IT’S A VUCA WORLD…New Leadership Skills Required

February 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

Over two years ago, I was attending one of our quarterly Alliance of CEO’s keynote speeches (I’ve been a Director/Moderator of Group 307 since 2007).   The speaker was Bob Johansen and he had just published a new book called Leaders Make the Future: 10 New Leadership Skills For An Uncertain World.  One of his premises was the concept of the new VUCA world we are all living in.   I began taking furious notes on my notepad.  I recently dug out these notes and it’s time to transcribe them here.

Bob argued we are in a time of disruptive leadership change. In a VUCA world—one characterized by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity—traditional leadership skills won’t be enough.

  • V = Volatility. The nature and dynamics of change, and the nature and speed of change forces and change catalysts.
  • U = Uncertainty. The lack of predictability, the prospects for surprise, and the sense of awareness and understanding of issues and events.
  • C = Complexity. The multiplex of forces, the confounding of issues and the chaos and confusion that surround an organization.
  • A = Ambiguity. The haziness of reality, the potential for misreads, and the mixed meanings of conditions; cause-and-effect confusion.

The forward to the book gives a perfect flavor of the read:

Watching the Arab Spring unfold of late in the Middle East reminds us how prescient Bob’s work is in assessing the dynamics of our VUCA World. He foresaw the rising influence of what Howard Rheingold first called “smart-mob organizing,” through which social networks are used creatively and purposely to fuel change— foretelling events that unfolded in Tunisia, Egypt, and across the region. Frantic attempts by failing governments to quash social media interaction highlighted their hostility toward another emerging trend identified by Bob: “quiet transparency.” The complete absence of that trait among many Arab leaders, from Mubarak to Gaddafi, factored crucially into their downfalls. The resulting new and highly uncertain era, not only in the Middle East but around the world, demands yet another skill highlighted by Bob—“ commons creating,” or the ability to develop shared assets, requiring collaborative leadership at all levels of the government, business, and social sectors.  John R. Ryan, President and CEO, Center for Creative Leadership

Bob’s own introduction to his 2nd Edition is just as compelling for anyone engaged in this new VUCA world:

We are now in the midst of a threshold decade: our natural, business, organizational, and social systems will reach tipping points of extreme challenge, and some of those systems are likely to break. However, such disruption can spark new opportunities.

Fortunately, virtual leadership tools in the emerging world of cloud computing are making new strategies for smart-mob organizing possible just at the time when it is becoming most necessary to work together in new ways and at great distances. I believe that the more connected we are, the safer, freer, and more powerful we will be. But there will be frightening downsides: the more connected we are, the more dangerous it will become. Leaders will need to make new links and organize people for action— yet also protect against dangerous hyperconnectivity like we see in global financial spasms. It is good news that we are more connected than ever before, but leaders must now learn to lead in ways that make full use of the new connectivity of cloud-served supercomputing— while minimizing its considerable risks.

A forecast is a story from the future that provokes insight in the present. Nobody can predict the future, but you can make forecasts: plausible, internally consistent, and provocative views of what you think could happen. The best forecasts provoke insight and invoke action. This book uses forecasts to provoke insight about leadership.

This book introduces ten new leadership skills for the future which all work together

  1. Maker Instinct – energizing every other skill
  2. Clarity – (wrapping your vision in practical and inspirational language)
  3. Dilemma Flipping – (ability to turn dilemmas into advantages and opportunities)
  4. Immersive Learning Ability (e.g. gaming)
  5. Bio-Empathy
  6. Constructive Depolarization – (ability to calm tense situations where differences dominate and communication has broken down)
  7. Quiet Transparency (the age of the Rock Star CEO is over;  ability to be open and authentic about what matters without being self promoting)
  8. Rapid Prototyping (fail early, often, and cheaply)
  9. Smart-mob Organizing (the power of the mobile many)
  10. Commons Creating (ability to grow shared assets to benefit all and allow competition at a higher level)

Bob argues you can win the VUCA war as the negatives yield to positives:

  • Volatility yields to Vision
  • Uncertainty yields to Understanding
  • Complexity yields to Clarity
  • Ambiguity yields to Agility.

He goes on to define two new central forces that are shaping our future. The first force is the new “digital natives” (16 yrs or younger in 2012).  Our young generation who are growing up in a completely digital world (and soon to be mobile world).  The second force being cloud-based computing.   Both forces are enabling new forms of connection, collaboration and introduce the concept of reciprocity-based innovation—the more you give away the more you get.—which Johansen sees as the biggest innovation opportunity in history.

He argues convincingly that today’s “generations” are 6 years apart and shrinking.  This means a 28 year old today is out of touch with 22 year olds who are in turn out of touch with 16 year olds.  Only those 16 or younger are true digital natives and by 2020, these 16 yr olds will be 24 will begin leading our world.

Our under 25’s are now a society of YouTube, Twitter,  “Snapchatters” “Viners”.   They are Instagrammers as the way to interact with Facebook.  They and their friends are storing their memories in “Timelines”

“When we change the way we communicate, we change society”     Clay Shirky

In the future, economies of scale (in which bigger is almost always better) will give way to economies of organization (in which you are what you can organize). Leadership is all about engagement, and networked media provide several ways in which leaders can engage to make better futures. The most connected leaders will be the best leaders.

Think of a leader not just as an individual but as a node on many different networks. The best leaders will not be isolated; they will be ravenous networkers with active links all around the world.

He encourages all leaders to practice some essential characteristics and principles:

  1. Active Attention:  the ability to focus and stay centered;  filtering skills;  pattern matching
  2. Readiness Discipline:  the ability to anticipate, prepare, and practice
  3. Urgent Patience:  knowing when to challenge (urgency) and when to comfort (patience)
  4. Humble Strength:  the ability to act with courage and clear intent in an authentic, engaging and self-effacing way (Quiet Transparency)
  5. Story Telling and Listening:  great leaders are great listeners and story tellers

Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World < Amazon link

Bob Johansen consults with senior executives- CEOs, presidents, directors on innovation, and others across a wide range of industries He was president and CEO of the Institute for the Future from 1996 to 2004 and remains on its Board and Leadership Team. The Institute for the Future (IFTF), spun off from the Rand Corporation in 1968, is an independent nonprofit think tank in Silicon Valley that has been doing ten-year forecasting for more than 30 years

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