What’s Changing for Leadership Today?

Lead­er­ship is a con­stant need for every orga­ni­za­tion, espe­cial­ly in light of today’s rapid dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy changes, uncer­tain gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions and poli­cies, and work­ing in a more dis­rup­tive world. But there are some new skills, twists and insights emerg­ing.

One of my favorite lead­er­ship books is still Good to Great, by Jim Collins, who cites five char­ac­ter­is­tics or lev­els of great lead­ers from the hun­dreds of firms he researched. First, you need to be a high­ly capa­ble indi­vid­ual, which means you have the req­ui­site skills around tal­ent, knowl­edge, and work habits. A sec­ond lev­el is being a con­tribut­ing team mem­ber, which basi­cal­ly means work­ing well and con­tribut­ing to group or team objec­tives. A third is being a com­pe­tent man­ag­er. Here the skills are the abil­i­ty to orga­nize peo­ple and resources toward desired goals. The fourth lev­el is being an effec­tive leader. Effec­tive is the key word. In oth­er terms, this lev­el means com­mit­ment and pur­suit of a clear and com­pelling vision, which, in turn, inspires high­er per­for­mance stan­dards for all. Final­ly, the fifth lev­el is the most intrigu­ing – exec­u­tive – and pos­si­bly is the most dif­fi­cult to ful­ly define well. What he means is build­ing endur­ing great­ness through a para­dox­i­cal blend of per­son­al humil­i­ty and pro­fes­sion­al will.

The last two lev­els are the most inter­est­ing. What does being “effec­tive” mean today, broad­ly speak­ing? What does hav­ing a para­dox­i­cal blend of per­son­al humil­i­ty and pro­fes­sion­al will mean today to build endur­ing great­ness? Are there some new aspects and twists?

  • Being a futur­ist – not just vision­ary. The future is far more volatile than we’ve ever seen. In a cou­ple of recent projects in dif­fer­ent indus­tries, the time­line cho­sen for a vision was only one year! Visions used to be typ­i­cal­ly 3, 5 or 10+ years. But with the pace of indus­try dis­rup­tions, tech­no­log­i­cal change and more volatile polit­i­cal and mar­ket envi­ron­ments, the par­tic­i­pants in both efforts couldn’t imag­ine push­ing the enve­lope longer. This is dif­fer­ent than in 2001 when Jim Collins wrote his book, a time in which con­ti­nu­ity and sta­bil­i­ty was more preva­lent in most indus­tries. But it’s not sim­ply the need for a vision, but under­stand­ing what’s unfold­ing around you, com­pa­ny, indus­try and world – and, becom­ing more of a futur­ist. A for­mer col­league, Lisa Kay Solomon, writes com­pelling­ly about how lead­ers will need to be more futur­ist and dream bold­ly in ori­en­ta­tion. (https://singularityhub.com/2017/02/23/how-leaders-dream-boldly-to-bring-new-futures-to-life/).
  • A dif­fer­ent under­stand­ing and rela­tion­ship with time. Time has both a qual­i­ta­tive and quan­ti­ta­tive dimen­sion. Those won­der­ful fam­i­ly or friend din­ners can seem end­less, while the relent­less inbox of emails requir­ing respons­es into the night leaves one look­ing at the clock. Since 2008, most lead­ers and exec­u­tives have been faced with doing more, with less resources – and an increased atten­tion to the quan­ti­ta­tive dimen­sion of time (as some would say, they’re becom­ing more ADD!). This is under­stand­able, but is not nec­es­sar­i­ly very effec­tive and smart with your time. With the econ­o­my now start­ing to grow again – but in new ways, lead­er­ship needs to go beyond the “have-tos” of being good at mul­ti-task­ing, lead­ing teams, and get­ting things done. A new skill is about carv­ing out time to think, a qual­i­ta­tive dimen­sion – and think hard and crit­i­cal­ly about the world and what could dis­rupt your orga­ni­za­tion, your indus­try, the cur­rent busi­ness mod­el, the right peo­ple in the right posi­tions, among oth­ers. In my work advis­ing lead­ers, I have found that those 30, 60 or longer min­utes dai­ly of real­ly think­ing could make your week, month or year a suc­cess or dis­as­ter. Richard Wat­son wrote a won­der­ful short piece recent­ly worth read­ing (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/praise-slow-learners-richard-watson).
  • Strat­e­gy AND inno­va­tion. Increas­ing­ly, I’ve seen many clients shift their strate­gic plan­ning to include inno­va­tion. Why? Growth for many indus­tries, except some tech­nol­o­gy sec­tors, is rel­a­tive­ly flat. Growth in cur­rent mar­kets is about tougher com­pe­ti­tion, costs, dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion and find­ing new or more inno­v­a­tive prod­ucts and ser­vices, includ­ing with part­ner­ships. Just look at the auto indus­try today. With the emer­gence of self-dri­ving vehi­cles and the shared econ­o­my, the num­ber of part­ner­ships has sky­rock­et­ed! In my work, it is increas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult to sep­a­rate the two lead­er­ship skills of strat­e­gy and inno­va­tion. Lead­ers will have to increas­ing­ly blend tra­di­tion­al skills of strat­e­gy and inno­va­tion – and have the pro­fes­sion­al will and dri­ve to keep one step ahead of com­pe­ti­tion.
  • Mind­ful­ness. After almost two decades of empir­i­cal research, the val­ue of mind­ful­ness to reduce stress, help deal with com­plex­i­ty, and enhance cre­ativ­i­ty is now in. And, we’re see­ing many firms around the world, such as Google, include mind­ful­ness train­ing in their well­ness and cre­ativ­i­ty pro­grams. But what we’ve not seen until recent­ly is the tie-in to lead­er­ship. Last year, in Har­vard Busi­ness Review, con­trib­u­tors Justin Tal­bot-Zorn and Frie­da Edgette, argued that mind­ful­ness can improve strat­e­gy plan­ning process­es. As a long-time prac­ti­tion­er of mind­ful­ness, I go back to my ear­ly sce­nario plan­ning roots of meet­ing Pierre Wack, the head of Group Plan­ning at Roy­al Dutch/Shell and who cre­at­ed sce­nario plan­ning in the 1970s – and, was an ear­ly med­i­ta­tor and mind­ful­ness prac­ti­tion­er. His teach­ers taught him about see­ing –  which became his life­long pas­sion to “see” your envi­ron­ment with full con­scious­ness. His suc­cess with sce­nario plan­ning wasn’t sim­ply about fol­low­ing a method­olog­i­cal and sci­en­tif­ic step-by-step process, but about an impor­tant new lead­er­ship skill and dai­ly prac­tice around mind­ful­ness. As I’ve found with lead­ing over 150 sce­nario plan­ning efforts, the work – and suc­cess – of sce­nario plan­ning is as much about the art as the sci­ence and I give full cred­it to my mind­ful­ness prac­tice for enhanc­ing the art aspect. The lead­ers I work with and have inspired to cre­ate a mind­ful­ness prac­tice report back not only the val­ue of more san­i­ty in their dai­ly lives, but new insights and cre­ativ­i­ty for their lead­er­ship (includ­ing a broad­er under­stand­ing of time, as men­tioned above).

There will always be tried and true lead­er­ship skills, but some are new and emer­gent. Suc­cess­ful lead­ers will have mas­tered the for­mer, but those who are curi­ous, con­tin­u­al­ly learn­ing and push­ing the edge of their own lead­er­ship will always have an advan­tage.

2017-08-08T18:25:43+00:00 August 8th, 2017|0 Comments

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