Leadership 4.0: A Call for Leaders to Stay Relevant in the Near Future

We are now in an era that we used to watch only in sci-fi movies, with fast and almost seamless integration of artificial intelligence (AI), IoT and robotics into our everyday lives. The impact of these sophisticated technologies has been disruptive in the business world, where the adoption of a whole new organisational structure has been highly challenging and complex. In fact, former Cisco CEO John Chambers claims that up to 40% of the world’s biggest companies will not exist in a meaningful way after the next decade if they don’t adequately prepare themselves for this era. 

When digital disruption continues to sweep across every industry and evolves at a fast pace, it is inevitable for us to hear about the latest hot topics. Recently, all the hype is around Industry 4.0 (the Fourth Industrial Revolution), a term that was first coined in 2016 by Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum (WEF). Even though Industry 4.0 is usually used in the context of digitalisation and technology, navigating the complexity of Industry 4.0 and integrating it into the future of work has also become a challenge. We’ve recently started to witness the rise of buzzwords Industry 4.0 Readiness and Leadership 4.0 (or Digital Leadership), which play a significant part in how the fourth industrial revolution will be applied to businesses. 

Let’s see what Leadership for Industry 4.0 really means and what this new leadership model will bring to the table.

Leadership 4.0: The Essential Approach for the Digital Age

It became quite clear for organisations looking to embrace Industry 4.0 that deploying high technology isn’t enough if there is no relevant workforce structure in place. Existing traditional leadership capabilities, styles and mindsets aren’t suited to tackling the challenges of digital transformation in the VUCA (volatile, unpredictable, complex, and ambiguous) environment. Therefore, organisations have to be equipped to train, reskill and retain digital talent as well as digital leaders. 


Not surprisingly, the need for a new leadership approach was one of the main topics at this year’s World Economic Forum. It was stated that the new model should include team-oriented, cooperative, agile, inspiring and cross-hierarchical digital leaders who also have an ethical responsibility. And this approach that embraces these “dream leaders” is called Leadership 4.0. 

Qualities of a Digital Leader

In addition to basic traditional leadership capabilities, such as inspiring and motivating teams, a new leadership profile is needed with a modern mindset in order to lead in the digital era. This new breed of leaders are now expected to be:


Digital leaders should be agile when navigating through volatile, unpredictable, complex, and ambiguous conditions. They may even need to adjust their leadership style every day to respond to their new digital reality. Additionally, they need to have the skills to analyse all types of information, calculate risks, prioritise key actions, and respond quickly across the business and overall organisational matters.


In order to be agile, a digital leader should create an open and transparent culture within the organisation. A transparent framework fosters resilience and encourages employees to take initiative, and not to become demotivated when their work doesn’t perform as expected. It sets up talented employees to achieve success, as well as re-align them on shifting priorities when necessary. Transparency will pave the way for proactive behaviour and self-responsibility within the workforce.

Technology and Innovation-Driven

Industry 4.0 is about high technology. Digital leaders need to be tech-savvy, data-driven and embrace methodical and strategic decision-making processes to overcome the challenges of Industry 4.0. Ideally, they should also be a bridge between continuously changing technologies, machines and people. 

On top of this, digital leaders need to invest in disruptive technologies and implement a culture of innovation within the organisation to set their businesses apart from competitors and reap the economic benefits of the 4th industrial revolution.


A transparent culture only works efficiently when an organisation is ethical. Managers need to create an ethical environment where employees work together with mutual respect while improving their capabilities and contributing to a shared vision and the common good. 

An ethical leader should view the issue of ethics as an ongoing learning journey,  embrace the characteristics of an ethical leader (the four-V model: Values, Vision, Voice and Virtue), and align business practices with ethical beliefs and values. 

Team-Oriented & Facilitating

In order to develop a successful culture of innovation, leaders should create ecosystems of learning, sharing knowledge and skills development with the collaboration of cross-functional teams. To achieve this, leaders should:

  • Eliminate the barriers of hierarchy: All employees should be able to find solutions and come up with ideas quickly in an open atmosphere that encourages learning from past errors. 
  • Prioritise employee engagement:  The impact of the “weQ” instead of “IQ” movement is starting to shape working environments. This means each employee is an important asset and adds their own unique value to a company. Initiative and decision-making skills are required for all positions, and every decision can determine a company’s future. Therefore, leaders should encourage diversity in opinions and talent; inspire all employees to contribute to the system, and evaluate jobs and results together by integrating constant feedback – with everyone working towards the common goal of the organisation. Of course, this requires exceptional delegation skills to distribute tasks according to situations and competence.
  • Share knowledge and experience by encouraging employees to continuously develop their skills with the right tools. Thus, organisations can close existing skill gaps, discover new talent, and ensure long-term success.

Competent in Business Coaching and Mentoring

In the modern business world, the core competencies required for the digital era are new and constantly updating. Therefore, it is not possible for today’s managers to have a comprehensive suite of all the technical and business skills of their entire team. This means the only effective way to improve their employees’ capabilities is to support their individual development on a one-on-one basis.

Not only has coaching and mentoring become widely accepted in the area of individual development, but it’s also now prevalent within organisations. Coaches and mentors are accelerators for both career development and the development of larger units within an organisation. Since coaching and mentoring are the first steps to building a workforce of the future, business leaders should implement a sustainable coaching culture and deliver consistent training in line with their organisation’s goals. 

Leaders who are equipped with coaching skills can support each employee to leverage their individual capabilities for the greatest amount of organisational productivity. Moreover, consistent coaching with the right tools allows the workforce to identify their strengths, abilities, motivations and areas of development, as well as track their progress and shape their career paths. With this approach, leaders can become a “manager as-a-coach” and they can delegate tasks that align with their employees’ personal and evolving skill sets, interests, and career goals. Needless to say, this is also a great way to increase employee engagement and loyalty. 


The fourth digital revolution brings significant challenges to organisations, who need to adjust their ways of working in regards to technology, overall structure and strategies. But on the other hand, it can lead to new opportunities, new processes, and high-performing teams if you play your cards right. It is important for the next generation of leaders to develop the relevant knowledge and skills that will help them evolve into a digitally-transformed leader.

To stay in the competition, it is necessary to review how you can implement benchmark standards for yourself or the leaders in your organisation. How close are your managers for Leadership 4.0? And how will you choose to lead in the Fourth Industrial Revolution?