Leaders: Are You Future-Proof?

Here are five leadership literacies for current and future leaders to take their own leap into the future.

Bob Johansen | Institute For The Future

We think we are connected today, but the next 10 years will be a period of explosive connectivity and asymmetric upheaval. In this future world of dramatically amplified digital connectivity, anything that can be distributed will be distributed. Most leaders – and most organizations – aren’t ready for this future.

Bob Johansen discusses his new book, The New Leadership Literacies – Thriving in a Future of Extreme Disruption and Distributed Everything.

Distributed everything

We are on a twisting path toward – but never quite reaching – a place where everything will be distributed. This path will be characterized by increasing speed, frequency, scope and scale of disruption.

Younger leaders will be better prepared for this future than older leaders. Many young people are in a blended-reality world already with constant mobile online filters for the physical world.

They are on online, unless they are off. For most adult leaders, we are offline – unless we are on.

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Leadership will be much less centralized and much more distributed in this future.

New literacies

Quaintly, some leaders today still say they “log on” to the internet. And do we really need to capitalize the word internet any longer? I think not.

It is pervasive already, but this is just the beginning. Leadership will be much less centralized and much more distributed in this future.

The hierarchical practices of leadership for centralized organizations will be brittle in a future world that is not only decentralized but also distributed. Firm structures will give way to shape-shifting organizational forms that function like organisms.

Enduring leadership qualities like strength, humility and trust will still be foundational, but the future will require new literacies for leading. It’s too late to catch up, but it’s a great time to leapfrog.

Here are five leadership literacies for current and future leaders to take their own leap into the future.

Learn to Look Backward From the Future.

Trends consultancies and the business press tend to start from today’s world and work a few years out. Some of these consultancies focus on fashion or fads, which are short-term shifts in preferences or behavior.

In contrast, I’m suggesting that leaders leap ahead and focus 10 or more years ahead, then work backward to identify opportunities today – given the external future forces of the next decade. In most fields, there is so much noise in the present that it is very hard to get a clear view of what’s going on or where things are going.

The reason you look long is to develop the perspective necessary to come up with a good plan of action, a way forward, expressed with clarity and ideally as a story.

Voluntarily Engage in Fear.

Think of this as gaming for grit, creating readiness for an increasingly frightening and unpredictable world. Gamefully engaging with the future can safely immerse you in a world of fear, so you can practice ways to lead.

I believe that gaming – emotionally laden first-person stories – will evolve into the most powerful learning medium in history. Again, the kids will have a competitive advantage since many of them have grown up playing video games, thus most kids will be ready for this world. However, most adults will not.

Embrace Shape-shifting Organizations.

New organizational forms will become possible through distributed computing networks, which have no center. They grow from the edges – and they’ll be uncontrollable. Hierarchies will come and go, as they are needed. Economies of scale (where bigger is almost always better) will give way to economies of organizational structure, in which you are what you can organize. Authority will be much more distributed.

Fluid shape-shifting organizations will win consistently over centralized hierarchies. Disturbingly, terrorists and criminals already make use of shape-shifting organizations better than most of the rest of us.

Be There Even When You’re Not There.

Most of today’s leaders are best in person, but they will not be able to be there in person all the time. Their ability to lead will be reduced dramatically if they cannot continuously feel present even when they are not present. New digital tools will allow leaders to bridge the valley created by their absence in ways that move beyond being there, and choosing the right medium will be key. The best leaders will be close – but not too close – even when they are at a distance.

Create and Sustain Positive Energy.

Leaders will need to radiate positive energy at all times, and that will require them to have physical, mental and spiritual well-being. In this highly uncertain future, hope will be the key variable – particularly for young people. Young people who are hopeful and digitally connected will be inspiring. Young people who are hopeless and digitally connected will be dangerous. Leaders will need to seed realistic hope in a future that will be laced with fear.

This article first appeared on IFTF’s Future Now blog and was republished with permission.

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Bob Johansen is a distinguished fellow at the Institute For The Future (IFTF).

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