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Leadership Series: Leadership Changes Over Two Decades

by Rachna Chawla, Rob Morris
26.May.2017 Leadership Programmes

Ahead of his trip to India in June, YSC’s Head of Innovation, Rob Morris, speaks to Rachna Chawla, Head of YSC India about his experience of leadership development. Rob reflects on his 20 years experience, how different roles have influenced him, as well as his position at YSC.

In this, the second of our Leadership Series, Rob discusses how leadership and styles have changed, and continue to change, over the past 20 years.

You have been in the leadership development space for nearly two decades. With the emergence of the startup culture globally, leadership is getting younger and more dynamic. And leadership styles are changing. How do you personally develop yourself to be in sync with such changing environments and continue to grow?

When I first started studying leadership, the key theory to learn was Transformational Leadership and the most discussed best practice was Total Quality Management (TQM). I remember explicitly studying Saturn (the car manufacturer) as an exemplar of participative management and the TQM process. The principles of organisation centred on scale, efficiency and optimisation. The dominant metaphor of choice was the machine.

The world, and how we operate within it, has changed dramatically since I first learned about TQM in 1990. Today, we are looking at companies who disrupt the status quo and grow quickly – companies like Uber, for example. We observe big businesses make the pilgrimage to Silicon Valley to observe and try to emulate AGILE processes. Right now, FINTECH is forcing big financial institutions to re-evaluate their entire business model. This is all in response to the need to respond rapidly to change, although many aspire to shape their own future rather than simply respond to it.

I often say that a paradox of this digital world is that it requires significant people skills to be successful. As technology increases, the need for leaders to be influencers, thought leaders, and great communicators increases with it. For example, a major shift we are seeing is the move from hierarchy to flat, collaborative team structures.  Flat structures mean there are more interpersonal connections to nurture – boundaries to span. The conditions that nurture this type of behaviour are slightly different as well, and so the leadership approach to foster these environments needs to evolve with the times.

One way I try to stay ahead of the curve is through teaching graduate courses at Columbia University.  I find that I learn as much as I teach. For example two things I learned this year are:

  1. The utility of cloud-based team collaboration tools; and 
  2. Reinforcement of the importance of team psychological safety.  

I stay abreast of the research, connect with the emerging talent of this world, and use new tools like gamified simulations.


YSC India is holding two events in June to discuss How to Identify and Develop Potential in Your Business. For more information and to register your attendance, go to the Events page.

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