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What it takes to be a successful leader during the ‘fourth industrial revolution’

With the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) re-shaping how the world lives and works, global leaders are facing the pressures of preparing their businesses and their workforces for this new era. 

Arising from this shift to Industry 4.0 are defined leadership traits that have been uncovered in Deloitte's second annual Readiness Report, Success Personified in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which offers insight into the characteristics that set apart the most effective leaders and successful organisations.

This survey of more than 2,000 C-suite executives across 19 countries, found that executives genuinely want to improve the world and they have a clearer grasp of the skills challenge ahead. 

However, organisational roadblocks appear to be limiting the development of effective Industry 4.0 strategies and they continue to shy away from bold technology investments that will drive innovation and disruption. In two critical areas – societal impact and talent development – CXO attitudes changed dramatically from 2017, indicating leaders are becoming more realistic about what it takes to succeed in Industry 4.0. 

Deloitte Global CEO Punit Renjen says, "Last year, even though leaders were just beginning to understand how Industry 4.0 would transform business and society, they expressed confidence in their preparedness. 

"Yet their actions demonstrated a significant mismatch between their confidence to address these changes and their actual readiness to address them. Today, leaders are more realistic about what it will take to succeed, and they appear particularly focused on societal impact and workforce development as two critical components of their future success."

While there is no one recipe for success in how to deal with rapid industrial transformation, it can be helpful to understand how certain leaders are approaching this ever-changing environment. 

Organisations with leaders who embody the characteristics of the Industry 4.0 personas, commitment to do good; defined, data-driven decision-making; bold, longer-term vision of technology; and aggressive about workforce development, are poised to survive and thrive.

Deloitte research explores the types of leaders that are taking effective action, where they are making the most progress, and what sets the most successful leaders apart. 

These leadership personas, the "Social Supers," the "Data-driven Decisives," the "Disruption Drivers," and the "Talent Champions", can supposedly serve as models for leaders globally as they tackle the challenges associated with 4IR transformation.

The "Social Supers"

"Social Supers" are leaders who consider societal initiatives fundamental to their businesses. They have demonstrated success in "doing well by doing good" by generating new revenue streams through socially or environmentally conscious products or services; and believe that these initiatives, more often than not, contribute to profitability. "Social Supers" are more confident in their ability to handle the workforce challenges of Industry 4.0—they are 12% more likely to cite that their workforce composition is prepared for digital transformation and show far greater willingness to train workers (54% vs. 37%).

The "Data-Driven Decisives"

Strategic obstacles, such as organisational silos, can complicate decision-making processes and hamper innovation. "Data-Driven Decisives," however, are overcoming these challenges through a methodical, data-focused approach and are bolder in their decisions. These leaders are confident in comparison to other leaders, with sixty-two per cent strongly agreeing that they are prepared to lead their organisations in capitalising on the opportunities associated with Industry 4.0 almost twice as many as other leaders (32%) surveyed.

The "Disruption Drivers"

Leaders known as the "Disruption Drivers" understand that investment in new innovations is required for growth; they invest in technologies with a concerted focus on upending their markets. These bold decisions have paid off, their technology investments have achieved or exceeded their intended business outcomes. "Disruption Drivers" are more likely to say they feel ready to lead in the Industry 4.0 era (45% versus 32%) and are more assured that their organizations are prepared to capitalize on the opportunities associated with Industry 4.0.

The "Talent Champions"

The "Talent Champions" know what skill sets their companies need, and they believe they currently have the correct workforce composition. These executives are aggressively preparing their companies for digital transformation, and embrace their responsibilities to train their employees for the future of work (51 % versus 41 % for all other respondents). Talent Champions also are more likely to invest in technologies to disrupt competitors (42% versus 32%).