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The New Rules Of Work

Meet The Boss Of The Future

The power is shifting, and what it means to be a great boss is taking a dramatic turn.

[Photo: Flickr user Keoni Cabral]

We work in an ever-changing, hyperconnected, world-scattered workplace. As the way we work changes, so too will the boss's role need to shift to meet those demands.

Take, for example, the very makeup of the U.S. workforce. One in every three Americans is a freelancer of some sort, according to a 2014 survey by Freelancers Union and Elance. This includes independent contractors, moonlighters, people working temporary or multiple jobs, and freelance business owners. Many expect this figure will increase to up to 50% by 2020, filling half the workforce with free agents.

What does this mean for the boss of the future?

A lot. "In the past, people acted like the only way to be in business was to make money," says Ken Blanchard, co-author of the book, The New One-Minute Manager. "Now everybody is working for their people, rather than their people working for them."

Following The Hollywood Model

For a sense of how the workplace might look five years from now, says Jeanne Meister, co-author of the book The 2020 Workplace and cofounder of the consulting firm Future Workplace, think for a moment of the way a Hollywood movie is made. Rather than hiring a permanent staff, a team of independent workers is pulled together, each of them filling a specific project need for the film. "These teams form and then disband when the movie is over," says Meister, who sees this "Hollywood model" as one more companies across industries will adapt.

Businesses have the ability to grow insanely fast these days, going from relative obscurity to viral status sometimes overnight. That means managers need the ability to act quickly when it comes to putting together the perfect team needed to tackle whatever new challenge is at hand. "A leader is going to identify a new project—maybe it's entering a new line of business or a new part of the world—and this is going to require a team with a new skillset," says Meister. Cobbling together the leanest, most experienced team of people will require not just hiring, but overseeing a mixture of full-time and freelance people.

Finding More Immediate Ways To Communicate

Five years from now, managers will need to be far savvier about how they connect and communicate with their teams. Collaboration platforms like Yammer, Chatter, and Slack are starting to make their way into workplaces as the main form of communication, replacing email. "A whole population of employees think email is dead," says Meister. "It's not just a new way of communicating and collaborating. This is basically a new way of working."

Introducing and making sure this new way of working goes smoothly falls largely into the hands of managers. That means the boss of the future must prioritize and be hypersensitive to how they adapt the technology themselves. With employees scattered around the world and often working remotely, making sure everyone is on the same page will become increasingly tricky and important.

A Whole New Way Of Hiring

Managers are starting to be held more publicly accountable for their hiring practice and the need to be more sensitive to diversity in the workplace. A growing body of training, software, and services is being developed to help companies up their hiring game. Google, for example, recently started offering training in unconscious bias to make employees and managers more self-aware of their behavior and biases.

New hiring practices like blind interviewing are also being considered to help equalize the hiring process. All this points to the growing responsibility and accountability managers will have to their employees in the future.

"We are beginning to see leaders looking at their employees with the same lens you might look at a customer," says Meister. "That requires leaders to have an empathy in how they view their team."

The Boss Answers To Everyone

The culture of oversharing and immediacy that social media has bred into our daily lives is leaking into the workplace, which means employees will come to expect the same kind of transparency from their bosses. In five years, no one will be able to escape the immediacy and accountability that social media and online reviews have created for businesses. "How transparent you are is increasingly important," says Meister. "Employees are going to seek you out because you're a transparent leader."

That means the boss of the future must be well adept at leading under a microscope, taking people's feedback—harsh as it may be—and responding to it in their stride. Sites like Glassdoor.com, for example, where people can anonymously review their managers, are already making accountability far more important in the workplace. Say or do something that might piss your team off, and you better be prepared to handle the blowback.

Transparency will also require bosses to include their team in big decisions rather than just taking a top-down approach to leadership. "People look at leadership as a side-by-side relationship or a partnership relationship," says Blanchard. "[Managers] need to be much better listeners rather than talkers. They need to be much better servant leaders."

Related: Who's the (most badass fictional) boss?

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