers
    …who focus their people and give them scope, treat their people as individuals and coach and stretch their people.
  3. Organisational integrity
    …the values on the wall are reflected in day to day behaviour. There is no ‘say – do’ gap.
  4. Employee voice
    …throughout organisations, for reinforcing and challenging views, between functions and externally, employees are seen as central to the solution

Whilst, if I'm honest, Augustus may not have been quite so accommodating I do think these were near enough the tenets that set him apart as one of the most successful leaders of the ancient world.

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