Title: From Covid-19 to 4IR: Exploring the influence of Emotional and Cultural intelligence on modern organisational structures and leadership
Author: Dr Eben Haeser Swanepoel
Orcid Id: 0000-0003-3205-5244
Postdoctoral Researcher, North-West University, Economic and Management Sciences, GIFT.
PhD: Psychology of Education (UFS), M.Ed Psychology of Education (UFS), Hons Psychology (UNISA), B.Ed FET (UFS)
Ensovoort, volume 41 (2020), number 10: 1
Covid-19 has redefined the traditional workplace, unifying the place and space aspects of workforce systems as working from home becomes central to sustain industry and service delivery. With rapid digitization, social, physical, and digital realms are becoming increasingly obscured. Management needs exceptional emotional and cultural intelligence skills to align practices and sustain workspace well-being and employee motivation. But how has Covid-19 set in motion the need to adjust to new ways of collaborative practice and employee motivation within times of uncertainty, especially as this opportunity serves as a platform to articulate leadership strategies aligned with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This article forms a desktop review which conceptualises the need for modern management practices to employ Emotional and Cultural intelligence strategies as a basis for preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It is furthermore recommended that leader-employer emotional and cultural skillsets be improved to enhance individual and group autonomy during disruptive periods that necessitate change.
Keywords: Emotional Intelligence, Cultural Intelligence, Management, Covid-19, Fourth Industrial Revolution
The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) has situated South Africa’s world of work within a changing workplace environment characterised by disrupting technological advances such as robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and the Internet of Things (Butler-Adam, 2018; Kayembe & Nel, 2019). The Fourth Industrial Revolution is data and information-centric, and while the Third Industrial Revolution brought on the rapid digitization of content and increased connectivity, 4IR places global information and connected data systems at the centre of effective governance and production (Philbeck & Davis, 2018). Organisational success is no longer solely dependent on knowledge which is unyielding to change, but instead depends on dynamic skills that are necessary for adapting to, and prepare for, jobs which do not yet exist (Butler-Adam, 2018; Hattingh, 2018). Leaders are faced with the challenge of transforming organisations to align with external, global connectedness and competitiveness trends. They also need to guide employees through the uncertain world of reskilling, adjusting and adapting within their specific profiles so that they can remain relevant in future human-machine oriented workspaces (Oosthuizen & Mayer, 2019).
Covid-19 has resulted in major disruptions, calling for the restructuring of many organisations. Human-machine collaboration and the uses of AI for steering organisational integrity (Hillister, 2020) is also becoming increasingly important. The Fourth Industrial Revolution and a collective evolution of democracy 2.0 is critically dependent on principles of cooperation and collaboration. The new paradigm involves an outright rejection of traditional administrative notions of control held through top-down approaches (Tsekeris, 2019). Modern AI and digital technologies promote potentially rigid managerial control and technological systems which survey employee movement and interactions within the workplace (Mehta, 2018). Mpofu and Nicolaides (2019) reflect on the pressures on modes of governance facing the Fourth Industrial Revolution. They call on managers to reflect on employee relations and social justice as a cornerstone of realigning organisational culture with international trends. Personal values are central to how technology and systems are approached and implemented (Schwab & Davis, 2018). Modern leaders need to be conscious of how their personal values influence the process of implementing systems and technology within organisations as well as how they influence the overall morale and harmony within the broader organisational structure. Systems and information-sharing are symbiotic with human governance which are not value-neutral (Philbeck & Davis, 2018). Managers need to continuously reflect on their own potentially biased perspectives and values, which can deter organisational harmony when not approached with a mindful reflection of the broader employee system underlying the organisational structure. As such, the importance of role distinction and employee-employer relations should be carefully examined during times of rapid organisational change and globalisation. An ethical transitioning toward the shared vision of all stakeholders depends on it (Mpofu & Nicolaides, 2019).
South African systems are increasingly being pressured to adapt to globalised ideals while simultaneously adhering to national restrictions and equity boundaries (Oosthuizen & Mayer, 2019). With the prospect of many occupational profiles disappearing due to automation, and the uncertainty associated with many occupations becoming irrelevant (Eberhart et al, 2017), human resources and managers need a heightened awareness of employee-uncertainty to steer organisations successfully through disruptive changes. Furthermore, due to ongoing disruptions and organisational adaption through digital transformation, the role of management to steer both self- and employee motivation is becoming a cornerstone for attaining organisational vision and equilibrium (Govender, 2019). In 2020, the spread of Covid-19 saw a major disruption in workplaces, necessitating digitization and new systems for continued production and service delivery. It also highlighted the growing popularity of human-machine collaboration for curbing the spread of the virus. It shows the importance of human input during the creative use of digital systems and information sharing (Hollister, 2020). Covid-19 has forced South African organisations to not only adapt to systems, but also evaluate and reflect on the values that underlie leadership practices for the future world of work. As such, leaders need to show a heightened knowledge and sensitivity to the management of abrupt systemic changes for feedback and helping to maintain employee morale and motivation.
AI and smart systems can help curb the spread of Covid-19 and increase business output (Madzoe, 2020). But how the implementation of machine-systems influence human ethics and the social-justice aspect of harmonising human-machine collaboration at all levels of organisational structure, is not that clear. These disruptions require strong human-centric values and skillsets for human resources. Smart systems require leadership and employee well-being and resilience to help maintain the systemic integrity of the business throughout adapting periods. This paper explores emotional and cultural intelligence as critical skillsets for enabling organisations to adapt to rapid transformational periods whilst retaining systemic integrity and overall organisational harmony. This discussion is further informed by the role of ethics within organisational culture as a strong mediator of success and retaining systemic integrity during times of external pressure. The desktop review culminates in a model depicting how behaviour during rapid change on the part of both leaders and employees should be informed through skillsets associated with emotional and cultural intelligence to enhance overall organisational resilience and collective autonomy.
2. Cybernetics: Steering sustainable governance during rapid change
The term ‘Kybernetes’ derives from the Greek word ‘steersman’ (Heylighen & Joslyn, 2001). This theory underlies the investigation of autonomous systems which proves valuable in this report for investigating how systems are constructed through the patterns and rules which underlie systemic boundaries (Becvar & Becvar, 2012). While Cybernetics found primary application through robotic and smart systems, wider use thereof has been documented as useful for exploring systemic social systems structures (Becvar & Becvar, 2012; Umpleby, Medvedeva, Lepskiy, 2019).
Banathy and Jenlink (2003) refer to the self-regulatory properties of systems through cybernetic theory and how stagnation or adaption of systems are influenced by the need to attain an ideal state of homeostasis and order at a structural level. First Order Cybernetic theory is concerned with the what counterpart and construct of the system (Becvar & Becvar, 2012). Steering research concerned with the rules and patterns of interaction between components of a system which inform the overall system’s structure (Swanepoel & Beyers, 2019), cybernetics provides a glimpse of the inner gears of a system which sustains the overall functionality thereof and differentiates it from other systems. Cybernetic theory refers to feedback (Becvar & Becvar, 2012) noise which is continuously at play and can necessitate structural change. Leaders who accommodate too much or too little feedback into, or from, the system, may be ineffective in adapting organisational structure to accommodate external feedback processes. However, the overall organisational structure and boundary encompasses the collective workforce culture and input, which situates cybernetics as a valuable theoretical foundation for exploring the structural composition of modern organisations and their differentiating factors compared to other similar systems.
Exploring boundaries and patterns of interaction within organisational systems becomes key to understanding how external pressures influence systemic integrity. Technological advancement and workforce automation are seeing new patterns emerge that define organisational systems. With changes brought on in the physical, social, and digital realms, organisations are continuously challenged to adapt to changing customer needs and trends (Bolton et al, 2018). With the physical realm obscured by the digital realm, especially during times when remote working is necessary, it becomes increasingly important to explore the social realm as a key contributor for mediating between the boundaries. There is continuous pressure on organisational systems to retain their structure or adapt. How organisational boundaries are constructed at various levels of automation and interaction is becoming an increasingly important topic to explore. The inner autonomy of organisational systems manifests in the digital or physical realm that connects with the public and other autonomous systems.
3. Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence as a construct is conceptualised in literature as a personality- or ability-based trait or competency, but up to the present still lacks a unified definition (Carmeli, 2003). A widely acceptable definition therefore is found through the work of Goleman (1995: 318), who defined emotional intelligence as “self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills.” Drawing on Salovey and Mayer (1990), emotional intelligence can be viewed as a set of cognitive abilities associated with effectively identifying, reasoning with, and subsequently acting upon, different emotions. Literature, in turn, shows that emotional intelligence is a critical and foundational aspect of modern leadership theory, and employee well-being and motivation. Literature further points to leadership and motivation as an activator for heightened emotional intelligence among employees, emphasising the reciprocal relationship among the two constructs (Swanepoel & Jonck, 2015).
Emotional intelligence informs skillsets associated with, and necessary for, leaders to assess and promote the relevant skill and knowledge development of employees towards the collective benefits associated with future organisational success (Calabrese, Hess & Bacigalupo, 2010). Effective leaders have the ability to perceive, comprehend and manage the emotions of others. Leaders who exhibit high EI proactively steer information and behaviour which enhances social relations and goal-directed behaviour among employees (Oosthuizen, 2016). Emotional intelligence, in turn, acts as a personal resource for employees which positively influences work engagement and coping abilities during high job demands and periods of increased systemic pressure and feedback processes necessitating change (Barreiro and Treglown, 2020; Shaik et al., 2020). Overall teamwork processes are enhanced through effective leadership, as they promote alignment with complex goals as well as an overall improvement in decision-making and problem-solving (Clarke, 2009). Thus, while emotional intelligence holds significant individual value for employee morale and motivation, its effect on the motivation of team members is a synergetic process promoting overall group performance and output for the good of the collective goal (Boyatzis, Koman & Wolff, 2008; Guhman, 2011).
High emotional-intelligence competencies improve employee morale and the ability to adapt to, and accept, organisational change (Aslam, Muqadas, Imran, Saboor, 2018). Furthermore, employee engagement refers to the ability of employees to regulate the self and behaviour to promote organisational outcomes. Literature points to leadership activity as central to employee engagement and motivation to act autonomously. These behaviours are activated through leadership behaviour, with inspirational forward-thinking leadership shown to strengthen agency among employees to act with heightened resilience (Govender, 2019). Furthermore, high emotional intelligence shows a positive association with trust and integrity, which nurtures behavioural patterns and promotes the overall system’s ethical behavioural output (Fu, 2013).
As employee self-motivation to engage and act autonomously within the organisation structure is influenced through trust relationships both among peers and leaders (Human & Naudé, 2010), the use of smart systems and AI in workspaces necessitates collective input to sustain overall employee morale and workplace well-being. Leaders are continuously challenged to exhibit skillsets that involve mindfully sharing information to inspire employees, while also being challenged to re-evaluate the self and self-knowledge to successfully steer the organisation through the effects of internal and external sources of disruption. Given the many fears surrounding the use of AI in monitoring employees and the associated intrusions into information privacy, organisational leaders can use the Covid-19 situation as a way to get positive feedback about current systems and ethics in preparation for future pressures and maintaining employee motivation and morale in uncertain times.
4. Cultural Intelligence
Heightened cultural knowledge and sensitive judgment skillsets are required for leaders to steer organisational success during times of adaption. According to Thomas (2006) cultural intelligence is constructed through knowledge, mindfulness and behaviour, which promote effective behaviour when communicating across cultural fissures. Extending on the work of Thomas et al. (2008) Alon, Boulanger, Meyers and Taras (2015: 79) further state it is “a system of interacting knowledge and skills, linked by cultural meta-cognition, which allows people to adapt to, select, and shape the cultural aspects of their environment”. Cultural intelligence is the ability to optimise interaction within ambiguous and culturally diverse environments through drawing on social and cognitive resources to promote successful behaviour (Alon et al., 2016). In turn, this necessitates strong cultural knowledge and mindfulness on the part of leaders so that they can optimally navigate modern organisations. Cultural awareness and effective group-based knowledge subsume modern leadership theory and is key to adapting to challenges arising from impediments due to cultural diversity at both an inter- and intra-organisational level. An important component of cultural intelligence, judgment suspension, relies on leaders carefully evaluating incoming feedback, only acting once enough information is available (Triandis, 2006). Cultural intelligence acts as a buffer during times of uncertainty which requires a level of tolerance when it comes to confusion and skillsets for maintaining human-centric behaviour (Brislin, Worthley, & MacNab, 2006; Swanepoel & Jonck, 2015).
Fundamental to effective leadership is the process of instilling social influence. Employees are motivated to act with more positive emotions underlying behavioural input-output (Govender, 2019; Liu & Lui, 2013). Drawing on cultural intelligence, knowledge precedes mindfully disseminating information and collective-oriented behaviour. Modern successful leadership involves skillsets that promote employee motivation when it comes to acting with stronger levels of morality, self-agency, and motivation (Lam & O’Higgins, 2012). This requires human-centric knowledge and values which underly mindfully evaluating how the self and emotions are influencing, and are perceived by, employees during behavioural output.
Growing literature surrounding the importance of cultural knowledge and emotional skillsets points to the success of modern leadership and its being positively associated with employee motivation, overall group performance and followership behaviour (Boyatzis, Koman & Wolff, 2008; Jordan & Troth, 2011). Harnessing cross-cultural competencies becomes key to adapting to technological advances and changes brought on by new systems regulating communication through globalization (Alon et al., 2016). With an inherent cultural plurality being characteristic of modern organisational structures, systems of workplaces are often also geographically widely distributed across space and place, encompassing a highly multicultural and often multinational structure (Shaik, Makhecha and Gouda, 2020). Cultural intelligence shows a strong association with successful leadership during the rapid organisational change, due to globalization and connectedness through the Internet of Things. Leaders are challenged to establish sustainable intra-organisational harmony whilst simultaneously navigating inter-organisational relations. The responsibility to steer traditional employee mindsets to realign with changing organisational culture rests on leadership behaviour (Kunaka, 2019), reflecting the fundamental link of the leader at an internal and external level for retaining systemic negentropy (the ideal harmonic state of the overall system) during both internal and external feedback that may challenge systemic integrity.
5. The role of Ethics during systemic adaption
A strong reference to the culture of ethics underlies leadership theory and its role in steering organisational sustainability during changes brought on by globalization and the Fourth industrial Revolution. Leaders motivate employees both in terms of morale as well as adaption and agency (Lam & O’Higgins, 2012). Successfully regulating emotions modelling delayed gratification and self-control have been shown to foster trust amongst employees. Trust, in turn, promotes stronger long-term relationship building and engagement among staff (Human & Naudé, 2010). Trust of the leader reflects the reciprocal feedback process of trust itself as a pattern throughout the organisational system. Leaders trust employees to act autonomously according to the envisioned value blueprint and organisational vision, while employees trust in the leader’s best judgment and practise. The collective motivation toward ethical behaviour represents an organisational boundary which differentiates organisations, especially on a digital platform, and acts as initial filter for incoming information and the elicited behaviour, enhancing organisational resilience.
The knowledge component of cultural intelligence encompasses knowledge associated with group ethics, norms, and economic and social group structures (Sharma & Singh, 2017). Through mindful reflection of the aforementioned, leaders motivate behaviour through output, which automates and inspires employees to behave accordingly. The collective organisational culture of ethics, mediated through high EI and CQ patterns, establishes organisational boundaries of autonomous systems. With the increasing digitization of organisational structures, the social component, both internally and externally, represent how organisations will be differentiated digitally, especially given the wealth of competing online platforms that emerge during globalization.
AI itself and smart systems bring about various new discussions on trust and organisational ethics. Covid-19 has seen the deployment of AI systems to survey virus spread and future trajectories (Greenman, 2020). However, there is a culture of public distrust of smart systems which need to be considered when systems are adopted. Successfully adapting to changes in organisational boundaries is dependent on employee motivation and skillsets, as well perceptions about such change. The need to transition fairly and sensitively becomes a challenge for many organisations, especially as AI is still undergoing rigorous testing and research for full scale sustainability (Madzu, 2020). The principles of fairness and trust within the organisational culture will drive the values and inherent ethics of the overall system. Leaders need to exhibit heightened technological knowledge and cultural knowledge which mediates behaviour toward the good of the collective. The second dimension of leadership involves forward thinking and vision and steers knowledge to enter the system which promotes employee knowledge and continuous autonomy.
6. Retaining systemic integrity and subsystems autonomy during disruptions and change
Technological advancement and automation have resulted in the advent of robotics and smart systems which radically transform organisation-customer relations. Today, in order to successfully adapt to ongoing disruptions, organisational management must offer a tailor-made customer experience that encompasses the digital, physical, and social realms (Bolton et al., 2016). Sufficient knowledge and skillsets in the social realm mediate challenges that arise in the physical and digital realm, and act as a key differentiator for enhancing customer relations. Organisational culture emphasising skillsets associated with emotional and cultural intelligence promote the human-centric nature of human-machine collaboration. Accordingly, leaders who promote employees’ personal wellbeing reflect values that nurture human interaction as central to customer satisfaction, as distinct from purely digital systems which are automated or based on Artificial Intelligence based customer service.
Globalisation calls for new managers that are strong in strong cultural diversity skillsets subsuming a keen awareness of the complexity that culture plays in sustaining systemic harmony (Jyoti & Kour, 2013). Further external system pressure challenges leaders to adapt to the dynamic and evolving nature of technological advancement in ways that call for heightened self-awareness, openness, resilience, and collaboration (Roux and Härtel, 2018). Digital teams are transforming modern practise in many organisations, and requiring leaders to re-negotiate how the social component of workplace well-being is sustained during times when face-to-face communication becomes challenging (Mysirlaki and Paraskeva, 2012). Leaders that adapt to digital innovations and advances show transformative vision and forward reflection. Such leaders model adaptive behaviour during the process of digitization and organisational change (Kunaka, 2019). The adaptability of leaders during organisational change largely subsumes how employees are influenced and motivated. Literature shows the importance of inspiring and exhibiting behaviour that reflects organisational vision as important qualities for modern leaders to possess (Govender, 2019).
How successfully leadership navigates disruptions in the physical and digital space is strongly mediated through the social realm and the maintenance of synergetic relations among stakeholders. The emotional and cultural harmony of an organisation not only helps the organisational system distinguish itself from other systems but also helps it align better and reach organisational goals as a collective during disruptions and change. Specifically, the shared domain of motivation is shown to be a core theoretical link which indicates leadership motivation and positively influences employee self-agency and self-motivated behaviour (Govender, 2019; Lam & O’Higgins, 2012). A group culture is formed through effective input-output patterns of communication informed by knowledge and values of group norms, values, and knowledge. A synergetic flow is stimulated within the organisational structure which becomes an organisational norm that guides collective behaviour (Ghuman, 2011).
The above figure depicts the autonomous system and subsystems comprised of organisational structure and culture through C (Cultural intelligence) and E (Emotional intelligence). The overall system moves and is mirrored through the internal sub-system dynamics. Leaders primarily reflect organisational culture, and steer employees through input that, in turn, promotes self-motivation to exhibit appropriate behavioural output. As such, employees need to be motivated to act according to their respective sub-systemic boundaries of knowledge and resources of available skillsets. Leaders are the primary input for employees to be equipped with both skillsets and knowledge for adapting to future disruptions.
Short-term disruptions are managed by internal employee and group communication systems (for example when an employee becomes ill, or an interim manager is appointed). This process subsumes high emotional intelligence skillsets which demarcates autonomy within the boundaries of the overall organisational goals, values, and ethics. Certain pressures, however, necessitate long-term change which requires the whole organisational boundary to adapt, in turn rippling through to individual and group subsystems. In turn, should organisations choose not to act on incoming feedback to change, a strong boundary of sustainable goals, values and ethics will be needed to steer organisations through periods of change. This is found, for example, through employees globally being obligated to work from home during the Covid-19 crisis. Implementing digital systems as integrated organisational culture requires skilful navigation on the part of leaders which is informed through heightened employee skillset knowledge. Exhibiting heightened cultural intelligence, the leader becomes the primary buffer for effectively steering information through the system.
Cultural intelligence informs the closed boundaries of the system through reflecting both leader and employee behaviour, ethics, and norms. Specifically, rules are set forth through ethics and various regulations that stipulate norms for group and individual behaviour. The closed outer boundary is reflected and reciprocal with internal organisational culture among subsystems (and, as discussed, geared through emotionally intelligent employees). Enough positive feedback to the system, such as input that necessitates adaption, can be managed through steering systems behaviour among systems internally, or by changing the whole system boundary, necessitating internal subsystems to adapt thereto. Ideally, employees will be enabled to act by drawing on sufficient knowledge to align their behaviour with the organisational boundary of values, ethics, and norms. With or without the required knowledge or skillsets during disruptions, the emotional intelligence of employees will steer behaviour, which will help an autonomous system continue to function should employees be motivated to act according to the collective organisational culture.
Accordingly, indicative of recursion, the autonomy of internal subsystems at the smallest level contributes to overall system structure as much as the overall structures form a boundary to subsystem behaviour. The system’s continued functioning is as dependent on the person as the person is for it to remain functioning.
Systems encapsulating strong emotional and cultural intelligence are better equipped to sustain autonomy or to adjust to external or internal feedback. Leadership, embodying cultural knowledge of self, employees, and the organisation, informs the reciprocal relationship between EI and CQ of employees through mindfully opening and closing boundaries to promote knowledge and behaviour which is present-oriented and sustainable in forward reflection. As previously discussed, the knowledge and skillsets of employees need to be enhanced to remain sustainable in the long-term within the organisational structure, while the amount and speed of information requires mindfulness on the part of leaders to ethically and sensitively mediate through how boundaries are opened and closed. This, in turn, is informed by the employees’ readiness to adapt to incoming information, which is indicative of their own boundaries set through knowledge and values. Group culture and motivation is thus leader-employee interdependent, and emphasises the cornerstone role of the social realm in systemically adapting through individual autonomy.
Group culture and autonomy are implicated within disruptions in the physical (Bolton, 2018). This shifts the primary system of communication to the digital mode, requiring high-order knowledge reasoning and communication skillsets among subsystems. Rapidly implementing systems, or re-arranging systems, without knowledge of, or concerns for, data privacy, individual needs, and ethics, can cause leaders to undermine employee motivation and morale or deter goal-oriented behaviour. The social realm bridges digital and physical boundaries and as shown within this article, require emotional and cultural knowledge and skillsets among leaders and employees to enhance communication within the digital realm. Employees are required to exhibit heightened motivation to act according to the benefit of the organisational culture and system, and in turn establish these norms and values in the digital realm for the sustainability of the overall boundary to retain integrity within the digital space. Individual self-autonomy becomes key to systemic integrity (Becvar and Becvar, 2012), and where the physical realm extends space between the workforce, the overall system boundary should remain structured through internal behaviour. Leadership, in turn, adopts information into the system through mindful knowledge of the collective needs. It sees organisational culture as being composite of employee subsystems and their interconnected and reciprocal roles in achieving the overall systemic boundary.
7. Implications for practice and concluding remarks
The disruptions brought on by Covid-19, as well as those pending through the Fourth Industrial Revolution, make it incumbent upon leaders to reflect on values and knowledge of systems, both digital and social, as a means to adapt organisational structure and continue to function. Such disruptive changes, often at a pace exceeding sufficient knowledge resources, require heightened autonomy, communications skillsets, and motivation within a sustainable organisational culture, to retain integrity. This article points to emotional and cultural-intelligence skillsets as pivotal constructs associated with effectively navigating human-centred systems through disruptive changes, which maintains overall systemic boundaries at an organisational level. Human resources are challenged to develop skillsets associated with CQ and EI against the backdrop of organisational norms and values that promote systemic integrity across physical, social and digital realms brought on by challenges and external disruptions.
In conclusion, leaders are continuously faced with the need to innovate according to external pressures and digitization. Employees and leaders should accordingly be developed to respond with autonomous, ethical and goal-directed behaviour. These abilities underly the concepts of CQ and EI which become valuable to tailoring training to include new skillsets and knowledge (through cultural intelligence enhancement) as a means to influence systemic adaption and harmony within all employee subsystems (patterns established through emotional intelligence). CQ and EQ measurements are of use in both assessing domains for skillset enhancement, but also to gain a collective description of the input-output dynamics of organisational systems. This knowledge will become key in establishing systems and knowledge for human-resource management that is aligned with Fourth Industrial Revolution trends. Disruptions in the physical continuously amount to organisations going digital and call for systems to be self-differentiating and autonomous. A heightened focus on emotional and cultural skillsets during training will enhance relations in the social realm, establishing autonomous sub-systemic behaviour during disruptive changes that are characteristic of the overall organisational system’s patterns as a collective.
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