How Do You Define A Leader’s Role In A Project-Based World?

While people once advanced to managing groups of varying sizes, the freelance world favors project-based work and is altering how we define leadership roles.Millennials might seem like office newcomers, but this young generation has quietly become the largest portion of the U.S. labor force and is molding the workplace of tomorrow to meet its needs.

One of the most exciting ways that work structures are shifting relates to Millennials’ desires to be their own bosses. This has caused young professionals to flock to freelance work, and the rest of the workforce is beginning to follow suit. About 43 percent of Americans are expected to freelance in some capacity by 2020.

Beyond altering how we work, the gig economy is changing what it means to climb the leadership ladder. While people once advanced to managing groups of varying sizes, the freelance world favors project-based work and is altering how we define leadership roles.

The Changing Tide of Leadership

When I was at Deloitte, I noticed the company’s partners received most of the monetary benefits while my colleagues and I did most of the work. I didn’t understand why accountants and consultants couldn’t take home more of the margin — or why they had to spend years in the promotion process only to work more and spend less time with loved ones.

More people transitioning to project and freelance work to avoid this sort of no-win scenario will create a cascade of changes. The C-suite will need to think more specifically about business needs and divide those projects into smaller tasks. This approach will require leaders to lean on freelancers who have the industry experience, skills, and expertise necessary to solve any number of problems.

To succeed in this brave new world, leaders must embrace different ways of operating. Here are four qualities that will make a difference in our increasingly project-based workplace:

A growth mindset. Leaders who don’t have growth mindsets will remain stuck in their ways, closed off to new ideas, and lost in this world of fast-changing, atomized talent. When Cathleen Nilson, head of on-demand talent at Samsung, turned to Upwork for freelance assistancelast year, people were skeptical. In the end, her growth mindset saved the company 64 percent in administrative time and cut costs by about 60 percent.

Transparent and consistent communication. Having the right information at the right time — and communicating it to relevant stakeholders — will enable organizations to adapt to evolving market conditions and develop greater senses of trust. Leaders must understand how team members best communicate (whether via Slack, video conferencing, or emails) and adjust accordingly to align with those preferences.

A fast-fail mentality. The most successful leaders will be experts at developing teams of problem solvers who seek challenges and quickly learn from their experiences. Startups like Lime and Bird, for example, tested the waters by placing their products on city streets long before they sought permission from regulators. This allowed the companies to judge whether audiences were receptive via a soft launch and move on if it wasn’t a match.

Empathy. Success is all about the people powering a company. Leaders must put themselves in other people’s shoes to connect with them on a deeper level. This is especially true for freelancers, who some view as objects or outcomes rather than individuals. Nobody wants to feel like a number. Use the power of empathy to lift people and help them become the best version of themselves.

The future of work will have fewer boundaries, allowing freelancers and business leaders to work together toward the same goals. To succeed, companies must understand that the concept of leadership is evolving. It’s time to consider how to adjust to keep pace with the workforce of tomorrow.

Read more: When Your Leadership Team Is Running In Circles