10 Leadership Skills for an Uncertain Future



The second edition of Bob Johansen’s exemplary book on future leadership skills was just released.  Leaders Make the Future is a Futurists’ perspective of the skill set that successful leaders will need in the next ten years.  It evaluates the impact on leadership  that digital natives, cloud-based super computing, and an economic shift toward a “global well being economy” will create.  The book is outstanding.  Unlike a paint-by-numbers “business book,” Johansen makes no claim on having “The Answer.”  Rather, he recognizes that we are living in an age defined by what he calls VUCA: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity (feel familiar?).

Johansen argues that future leadership will be in part defined by one’s ability to comfortably exist in, and evolve with these four traits.  Great leaders will, in his opinion, do the following:

Volatilty to Vision: Leaders will have the ability to see past short term volatility toward a broader vision of what’s possible

Uncertainty to Understanding: Leaders will understand and manage causal forces that create uncertainty and be ‘ok’ existing in uncertainty

Complexity to Clarity: Leaders will create simple solutions that work

Ambiguity to Agility: Leaders will have the ability and desire to change as needed (often on the fly and in the face of failure)

The four tenets lay the groundwork for Johansen’s specific detailing of futurist leadership skills.  They include:

1.  Maker Instinct: The need to exploit our inner drive to build and grow things while connecting with others that can assist.

2.  Clarity: One’s ability to see through a messy or contradictory situation and determine the best courses of action

3.  Dilemma Flipping: Unlike a problem–that can be fixed or solved, a dilemma has no clear solution.  Futurist leaders will recognize the difference and create advantages and opportunities rather than solutions.

4.  Immersive Learning: Futurist leaders will immerse themselves in unfamiliar environments in order to learn from them while enriching their own learning paradigm.

5.  Bio-Empathy: The ability to see things from Nature’s point-of-view to better understand, and respect Nature’s patterns.

6.  Constructive Depolarizing: Future leaders will have the ability to calm tense situations where differences dominate and communication has broken down.

7.  Quiet Transparency: The ability to be open and authentic about what matters to you without advertising yourself.

8.  Rapid Prototyping: Leaders will innovate and create quickly.  They’ll be ok with failure–recognizing that future successes will be build on these failures.

9.  Smart Mob Organizing: Future leaders will create, engage, and grow shared assets that benefit other players in the interest of allowing higher level competition.

10.  Commons Creating: One’s ability to seed, nuture, and grow shared assets among Smart Mob communities that eventually allow higher level competition.

Johansen envisions a business future in which traditional attitudes and definitions of ‘success’ are antiquated and, in many cases, obstacles.  As he writes in the Harvard Business Review:

“Self-interest and competition will not be enough.  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 — 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.” (HBR Blog, May 2010).

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