Leaders Make the Future | Bob Johansen

Summary of: Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World
By: Bob Johansen


In an increasingly chaotic and uncertain world, the book ‘Leaders Make the Future’ by Bob Johansen outlines the essential skills needed for leaders to navigate through the challenges and complexities of the 21st century. The book dives into the concept of ‘VUCA’ (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity), which describes the ever-changing landscape of global society. It highlights the four key changes that leaders will need to adapt to, as well as the ten leadership skills required to succeed in the face of these shifts. The book also discusses the impact of powerful drivers, such as Diasporas, financial disruption, and cloud-served supercomputing, that will shape society’s main problems.

VUCA: Navigating the Future

The world today is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous – a VUCA world. Leaders who disregard the VUCA paradigm often show negative attitudes such as fear, denial, and anger. The next decade will present four key changes – increased complexity, risks and opportunities for leaders, the need for nontraditional skills, and inability of the traditional approach to handle challenges. To succeed, future leaders must exhibit vision, understanding, clarity, and agility. They must possess leadership skills of the future to deal with external forces that will shape society’s most significant issues. These forces include ‘diasporas,’ financial disruption, new commons, open-source warfare, body innovation, neuro-futures, and pervasive eco-monitoring. Leaders of the future must employ scientific and political tools to address the ‘blue economy’ of oceanography and climate change. They must also integrate operational and research skills into their organizations to enhance productivity. Two more forces – ‘digital natives’ and ‘cloud-served supercomputing’ – are known unknowns, with unpredictable behavior and uncertain impacts. Future leaders must embrace and adapt to these changes to remain relevant and organizing people based on their ability.

Timeless Leadership Skills

The book emphasizes the relevance and value of classic leadership skills that will persist through any situation. These skills include being proactive, maintaining discipline, focusing attention on important data, staying prepared, balancing urgency with patience, using storytelling to inspire, acting with authentic courage, and conveying patterns to establish meaning. The author suggests that these abilities are critical for success as a leader and are essential in a wide age range of individuals between 20 to 40 years.

10 Essential Leadership Skills for the VUCA World

The VUCA World demands a different set of skills from its leaders which range from instinctive to transformative. Leaders who possess these skills will find it easier to navigate complexities and uncertainty. These ten skills include the maker instinct, clarity, dilemma flipping, immersive learning ability, bio-empathy, constructive depolarizing, quiet transparency, rapid prototyping, smart-mob organizing, and commons creating. Each skill is vital in shaping leaders for the future and enables them to embrace change and uncertainty with grace and composure.

As the world changes rapidly in the 21st century, a new set of skills is required for leaders to succeed. The VUCA World demands a different set of attitudes and values if a leader is to make it in today’s complex world. From instinctive to transformative, these ten essential leadership skills will help you navigate through complexity and uncertainty with relative ease.

The first skill is the maker instinct. People possess an inherent desire to make things, whether tangible like products or intangible like progress. Maker skills are vital in the VUCA World for discerning opportunities and dangers of creating new pathways, products, and services. Maker leaders of the future will be less controlling and more engaged as they embrace connectivity, becoming the central modules of networks moving in a unified direction.

The second skill is clarity. The VUCA World will leave many people confused and seeking leaders who can see through messes and contradictions and provide real solutions. Clarity is different from certainty, which is more restrictive and rule-oriented. The best leaders digest input from others, discern and communicate the best path without providing false hope, and embrace uncertainty as they determine their strategic intent.

The third skill is dilemma flipping. The unsolvable dilemmas facing future leaders share certain qualities. They’re recurrent, complex, messy, threatening, confusing, puzzling, and potentially positive. The best leaders will find positive twists to address dilemmas, although there are no single right or wrong answers. These leaders will expect their employees to address problems, since problems have solutions.

The fourth skill is immersive learning ability. As leaders progress up the corporate ladder, they become increasingly isolated from their workers and customers. Leaders with immersive learning ability will adopt biological and organic ways of thinking. They will see institutions, not as machines but as organic entities subject to the natural cycles that govern everything in life.

The fifth skill is bio-empathy. Leaders in biology and organic life sciences will propel the next wave of global economic development driven by societal concerns for individual health, wellness, and well-being. Leaders with bio-empathy will perceive from nature’s point of view, shaping leaders in a VUCA World, where humanity’s impact on the natural world engenders unavoidable ecological repercussions.

The sixth skill is constructive depolarizing. Society must not give credence to dangerous zealots who would separate rather than unite. True leaders embrace and try to understand all sides of every issue, depolarize differences, and create harmony. Society’s greatest dividers include ethnicity, nationality, religion, age, gender, and disability. Constructive depolarization calls for grace across barriers of any kind, that is, a willingness to listen deeply and interact with all people while honing your ability to diffuse tense situations.

The seventh skill is quiet transparency. Cultivate your ability to be open and authentic about what matters without being overly self-promoting. Transparency is a true dilemma, for no objective standards exist – or are likely to emerge – for measuring it. If you, as a leader, cannot measure and demonstrate your firm’s transparency, others will do it for you.

The eighth skill is rapid prototyping. When you build anything, create a prototype first. That’s the basic trial-and-error approach to production. Advances in cloud-served supercomputing radically accelerate and amplify the prototyping process, making rapid prototyping the modern way to fail early, fail often, and fail cheaply.

The ninth skill is smart-mob organizing. People who share a common cause via social media create a smart mob. Visionary and author Howard Rheingold describes them as the power of the mobile many. Leaders who want to organize smart mobs need not be personally expert in social media, but they need sufficient vision and skills to direct knowledgeable support staff.

The tenth and final skill is commons creating. Creating common ground broadens the basic ability to make common cause with others for greater benefits. Evolving forms of commons include the OScar open-source auto design project and the COMPASS marine ecosystem management project. Future commons will rely on reciprocity-based innovation, which extends the value of participation beyond the individual.

Leaders who embody these ten essential skills will be more adept at navigating the VUCA World, remaining calm amidst uncertainty, and taking positive steps forward.

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