Leadership is by nature future-centric. We have a unique opportunity for change right now, which can see us weaving the gains of the COVID-era into a new narrative of leadership.
Qualities traditionally valued in leaders such as knowledge, authority, and even charisma are still important. However, they will not be the future key drivers of leadership. At the recent BiGG Innovation Conference, this paradigm was explored and articulated by many. Keynote speaker Professor Ian O. Williamson expressed the need to bring together people who are “displaced, distressed and diverse”, and argued that the skills we need to do this well are trust, empathy, and giving others a voice. Leadership will increasingly be built around power and knowledge sharing, inclusiveness, most likely in remote teams and serviced by virtual leaders.
In this future landscape, a new value will be placed on what was seen previously as “soft skills”. The emerging talent pool will be assessed increasingly on their adaptability quotient rather than their intelligence quotient, and emotional intelligence will remain a key quality. Design thinking will inform this landscape from a starting point of empathy, with a renewed focus on appreciating and valuing what individuals and teams already know.
How does one lead into this landscape? With curiosity, courage, and creativity.
A humanistic approach will become central to the new leadership narrative. Humanism is the clear gain of the COVID pandemic, which saw us blending the personal and the political, the national and the global, the advantaged and the disadvantaged. It is so important that we do not trade this humanism for something more of vested interest; leaders are called to navigate, inspire and shape this newly emergent value.
The first responsibility of new leadership will be listening. Active, engaged, empathetic listening will help us synthesize the way forward. Following listening is action. At the end of the day, we need our leaders to take action to progress our endeavours.
We can no longer build organisations and teams around certainty, because that may never exist for us again. Organisations will need to focus on different success criteria; moving from a state of “knowing and defining” reality, to being an adaptive respondent to the demands of the day.
So if you are wondering how to develop your leadership muscle for the future, here are some key messages from the research:
As a keynote speaker at the BiGG Innovation Conference Christian Bason suggested, “the future can arrive in radical ways. What if we imagined new desirable futures and then mobilized stakeholders around them?".
I think the future has already arrived in a radical way, and we are now being called to respond. Future leadership will be shared. We will each need to inhabit and exercise it. For me, I see courageous and capable leadership every day, and it is a cause for celebration every time.
A special acknowledgement to some amazing leaders in my life: Danie Zappa, Jan Ferraz, Grace Tame, Shannan Roberts and Cassandra Purer. Your leadership courage impacts my life for the better.
Another acknowledgement and thanks to Ian O. Williamson, Dean of the Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California, and Christian Bason from the Danish Design Centre in Denmark.