The Evolution of Leadership: From Directing to Collaborating

Gertjan van de Groep

Leadership, a perpetually shifting landscape that adapts to the needs of people and circumstances, is on the move. A disparity between leadership and employee needs can lead to dissatisfaction and turnover. In an era where five generations collaborate, modern leadership demands extraordinary flexibility. In recent years, we’ve witnessed significant shifts in leadership models. We’ve transitioned from the rigid ‘command and control’ approach to a servant leadership style that places employees at the forefront. To comprehend what lies ahead for future leaders, it’s worthwhile to look back. How has leadership evolved, and how can future leaders flourish in service to their organizations, employees, and themselves?

From Hierarchy to Collaboration

Similar to other facets of the professional world, leadership has undergone transformation. Shifting away from a traditional hierarchical model, we’ve moved toward a paradigm where leaders stand alongside employees. They engage employees and collaborate on the growth and future of both the organization and its personnel. This transition owes much to changing generations in the workforce.

Each generation brings its own subtleties. While the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers valued rules and dedication, Generation X and Millennials emphasized open communication, work-life balance, and personal growth. However, it’s important to recognize that these shifts were not solely driven by the generations themselves, but also by broader societal changes. The rise of the digital revolution, globalization, and the shift toward knowledge-driven economies underscore the importance of empowerment and horizontal cooperation.

Values for the Future

Generation Z and Millennials seek purpose in their work. They aspire to more than just a paycheck; contributing to a greater purpose, whether it’s direct assistance to people or animals, or working for an organization that prioritizes societal and environmentally friendly values.

This poses a challenge for current leaders: finding a balance between profit, people, and the planet. Universal values are still cherished across all generations: respect, being seen and heard, mentorship opportunities, understanding the bigger vision, effective communication, positive feedback, and transparency remain atop the list of good leadership.

Central to this approach is serving those who are led. This style of leadership, emphasizing inclusivity, engagement, and active listening, offers young leaders in technology and industry the opportunity to shape the trajectory of their sector. This leadership model aligns closely with recent insights from positive psychology and organizational science. It not only underscores the importance of the individual but also of teams and organizations as a whole. The emphasis on empowerment fosters a culture of trust and mutual responsibility.

Technology and Future Leadership

What sets apart the younger generations of leaders is their technological proficiency. Raised in a digital age, they leverage technology for innovative workplace solutions. Automation and even AI enable leaders to operate strategically, make business operations more efficient, and make rapid data-driven decisions. This creates space to pay greater attention to people in the organization, focusing on strategy and employee needs.

Collaboration and Mentorship

As more Millennials occupy higher positions, the focus shifts toward preparing these future leaders. Elements of existing leadership styles can be retained, such as expecting loyalty and dedication from colleagues, but only within a culture that encourages such behaviors – loyalty and dedication are like respect, they must be earned.

Current leaders play a pivotal role in this. The choices made now will determine the smoothness of the transition later. It’s up to the current generation of leaders to share knowledge and experience with the new generation, for instance, as mentors. Instead of fixating on generational differences, we can better focus on how different generations and leadership styles can learn from each other and strengthen one another.

This is how young managers and directors are prepared for future leadership. Armed with insight, flexibility, and a desire to involve everyone within the organization, they will chart the course toward positive transformation and the successful continuation of organizations in the technical and industrial realm.

About the author

Gertjan van de Groep


Gertjan Van de Groep (1970) is Managing Director at Van de Groep & Olsthoorn. He focuses on General, Commercial and Technical staff and management positions in Industry, Technology and Logistics.

Gertjan graduated in 1993 as a Bachelor of Engineering in Utrecht, then pursued a leadership development program at Nyenrode Business University. He started his career as a Production/Lean Engineer and later as a Management Trainee in Logistics. In 1997, he started as Consultant at Van de Groep & Olsthoorn, the company that his father Wim founded in 1979. Gertjan became Director in 2007. His new set of consulting, entrepreneurship and management functions fit him like a glove.

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