These three factors are triggering major changes in the way companies are run. These days, company leadership must be grounded in a culture of openness, collaboration and internationalisation, says Pekka Vilajakainen.

Pekka A. Vilajakainen is the author of No Fear: Business Leadership for the Digital Age, which has just been published in a French language version. He outlined what his book is all about at a recent discussion breakfast in Paris on the theme: Do we need to rethink leadership in the digital age?

L’Atelier: Has digitisation already had an impact on leadership? How?

Pekka Vilajakainen: The combination of the ‘PlayStation’ generation, digital technologies and the current trend of globalisation has changed the nature of company leadership. This is true throughout the world, not just for any one country in particular, and it’s all about technology, in the widest sense. If we consider the three factors I just mentioned, leadership – wherever we’re talking about – has in the past always been based on command and control. This means that the boss is the boss. It’s the boss that decides the strategy and picks the team, and the team does what they’re asked to do. Leadership is a one-way street. Now the younger generation, those between 30 and 40, want a means of influencing what the leader does. Whereas in the past management used to be all about the manager’s attributes – knowledge, education and experience – a manager should now be someone who builds a network and picks individuals.

Using the new tools available, a manager must be able to interact with his people wherever they are located in the world and positioned in his organisation. Management has moved out of the boss’s office into an open-plan office. In companies we’re now seeing fewer and fewer offices and lunch rooms reserved just for management. Secondly, we see that ideas related to knowledge, to customers, to the international scene, no longer reside inside the leader’s head, but are primarily to be found among the young ‘upstarts’. This is why leaders must forge links with these young people. However, many bosses are scared of coming face to face with young people, scared of seeming to reveal some kind of weakness if they show their human side.

L’Atelier: So what do you think are the major changes that need to take place in a company if it is to remain competitive?

Pekka Vilajakainen: When it comes to competitiveness, I believe that the key thing is to be ‘connected’, not only in developing and implementing a strategy, but also in developing the company itself. French companies are investing in China and Russia. But in order to do so, the boss will need to back talented upstarts and also develop new talent in the target country. You need to be competitive in all areas. The leader nowadays must be able to run an international team and create a relationship of trust with his staff.

We also talk about the ‘Asia effect’. The key issue for European companies is to build a strategy whereby we don’t use these emerging markets just for their low production costs. It’s vital for a manager to be able to link up young talented people and to lead on the basis of an international approach. The nature of leaders will undergo profound change. Lastly, it must be said that we tend to underestimate the huge technical resources which the younger generation has at its disposal and also its international outlook.

L’Atelier: Is there any particular way of getting the different generations to work together in a company?

Pekka A. Vilajakainen: I’d like to stress that my book doesn’t explain how to work with the PlayStation Generation, but it does point to the fact that we need to connect them with more experienced people. I believe that a company needs all different kinds of people. It’s vital that those who are more experienced transmit their experience to the younger people before they retire.