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How old and new school leadership styles differ in the future of work

Steven B. McKinney | April 20, 2023

The world of work is rapidly evolving. This evolution has led to a paradigm shift in the approaches to leadership. There are two categories of leadership styles that exist today: old school and new school. Old school leadership styles have been prevalent for decades, including a hierarchical approach where the leader is often autocratic, controlling, and power-driven. The second category, new school leadership styles, is emerging, featuring a more collaborative, democratic, and people-focused approach. In this article, we compare the differences between the old school and new school leadership styles, exploring how they impact the future of work.

Old School Leadership Style

The old school leadership style is deeply rooted in traditional perceptions of leadership. At its core, this style stems from the notion of the 'great man' theory, where leaders are seen as authoritative figures who know what's best for their followers. Old school leaders are autocratic, meaning they have total control over decision-making processes and are often top-down in their approach.

The old school leadership style has its strengths and weaknesses. One of its strengths is that it clarifies who is in charge, which helps establish a firm structure within an organization. It also enables quick decision-making and ensures that communication channels within the organization are clear.

However, the old school leadership style has its weaknesses. It can lead to rigid structures that can stifle innovation and creativity. It can also make employees feel undervalued and disempowered, leading to low morale and, consequentially, low productivity.

New School Leadership Style

The new school leadership style is more democratic, egalitarian, and collaborative. It is built around people-focused leadership, where employees are seen as partners rather than just workers. It also focuses on emotional intelligence and aligns with the needs and motivations of employees, making them feel valued and empowered.

The new school leadership style is built on the core values of collaboration, connection, and community. It recognizes that people are the most valuable asset in any organization and must be treated as such. New school leaders typically encourage employees to take ownership of their tasks, giving them the autonomy to be creative and innovative. They also provide guidance and coaching to their team members instead of simply telling them what to do. New school leaders aim to create an inclusive, diverse, supportive work culture.

Strengths and Weaknesses of New School Leadership Style

The new school leadership style has its strengths and weaknesses. One of its strengths is creating a positive work environment that fosters motivation, creativity, and innovation. It also improves employee engagement and productivity, leading to better business results.

However, the new school leadership style can lead to paralysis by analysis. Involving team members in decision-making processes can lead to lengthy decision-making periods that may cause delays in executing projects. It can also lead to confusion about who is in charge as the traditional hierarchical structure is dismantled.

Future of Work

The future of work is undergoing significant changes, and the leadership styles that will shape this future are new school leadership styles. The prevailing trend for new school leadership styles is that they focus on empathy, innovation, inclusivity, diversity, and collaboration. These values are vital to understanding where work is heading.

The new school leadership style resonates with Millennials and Gen Z, who now form the bulk of the population in the workforce. They are more confident about challenging established norms and seeking a more fulfilling and rewarding work environment. They want to work for organizations that appreciate them and provide them with growth opportunities.

The future of work is also experiencing a trend toward remote working, which means that leaders will have to learn new skills to manage remote teams. Effective leadership in a remote context requires flexibility, adaptability, and digital literacy.


Leadership styles have evolved, moving from the more traditional, autocratic style of old school leadership to the democratic and collaborative style of new school leadership. The future of work demands a new breed of leaders who are more connected to their employees, empathetic, and open to change. The new school leadership style nurtures a culture of innovation, creativity, and inclusivity that is critical to the success of any organization. As the world of work changes, it is essential to remember that leadership styles will continue to evolve, and only the most adaptable will remain relevant.

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