Leadership and followership
Leadership and followership

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Leadership and followership

1 The impact of change

Change is all around us, from global and political transformation to changing attitudes and ways of living. Before you look at how change might impact on leadership in the future, take a moment to focus on how leaders are experiencing it now.

Activity 1 How has leadership changed?

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Watch the following video, ‘The future of leadership’, to find out how some current leaders are experiencing changes in their leadership:

Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

In the space below, summarise the key themes discussed by the leaders in the video.

Have you observed similar changes in your workplace? Are you surprised by any of the comments?

To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


These leaders are discussing changes they have already seen taking place. Their reviews reflect many of the themes you’ve touched on already during this course, for example, the need to empower people, communicate a clear vision, be self-aware etc. Although they don’t mention followers by name, they clearly allude to a different relationship between leaders and their teams.

Generational impact

In his MG Thinkers 50 blog, leadership expert Marshall Goldsmith (2014) quotes some findings from multi-country research undertaken by Accenture Consulting and the Alliance for Strategic Leadership, outlining five ‘must haves’ for future leadership. Rather than interviewing today’s leaders, the research focused on the views of the leaders of tomorrow, and this is what they came up with:

  1. Thinking globally
  2. Appreciating cultural diversity
  3. Demonstrating technological savvy
  4. Building partnerships
  5. Sharing leadership

You’ll look at some of these points later this week, but first you’ll focus on the impact that the values and attitudes of future generations of workers might have on leadership.

In Week 2, you looked briefly at some key characteristics of different generations, from the so-called ‘Baby Boomers’ to ‘Generation Y’. There are already predictions being made about the next generation to reach the workplace, variously known as ‘Generation Z’, ‘The Post-Millennials’ or ‘The Smartphone Generation’.

The birth dates quoted for this group are still debated, but researchers often refer to those currently aged between 14–21. For them, technology is an essential part of life, and they are often quoted as expecting a tough future.

Economist Noreena Hertz gives this group the title ‘Generation K’, in reference to Katniss Everdeen, the heroine of Suzanne Collins’ popular trilogy The Hunger Games, also a series of hit films. She explains some of their key characteristics in this clip: The good news about ‘Generation K’ [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

Some of the characteristics highlighted in Noreena’s interview will have a significant impact on how these individuals expect to lead or be led, either within the workforce or elsewhere. For example, their focus on climate change and inequality, and the desire to tackle issues and right wrongs, will inevitably impact on how they expect to be treated and how they will respond to different leadership styles and approaches.

Another key characteristic of this generation is a desire to be globally collaborative and share knowledge, which may again lead to a shift in leadership approach for some organisations. There may also be tension with members of older generations who may hold anti-globalisation views, as demonstrated by the UK’s decision to leave the EU, or the election of Donald Trump and his ‘America First’ agenda.

Rebecca Fielding shares her view on the types of leaders that organisations will be recruiting in the future.

Download this video clip.Video player: lf_1_video_week7_section1_fielding.mp4
Skip transcript


So I think in terms of the future and what we're going to be looking for in our leaders, there are a whole range of things that are happening at the moment that are really exciting. In the short-term future, I think we're seeing a lot of organisations move towards changing what they're looking for. So instead of recruiting for things like competencies, they're recruiting instead for strengths and for growth mindset or for a positive growth mindset. So those are the kinds of qualities that, in the short term, we're seeing employers move towards. And they're both really interesting fields. You can go and google them and find out more about them if you'd like to. And I think we're going to see more of that over the next certainly three years. If we look into the long, long term, I think we're seeing some significant macro changes in the world of work, not least of which is that we're seeing fewer and fewer permanent, structured hierarchies, the traditional ones where we had a senior leader at the top and then middle managers and first line managers and the troops in a pyramid. I think we're seeing less of that. Certainly generationally, fewer people want to work in those environments. We're also seeing much more, particularly if you look at the likes of Silicon Valley, where people are coming together in nonhierarchical formats. So you and I might work together on one project where you're the leader, and we'll come together and work on that and then disassemble. And then in another, we'll come together, and I'll be the leader, because I've got the expertise, and you'll support me. And then we'll disassemble. So this kind of project-based working, matrix-based working, is much more fluid and makes much better use of people's skills and individual talents. People can be assigned to particular projects that require expertise and then disassembled as project teams. So that gives real organisational flexibility and is much more appealing as well to the next generation of people coming in. So I think we're losing the pyramids, and we're gaining clusters of matrices, which also fits into another big societal trend that we're seeing. Instead of jobs for life with permanent, lifelong contracts, many more people are moving over to freelancing or the gig economy, which you may have heard about. So people are working for lots of different people on lots of different interesting and exciting projects. And they work for this client for a day, or for half a day, or for three days. And then they'll come together with one team here or there. They'll be self-employed or on multiple contracts at a time. And again, I think we're going to see more of that in terms of the way that people work. So in terms of the things that you're looking for then, in leaders, what's really interesting is those traditional hierarchical skills of command and control- I decide, you do, I will confidently tell you where you're heading, and you will follow me- start to become much less relevant. Instead, the skills that we really look for are people who can engage people, and often, the skills of followership, so actually delivering on your promises, valuing and identifying the talents in other people, bringing together people in different kinds of structures. They're very agile, very flexible, able to wrap their arms around people for short periods of time, help them deliver, and then disband and then bring back networks of people working fluidly, creatively, and at distance. Those skills are very different. And I think we're going to see those becoming more and more important in the future of leadership.
End transcript
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Later this week, you’ll look at collaboration in more detail, and you'll consider leadership styles that are already emerging in response to a constantly changing environment.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371