Leadership is a complex and evolving phenomenon which can be explored from multiple viewpoints. It is applied across all facets of life and is a key element of organizational excellence regardless of the economic, social, cultural and political landscape. Given its importance in the workplace, it is vital that organizations continually examine their leadership approaches in order to stay relevant. As organizations around the world are increasingly shifting towards a new organizational paradigm that encompasses “activity-based work” (Colliers International, 2011) in an effort to reduce overhead costs and capitalize on the outcomes of the technological evolution and globalization, leaders need to adopt some new leadership perspectives in order to remain effective.
Activity-based work entails the creation of workplaces that facilitate “collaboration, personal accountability and flexibility” (Colliers International, 2011), combining flexible work practices; whereby employees are provided with laptops and lockers in place of a permanent workspace, along with office space reduction schemes. In certain instances, employees can also choose to “telework” from anywhere they choose to. This new workplace phenomenon necessitates an anti-hierarchical style whereby leaders and managers sit out in an open-concept workspace along with everyone else (Glasgow, 2013). The element of perceived power and influence that comes along with the conventional privacy of an individual office is removed, along with the walls and cubicles that are conventionally used to delineate management from staff. Leaders who are used to perceived ‘position’ power (Northouse, 2013, p10) will find this particularly humbling. In order to adapt, the new breed of leaders must recognize and embrace that the new normal in “power” comes from “referent power” (Northouse, 2013, p11) that is ascribed by the followers, and that leadership is not defined by the space of one’s private office space. Furthermore, leaders need to realize that a change in one’s workspace does not take away the “legitimate power” (Northouse, 2013, p11) that is assigned as a result of their roles in the organization.
Nevertheless, while this new organizational prototype may signify a shift in the perception of power, leaders can continue to adopt influence tactics in order to lead their followers towards their collective goals. In particular, Cialdini’s “six principles of social influence” (2006) provide a good basis of understanding and applying this knowledge. This theory posits that leaders can exert influence over their followers by triggering certain predictable behavior from their followers. The six principles include reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity. However, while it may seem easy for leaders to adopt these principles; in reality, these elements of social psychology require social and emotional intelligence of the leader to arrive at the desired outcomes. More than ever, it is important for leaders to possess “human” skills rather than just technical or conceptual skills (Katz, 1955). “Human” skills include emotional intelligence, a concept that was first coined by Daniel Goleman, who posits that “self-awareness, confidence, self-regulation, conscientiousness, motivation, empathy, and social skills”; which are elements of emotional intelligence, provide a good measure of success (Goleman, 1995). Emotional intelligence has since received increasing attention as a good barometer of leadership success, and is even more relevant in the context of activity-based workplaces.
With activity-based workplaces, the onus is on the leader to ensure that there is continuous collaboration and communication between staff members, and that there is absolute clarity on expectations. Leaders need to ensure that staff are measured by their output, rather than attendance; with a new form of performance evaluation that seeks to review staff performance that is largely based on outcomes rather than the process (Glasgow, 2013).
With the right attitude and knowledge necessary to embrace this new organizational paradigm, leaders can look at activity-based workplaces as an opportunity to remove the ‘physical’ barriers of the conventional office space, improve staff camaraderie and unity, and increase workplace innovation. Furthermore, organizations stand to benefit from the reduced overhead costs and new opportunities to engage a new mix of employees who may previously be unsuited for conventional workplace dynamics (Glasgow, 2013).
Ciadini, R.B. (2006). Influence :The Psychology of Persuasion. New York: Harper Collins
Glasgow, Will (2013). Unchain My Staff. Boss Financial Review Volume 14. May 2013.
Goleman, Daniel (1995). Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam.
Katz, R.L. (1955). Skills of an effective administrator. Harvard Business Review 33(1), 33-42.
Kuan, Jason & Black, Peter (2011). Activity Based Workplaces Can it work for everyone? Colliers International White Paper. Spring 2011.
Northouse, P.G. (2013). Leadership:Theory and Practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.