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Building Future Fit Teams: What skills will leaders need in the future?

We are in a time of accelerating disruptive change.  In a VUCA world – one characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity – traditional leadership skills will not be enough.”   Bob Johansen

As I mentioned in my last column, to lead in this VUCA world we need a new way to lead. We need to embrace and develop a new set of leadership skills.

In the Henley Global research report, Thomas Friedman is quoted as saying “When I said the world is flat, Facebook didn’t exist. Or for most people it didn’t exist. Twitter was a sound. The Cloud was in the sky. 4G was a parking place. LinkedIn was a prison. Applications were something you sent to college. And for most people, Skype was a typo. That all happened in the last seven years. And what it has done is taken the world from connected to hyper-connected. And that’s been a huge opportunity and a huge challenge.” Friedman,     2012.

The challenge that we need to solve for at this current pace of change is what skills our leaders need to develop in order to embrace this accelerated pace. What competencies do they need if they are to meet the VUCA world with any measure of success?

According to Bob Johansen, the award winning author of “Leaders make the future“ and distinguished fellow of the Institute for the future (IFTF), the VUCA world can be flipped if leaders are able to:

  • meet the Volatility with Vision,
  • develop deep Understanding in order to be comfortable with the Uncertainty,
  • gain Clarity through the Complexity, and
  • respond to the Ambiguity with Agility. (Johansen, B. (2012).  Leaders make the future: Ten leadership skills for an uncertain world.  San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.)

Johansen puts forward a leadership framework (included below) that is made up of 10 skills he deems critical for the Future Leader.

  1. Maker Instinct: exploit your inner drive to build and grow things, as well as connect with others in the making or getting things done in a meaningful way. This ‘Purpose and Values driven leadership is highlighted in the Henley Global research report. Leaders need to recognise that they are there to serve, and make things happen for all of their stakeholders not just their shareholders.  Having said this, shareholder only value creation is still the dominant trend and has led to a very aggressive level of competition. However, this particular trend is being kicked to curb as Millennials amass. Millennials are searching for something so much more meaningful than just a pay cheque. They want to belong to something greater, they need purpose underpinned by a kickass set of values.
  2. Clarity: see through messes and contradictions to a future that others cannot yet see. Leaders are very clear about what they are making, but very flexible about how it gets made.
  3. Dilemma Flipping: turn dilemmas, which unlike problems cannot be solved, into advantages and opportunities. I.e. flipping the VUCA
  4. Immersive Learning: immerse themselves in unfamiliar environments, to learn from others and the organisation in a first-person way.
  5. Bio-empathy: see things from nature’s point of view, to understand, respect and learn from nature’s patterns. A core skill in future will be the leader’s capacity and capability to reinvent themselves and continuously develop new ways of thinking.  This can be achieved through Immersive learning and Bio-Empathy. Both these ‘learning skills’ reflect the 70:20:10 learning principle. Learning for the leader must be immersive, and leadership development needs to be deeply contextual. Based on the real work of the organisation, whilst focusing on what can be learned from the environment.  These learnings must then be adapted and applied back into the organisation for a deeper purposes than just profit generation. The leader of the future needs to be an adept learner.
  6. Constructive depolarization: calm tense situations where differences dominate and communication has broken down. Bring people from diverse cultures together and align them toward achieving a common purpose.  The leader of the future must be skilled in managing an increasingly diverse workforce.  The leaders role will become one in which they need to develop ways to harness the power in diverse teams.  Diversity here refers to the diversity in age, gender, sexual orientation, learning styles, thinking styles, psychological types and cultural and ethnic background. To lead and embrace these levels of diversity requires curiosity, open mindedness, high levels of EQ and empathy.  Henley Global research report.
  7. Quiet transparency: open and authentic about what matters to them, without advertising themselves.
  8. Rapid prototyping: create quick, early versions of innovations with the expectation that later successes will require early failures.
  9. Smart mobs organizing: create, engage with and nurture purposeful business or social change networks through intelligent use of electronic and other media. This skill is implied in the Henley Global research report. They describe it as a shift from ‘leading my people’ to ‘orchestrating business ecosystems. It speaks to the shift that needs to happen within leaders to move from leading people i.e. within the hierarchical organisation in which they lead team, function, organisation etc. To ‘orchestrating business ecosystems’ which refers to more sideways or horizontal leadership where the focus is on developing partnerships.
  10. Commons creating: seed, nurture and grow shared assets that can benefit other players and sometimes allow competition at a higher level. The Henley Global research report refers to ‘Collective and Collaborative leadership’, especially at an executive leadership level.  This moves the leader towards gestalt principles ‘The whole being more than the sum of the parts’ and facilitates a deepening of the leaders understanding that team Goals can only ever be achieved through collaboration. This is what was referred to as Cultural Capital in my last column.

In unpacking these 10 leadership skills we can see the leader of the future morphing into a leader that is deeply driven, immersed in their organisation yet simultaneously connected to the outside world. A leader that is focused on the collective. A “New Breed of Leader” begins to emerge, one that will become adept at flipping the VUCA.

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