Effective Leadership for the 4th Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0)

18 Mar 2021 9:12 AM | Sarah Elkington (Administrator)

Introduction – The Emerging 4th Industrial Revolution

In January of 2013 Germany heralded a new era in a memo describing “Industrie 4.0,” or what we now term, the “ 4th Industrial Revolution .” Countries currently leading the Fourth Industrial Revolution are:

  • Finland
  • Switzerland
  • Sweden
  • Israel
  • Singapore
  • The Netherlands
  • The USA

Much research and data is emerging concerning Industry 4.0 in terms of what it is, its benefits, challenges, and threats. There are four key characteristics of Industry 4.0, Vertical Integration, Horizontal Integration, Through Engineering, and Technology Integration. If Industry 4.0 is marked by integration, should Leadership 4.0 also be marked by integration? We discuss this further in the next section: “Leadership in Industry 4.0

In this article I focus primarily on the type of leadership needed to thrive in Industry 4.0, what we shall term “Leadership 4.0.” Paradoxically Leadership 4.0 is much less about technical savvy, and much more about the soft-skills than one would initially imagine as necessary to thrive in Industry 4.0.

Leadership in Industry 4.0

In our book Visionary Leadership in a Turbulent World: Thriving in the New VUCA Context we discuss at length the various mindsets and skill sets required by leadership to thrive in Turbulent environments. Many of these skill sets and mindsets support effective leadership in Industry 4.0. In our newly released book: “Exceptional Leadership by Design: How Organizations Design for Great Leadership,” we discuss how organizations can design for great leadership within the context of Industry 4.0.

For now, I highlight some essential shifts that organizational leadership must contemplate in order to thrive in Industry 4.0. I present the following diagram as the framework for this discussion around Leadership 4.0.


As we think about Leadership 4.0 in Industry 4.0, I list the following key shifts that need to occur in leadership mindsets, and skillsets to enable organizations to thrive in this new context:

  1. The shift from leader as human capital to leadership as social capital. This is seen in the diagram above with the placement of the leader in the centre of the organization bounded by policy, bureaucracy, and administration, but with a range of other leaders (L) all around and now forming the “leadership” in a more flattened structure.
  2. The shift from leadership driven competition to a leadership driven dialectic of collaboration and competition.
  3. The shift from leader as hero to leadership that focuses on inclusion
  4. The shift from command and control leaders who call for work because of pay to Transformational leaders who align people around a sense of meaning and purpose. As seen in the diagram above – everyone understands that they are part of a Complex Adaptive system and that everything they do has impact in some way upon that system, and then upon the broader system we call “earth.”
  5. The shift that leadership makes in understanding that Industry 4.0 leads not to joblessness but to job change and this requires 7C Leadership.
  6. The shift from reactive strategies to Big Data driven decision making and the capacity to spot and react to change based on weak signals – highlighted in the diagram as RRF – or Rapid Reflection Forces (Lagadec, 2009).
  7. The shift from heroic leader to Agile Leadership through Communal Decision Making.
  8. The shift in Leadership 4.0 to radically focus on harnessing the strengths of individuals to maximize the use of these technologies.
  9. The shift in Leadership 4.0 to optimizes hyper-connectivity.
  10. The shift from leader with informational power to transparent leadership processes and communication to foster trust in a change process from Industry 2.0 and 3.0 to Industry 4.0

Conclusion and Invitation to Join the Discussion

There is so much more to unpack and discuss around this important topic. To facilitate that discussion we invite you to join us at our live event in person or virtually: “Effective Leadership in Industry 4.0” Four of our Expert Consultants will facilitate presentations, discussions, and case studies around developing leadership for Industry 4.0.

Alternatively, I encourage you access any of the following resources to strengthen your leadership for industry 4.0:

  1. Visionary Leadership in a Turbulent World: Thriving in the New VUCA Context . - Audiobook
  2. Exceptional Leadership by Design: How Organizations Design for Great Leadership. - a. Audiobook – coming soon.
  3. Leadership 2050
  4. The 4th Industrial Revolution .

 Rob Elkington Ph.D.  



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