Business leaders will still need to drive revenue, increase efficiency, and resolve conflicts, but financial mandates (I win/you lose) won't be enough. Leaders must expand their view of self and embrace the shared assets and opportunities around them â€” not just the individual takeaways that will reward them alone. Leaders must learn to give ideas away, trusting that they will get even more back in return.
Fortunately, new web-based tools and the emergence of cloud computing are making new leadership styles possible right at the time when they are becoming urgently necessary. The more connected we are, the safer, freer, and more powerful we are. But there are downsides: the more connected we are, the more dangerous it can become. Leaders will need to make the links and organize people for action â€” yet also protect against dangerous or dysfunctional connectivity. Based on my thirty five years as a ten-year forecaster, here's how I expect the context for leaders in the future:
Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity will get worse in the future (a model developed at the Army War College ). Solvable problems will still abound, but top leaders will more often have to make decisions and try to win when it comes to dilemmas with no solution. If you are not confused by current events, you are not paying attention.
The future can help leaders make sense of the present, but only if they learn to listen for the future. You cannot listen for the future if you are stuck in the present. I reminded myself of that when I was stuck in London under a cloud of volcanic dust. It is easier to write about the a volatile (and more) world than it is to experience it.
Leaders will face both opportunity and danger. Some of those in authority positions today have understandably turned cranky or nasty out of frustration, but leaders need not allow themselves to be overwhelmed, depressed, or immobilized. It is usually possible â€” even if very difficult â€” to be positive change agents in the midst of chaos. Some things can get better, even as other things get worse.
Leaders must learn new skills, in order to make the future. More specifically, I have suggested ten new leadership skills for the future, skills you can learn to become more ready for the future: the maker instinct, clarity, dilemma flipping, immersive learning ability, bio-empathy, constructive depolarization, quiet transparency, smart mob organizing, and commons creating. (Rate your own future leadership skills here.)
Leaders must strike a delicate balance â€” make decisions quickly, but not too quickly. They must embrace the space between judging too soon (the classic mistake of the problem-solver) and deciding too late (the classic space of the academic).
All these new skills will be amplified by connectivity and the cloud. I'm hoping that these new skills will contribute to a conversation about leadership in the future â€” for organizations and for leaders. What future leadership skills do you suggest?
Bob Johansen is Distinguished Fellow, Institute for the Future.