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Lynda Gratton: On the hotspot of change


Mike Levy talks to Lynda Gratton about her passion for training, new technologies and the development of a virtual learning consortium.

Lynda Gratton is gazing into the future of work, and coaches better be ready for some fundamental changes already in progress.

This high-energy London Business School professor is in huge demand for her bold insights – “If I accepted every invitation to speak, I’d be in Buenos Aires one day and Singapore the next,” she says. In fact, a passion for the new technologies means that Gratton can stay put and speak to a global audience via video conferencing or other tools.

"The leaders of tomorrow will work much more in teams; managing global businesses will involve leading people you never see – this means raising skills in ‘virtuality’."

Passion is a word that fits Lynda Gratton very well – she bubbles with excitement as she talks about her insights and research into work and leadership. She can’t wait to get started on a new initiative: the Hot Spots Research Consortium programme looking at the future of work and the adoption of innovative organisational practices. These include: shifts towards more collaborative work spanning global boundaries, moves towards flexible organisational clusters, the increase in virtual working, the demands of the Generation Y workforce for more flexible work patterns, trends towards open-source innovation – all packed up within the desire for more eco-sustainable production.

A passion for her craft

You can see why Gratton is so excited to be on the hot spot of change. The research carried out by the new consortium will build on the foundation of academic and business insights into work which Gratton started with her books, ‘Living Strategy’, ‘The Democratic Enterprise’ and most recently, ‘Hot Spots’. “The new consortium will work over six months with companies from around the world. I will facilitate it online and we will run the conversation from our new learning platform to be introduced in Singapore in September,” says Gratton with her characteristic verve. “The world is changing so fast and when I talk about leadership and talent management it is clear that the leaders of tomorrow are rather different from the ones we have today. There are now so many exciting opportunities to think creatively about the way we develop these future leaders.”

Gratton’s view is that we are in a period of unprecedented change in the way businesses operate. “The leaders of tomorrow will work much more in teams; managing global businesses will involve leading people you never see – this means raising skills in ‘virtuality’”. She means by this the skills employed to communicate and provide effective leadership via mobile phones, video conferencing and drawing on all the new and powerful social media tools. “Building networks, especially those outside the organisation will be another key leadership skill”, she predicts. “In my view future leaders will have to build cooperative networks with suppliers, clients and other key people. At the moment, technology is way ahead of business practice – but it will have to start catching up.” One of the key ways to catch up, she says, is to face head on the rapid changes in technology, shifts in demography and the issues around carbon neutrality. “These are the issues that will face executives and they are blind if they don’t see that,” she warns.

Does that mean many businesses see these issues as separate and not part of an organic whole? “This is exactly why we are starting up the consortium. We are bringing in experts on technology, demography and carbon neutrality and finding ways to synthesise these crucial issues.” In her book, ‘Hot Spots’, Gratton talked about the future of work in which networks, cooperation and the ability of leaders to create and ignite purpose. “When people network and cooperate, they get very excited but it doesn’t necessarily serve the organisation.” The leader then has to draw on this excited energy and provide clear direction and purpose. “These days you are only a leader if people are prepared to follow you. The trappings of power are disappearing and rightly so.”

The evolution of coaching

The challenges for members are palpable says Gratton: “Coaching will become the primary means in which executives will develop. The challenges the coaching community face include understanding how leaders will change in the next decade. In some ways, business leaders are already changing in the way coaches have wanted them to – towards a more cooperative model. Coaching too will change: you will be helping people you may never actually meet from around the world. In the Hot Spots movement, which I have developed, we see a lot of coaching using webinars and telephone. We have just finished a research project on Generation Y.

"These days you are only a leader if people are prepared to follow you. The trappings of power are disappearing and rightly so."

They want to be coached and mentored and they want a lot of feedback.” She believes that new technologies can allow feedback to be much more fluid and regular – operating like a social media network. Cross-cultural leadership is also going to be a key skill.

“A tragedy of leadership is the lack of women in business roles. There is such a huge waste of talent – there must be more women. Also globalisation means being able to lead people with very different cultures and expectations.”

Though this is a time of great upheaval, Gratton is really excited at the opportunities ahead. Her recent book ‘Glow - How You Can Radiate Energy, Innovation and Success’ has done very well and has, she says, been popular with coaches. Says Gratton, “Glow is very much about how individuals change - and there are lots of resources on the website - including a set of tools which can be downloaded.” The new virtual consortium is taking up a lot of her time – it will start in the autumn and will report on its findings about new ways of working in six months. Aside from all this, she still finds time to think and write especially in her ‘third space’ – a quiet bolthole by the Med. “It is so important to find a space beyond family and work commitments and get time to sit and think. It is really important to sustain our energy and excitement. Burn out is a huge challenge and requires each one of us to think about our practices.” With the development of a virtual learning consortium and her brimming excitement about the new world of work unfolding, you get the impression that burn out is a very remote possibility for Lynda Gratton.

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Mike Levy is a freelance journalist and copywriter with 20 years' experience. He is also a writing and presentations coach. He especially loves playwriting and creating resources for schools. Mike is director of Write Start Ltd. For more information go to:

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