Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World by Bob Johansen
I imagine that many of you feel like I do … that our world is in the midst of an extraordinary transformation. The social, commercial, and political structures that govern life on this planet are integrating. Climate change, global supply chains for food and medicine, and the domino effect within financial markets are all examples of how connected we have become. Furthermore, in the wake of global integration have come new levels of complexity and accelerated, deepened change.
Given today’s dynamics, it occurs to me that the requirements of leaders are also dramatically shifting—perhaps even the very definition of leadership is changing. As such, I have been exploring the opinions of leadership experts to identify the new skills and competencies required for navigating effectively in this era. One noteworthy source is Leaders Make the Future: Ten Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World by Bob Johansen, who is a Distinguished Fellow of the Institute for the Future.
Johansen begins his book with a discussion about three basic assertions:
1. The world is characterized by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity (VUCA), and these characteristics will become even more pronounced in future.
2. The VUCA world will have both danger and opportunity.
3. Leaders must learn new skills in order to make a new future.
The subsequent chapters describe these skills and provide real-life examples of leaders in action. The skills Johansen describes are:
- Maker instinct: the ability to exploit your inner drive to build and grow things, as well as connect with others in the making.
- Clarity: the ability to see through messes and contradictions to a future that others cannot see.
- Dilemma Flipping: the ability to turn dilemmas into advantages and opportunities.
- Immersive Learning: the ability to immerse yourself in unfamiliar environments to learn from them.
- Bio-Empathy: the ability to see things from nature’s point of view.
- Constructive Depolarization: the ability to calm tense situations where differences dominate and communication has broken down.
- Quiet Transparency: the ability to be open and authentic about what matters to you without advertising yourself.
- Rapid Prototyping: the ability to create early versions of innovations.
- Smart Mob Organizing: the ability to create, engage with, and nurture purposeful business or social networks.
- Commons Creating: the ability to seed, nurture, and grow shared assets that can benefit other players.
At the conclusion of the book, Johansen provides some suggestions about steps leaders might take to ready themselves for the future, beginning with a comprehensive self-assessment focusing on the skills previously defined.
I thought Johansen’s book provided a stimulating departure from the norm on the topic of leadership. Rather than focusing on age-old leadership skills and lessons, it provided some thought-provoking ideas about the novel skills that will be needed to help business and society deal with the realities of our age. However, in addition to his description about ‘what’ it will take for leaders to succeed in the future, I would welcome Johansen’s suggestions about ‘how’ leaders can bridge the gap from the current to the future state. Getting down to practical applications of how leaders can start to get traction would be of great benefit for those of us who would like to have a hand in shaping our future.