“The machinery of modern management gets fractious, opinionated, and free-spirited human beings to conform to standards and rules, but in so doing it squanders prodigious quantities of human imagination and initiative. It brings discipline to operations, but imperils organizational adaptability.” -via Gary Hamel The Future of Management
The new leaders of change must understand that they must be much more adept as serving as social architects. Creating environments that encourage both creative and innovative thinking, as well as constructing the internal and external learning networks that allow new knowledge and ideas to continuously flow into and throughout the organizational ecosystem.
They must be curators of creative ideas and thinking, provokers of possibility, seekers of awe, catalysts of curiosity and wonder, engaged in the ongoing emergence of innovation, and determined designers of the future.
Today’s leaders must constantly be engaged towards building new value through both discovery and experimental learning, in order to mobilize, iterate, evolve, and then transform their networks and organizations forward in a much more relevant and engaged manner.
The problem is that many of our individuals and organizations are just now learning how to walk…in a world that has decided to move at a sprint.
And that is a real tension that we are going to have to begin to deal more effectively with. Especially if we are going to begin to learn how to parallel pace a world that is much more in the throes of volatile and an often accelerated pace of change.
In many ways, a 5G pace of change.
A pace of change that requires not only a new way of thinking, but for that matter, a different way of leading. Which will necessitate new learnings, new competencies, capacities and skills, as well as new methods for engaging, communicating and cascading a new narratives and new visions for the future amidst the noise that perpetuates our modern organizational ecosystems.
In many ways, today’s leaders must become much more fluent in their ability to engage in “best” AND “next” practices to move individuals and organizations forward into the uncertainty and ambiguity of a much more non-obvious future that we are currently facing
Which will require:
- Fluidity: much of leadership during the 20th century has been founded in and focused upon sustaining past and/or present successes. Often in very static and status quo ways. The vision was often focused on “sustaining” the present rather than seeing the need towards “adapting” for the future. A mindset that has often moved many an organization or industry forward into future with a unknowing bend towards irrelevance and/or discontinuity. In a world of dynamic change, today’s leaders and organizations need to be much more fluid towards adapting, and much less entrenched in sustaining practices, if they are to survive the constant tug of change over irrelevance. As Mary Catherine Bateson shares, “Fluidity and discontinuity are central to the reality in which we live.”
- Adaptability: the 20th century was tilted towards and weighted down in a plethora of “technical” problems (which definitely kept many binder companies in business, as well as our leadership shelves filled). However the 21st century is showing us that more and more the world of leadership is now tilting towards and becoming awash in “adaptive” challenges. Challenges and dilemmas that will challenge our thinking and our ability to engage in deeper questions, in order to determine new solutions and answers to the root causes of those challenges and dilemmas that continue to plague our organizations and leadership. As Gary Hamel shares, “To build a capacity for relentless management innovation, you must be willing to ask, “What new management challenge, if mastered, would give us a unique advantage?”
- Clarity: the linear and often predictable pace of change that spanned the changes of the 20th century, is now moving out of the way for the volatility and chaos that seems to accompany the 21st century. In the midst of this volatility and chaos, individuals and organizations are looking for more clarity and deeper organizational coherence. They are looking for leaders that can create that clarity and coherence in the midst of the chaos that surrounds them and their organizations. Determining and communicating collective commitment to stronger narratives and visions for the future, as well as rallying all stakeholders and focusing resources in support of these narratives and visions, will go far in creating that clarity and coherence for individuals and today’s organizations. As Bob Johansen adds, “Leaders are-and must continue to be-a source of clarity. Clarity is the ability to be every explicit about where you are going, but very flexible about how you will get there.”
- Systems: the 20th century often operated organizationally around hierarchies and command and control forms of leadership, usually in search of greater individual and organizational efficiency. Today’s organizations and leaders are going to need to move much less towards a bend on efficiency, towards a deeper focus on effectiveness. Creating systems, be that in structures, processes, or even behaviors, must rest on a foundation of effectiveness. Leaders must truly understand that all which is efficient isn’t necessarily effective, and that which is effective isn’t necessarily efficient. Being intentional in designing our systems for effectiveness, systems that are fluid, agile, and adaptive, as well as systems that are based in clarity and coherence, will allow us to have organizations that are primed for continuous improvement. Or as Peter Senge has put forth, “A vision without systems thinking ends up painting lovely pictures of the future with no deep understanding of the forces that must be mastered to move from here to there.”
- Content, Competencies, Skills: the 20th century was a time when content, competencies and skills had this tendency to survive with a much longer shelf-life. In some ways, there were rewards for being the “best rememberer.” But the 21st century has shown us that there is no reward anymore for being the “best rememberer.” In many ways, knowledge has become much less of a commodity, and much more of a collaborative tool. Today’s world is looking for people who can connect new dots, new ideas, new thinking, in ways that creates new solutions and new answers to the growing number of adaptive challenges and dilemmas we are and will be facing. While today’s world will continue to require content, competencies, and skills, it is with the understanding that the shelf-life of those will be much, much shorter and will necessitate not only lifelong learning, but ongoing reskilling and upskilling. As John Hagel puts forth, “But now that success demands a greater number of faster-evolving skills, organizations will need to adapt. Across industries, organizations that embrace, nurture, and cultivate enduring human capabilities throughout their workforce will likely have a strategic advantage, because their people will have the mindset and disposition toward rapid learning that is required to thrive in an environment of constant disruption.”
- Mindsets and Models: today’s modern leaders are going to need to be much more adept at blending. Meaning, they are going to need to be able to engage in deeper understandings of a variety of models and mindsets, without putting a stake in ground for just one mindset or model. But rather, be able to blend the best of those mindsets and models into new ways of acting and doing, in ways that best support the organizational culture and context. This will require new ways of thinking and new capacities to spread across the entirety of the organization. This will require organizations to move away from the compliance of implementation, to deeper learning towards the capacity and autonomy necessary to engage in “best” and “next” practices that moves us from a “program” mentality. Today’s organizations, to be effective, must move past “check box” ways of doing and acting. This will require a much higher level of capacity building, beginning with leadership, then cascading and scaling across the entirety of the organization.
- Around the Corner (thinking): leaders in the 20th century were often looking at the horizon for next steps, while leaders in the 21st century are going to need to engage much more in “around the corner” thinking. Today’s and tomorrow’s leaders are going to need to move from reactionary short-term attitudes, towards proactive and a longer-term focuses. This is one of the struggles of leadership. It is not just about staying current. Rather, staying current is actually a disservice to those you lead. Staying ahead of the curve and “looking around the corner” is a 21st century leadership imperative. It is about creating a mindset and environment in which the organization allows those you lead to begin to “see around the corner.” As Joanna Bakas shares, “What is holding us back is our inability to unlearn accepted paradigms, ways of doing and thinking.” Which means, to become more effective in “around the corner thinking” and then doing, will require some unlearning in our mental models and behaviors that trap us in the past.
Today’s leaders are going to need to find new ways to effectively amplify empathy, imagination, curiosity, creativity, and innovation across their organizations if we are to constantly turn toward future relevance, in a time when the speed of change is moving many organizations towards irrelevance, obsolescence and discontinuity.
“The biggest issue at stake in this emerging age is the ongoing tension between creativity and organization.” -via Gary Hamel The Future of Management