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  • The Leader of the Future

    This posting covers what the leader of the future might look like in terms of changes and expectations on the horizon, as well as what up and coming leaders might face as those changes begin to occur. Leadership is not an exact science and certainly not an as yet thoroughly well quantified or even qualified science it could be open to interpretation. Different circumstances always apply in leadership and management and sometimes different techniques can apply across different environments. Perhaps there needs to be a massive undertaking to retrain and retool existing leaders in order to enable them to better cope with the complexities of the modern globalized hyper competitive world. Also, more leaders are needed, both from the current existing leadership structure, as well coming up through the ranks of employees. So is it possible to understand the problems leaders do and will face, and find ways in which those problems can be addressed?

    So the overall goal of this posting is to attempt to understand what the leader of the future would look like, what new skills must be acquired (if any), and how soon these changes in leadership have to happen. The overall road map of this posting is to cover a number of topic areas including what the leader of the future is, future challenges for leadership, a discussion of dynamic business planning, what leaders should focus on (disciplines, coercion, persuasion, generational issues), lessons learned from the past, the different types of leadership (past, present and future), what is the latest in leadership research and who is and is not applying it, and finally the addition of some personal experiences.

    What is the Leader of the Future?

    The leader of the future is a multi-skilled, multi-faceted and multi-talented individual. The leader of the future looks like the educated, very intelligent, highly people-savvy person that one might expect to find only as the CEO of a large charismatically led, customer service oriented, exceptionally successful company of the industrial past – a company like Costco or Richard Branson’s Virgin. So the leader of the future is going to have to be charismatic, have a reasonably high IQ but also and perhaps more importantly have a high emotional IQ (EQ) as well, in order to manage, lead, guide and facilitate for the empowered contributive employees of the future. So the leader of the future will have to be exceptional.

    Leadership Challenges for the Future

    The challenges for the future are immense where future leaders must become far more capable and adept than they are now, where some in the past were only in the scope of the leadership skills of a CEO (super sales skills). In the present day all leaders from the CEO, to managers and down to grassroots leaders without formal authority (The Leader of the Future) – all of these classes of leaders must now have at least some of the leadership abilities of the CEO of the industrialized age.

    Leading at the strategic level (Strategic Leadership. Defining the Challenge) requires skills to lead at a far more complex level than at the operational management level, utilizing traits and skills of vision, wisdom, creativity, flexibility – with decisions making skills of high risk and great consequence in very rapidly changing and unpredictable situations and environments. In other words, challenges for leaders of the future are far more challenging than was the case in the past because the business world, and the world at large, is now changing so fast that keeping pace is a probably insurmountable task for leaders who are in any way inflexible.

    What is Dynamic Planning

    Dynamic planning is a very simple concept in that it allows for the creation of a flexible approach that applies to a rapidly changing environment; as in Building a Dynamic Business Plan. Competing in the modern world requires the flexibility to react to circumstances as they occur, which in a world where computer speeds double every eighteen months, new methods of solving problems are desperately needed. The problem with the out dated industrial age way of running businesses as process control functions is that they will simply not cater to the modern world of a constantly changing and evolving business climate.

    What is a Blueprint for Dynamic Planning?

    A blueprint is a formula or detailed plan and description of something, a detailed outline or plan of action, a blueprint for success. So a blueprint for dynamic business planning is a description of what dynamic business planning is. A document transcript of a podcast called Dynamic Business Planning for a Changing Market explains dynamic planning by breaking it down into three different parts: 1) be flexible and focus on what matters including internal as well as external data (data from customers, competitors, service oriented sources), 2) use analytics and allow internal projects to compete based on merit, 3) take a broader strategic approach to planning including proper cash flow management, forecasting, and leverage of intangible assets (intellectual property, employees, client relationships). The overall message is be flexible by taking into account far more factors than the internal focus of the industrial age did, especially utilizing those factors that are external but affect a company directly such as the perspective of its customers.

    The key motivating factor for dynamic planning is to be adaptable to a constantly changing external environment such as the economy, shifting consumer tastes, fluctuating GDP, growing new markets and declining mature markets – using all the information to predict with allows for appropriate reaction before problems occur – at least that’s the idea.

    The Affect of Dynamic Planning on Leadership

    The affect of dynamic planning on leadership is that leaders now have to think on their feet, which in the industrial age only the top layer of leadership such as presidents and CEOs had to be that talented; using intelligence, emotional IQ as well as all the other skills of effective leaders and managers. Leaders now have to be more multi-faceted and multi-talented then they ever were in the past, and where planning was useful and one could follow through to the letter with a plan, a leader now has to have the flexibility and skill level to be able to adapt and reshape any plan, on-the-fly, at a moment’s notice. Procedural and operational leaders of the past who stick with a plan from point A to point B are no longer nearly as valuable as creative leaders who can take risks and perhaps even change from one plan to another in order to relocate to point C, and miss point B altogether; and these choices have to be made quickly. Also, a leader of the future might delegate even the planning process itself in addition to other detail oriented processes and tasks.

    A white paper called A Blueprint for Leadership Success has a great diagram on page 2, as figure 1, describing a bullet list for future effective leadership: inspiring, passionate, integrity, helping others, healthy not obstructive ego, decisional courage, and able to handle ambiguity. Once again, leaders of the future will have to be flexible, dynamic, adaptable, great communicators who are skilled with people, and able to think fast on their feet – and all that has to be rolled into one person; that is quite a human being and lot to expect of one person. Can the human race keep up with this manic pace of rapid development? Surely team work is a possibility?

    Business planning has to be dynamic and flexible because the environments that are now being planned for are rapidly changing, and it will only get more chaotic in the future. The business budgeting process for example relies on economic and financial predictability – this may have to change.

    What Should Future Leaders Focus On?

    The fact is that future leaders are simply going to have a lot more to do and thus the more that they delegate and share responsibility with everyone below, above and around them – the more effective they will be. Long gone are the days of the autocratic leader or manager who tries to understand detail and drive and observe everything – there simply will not be enough time to do all that. The age old practice of delegate, delegate, delegate will become much, much more important in the future. The leader who prepares their team for leadership and allows everyone to learn small parts of what everyone else does (including the job of the leader), will be much more successful when difficult situations arise. Future leaders must share the leadership load out among their peers and their employees or they are doomed to failure. Yes it is quite possible that the job of the leader is put into jeopardy by training their employees to take over, but this has always been the case (including throughout the industrial age), that a leader who does not train their employees to take over the leadership role, who does not fire themselves from their own job – that leader will never be promoted because they have no replacement for themselves.

    Throughout history it is a sad fact that the most charismatic leaders, even the ones with good intentions, do often not groom a successor to replace themselves because real charisma is a rarity. Barack Obama is a classic case of a charismatic leader who is both loved and hated, but his only potential successor after his first six years of office was the person he beat last time around – Hilary Clinton. Future leaders must train their successors because in the future and present environment of unprecedented change, competition, and complexity (Smith & Rogers), the chances are that future leaders will have much more to deal with compared to the leaders of the present day, and certainly vastly more complexity in relation to industrial age leadership. Also, the management of talent is now more important than business growth, and leadership at all levels is important, from employee leaders working without power in the background, to emerging leaders, to managers, to leaders and executives – everyone has to be a leader and function with flexible teams that can adapt and react to constantly changing and fluctuating circumstances. Nothing is simple anymore but the same complexity does make everything much more interesting, and as a result leadership opportunities will probably attract more talent.

    What Specific Disciplines Should Be Focused On?

    A discipline implies a method or approach that can be taught to leaders. Character traits such as integrity, energy, intelligence, enthusiasm, participative approach and emotional IQ cannot be taught and are thus not disciplines. Character traits can be improved upon but generally a discipline is a taught methodology.

    An article called Moon Shots for Management provides an excellent picture of the disciplines that leaders should focus on in the future, covering twenty five different conceptual ideas. Not every item can be classified as a discipline directly, but they can involve the learning and application of a discipline or a practice that brings out the best in leadership. Management and leadership of the future will be faced with many challenges and they are well described by twenty five different conceptual ideas. The conceptual ideas in the Moon Shots article covers ideas and concepts about the way that leaders should lead. Some of the concepts are idealistic and might been seen by the more conservative as being socialist in nature, but at heart these ideas are generally practically competitive; refraining from use of the word social and substituting with something like collaborative or collectivist might help some of these ideas to be more palatable to the traditionally intolerant conservative mind. Concepts and ideas in the Moon Shots article include:

    • A higher purpose and sense of community that is higher than self.
    • Use of existing tools in other sciences.
    • Flattening out of leadership hierarchies.
    • Removing fear and increasing trust.
    • Internally spreading team control rather than trickle down from the top control.
    • Collaboration and the concept that everyone is creative.
    • Exploitation of diversity.
    • Look ahead to the future and not back into the past: ask “how can we do things?” as opposed to insisting on “this is the way we’ve always done things”.
    • Share out workload including information, responsibility, power, decision making, planning and budgeting – team work orient even the leadership functions.
    • Persuade leaders to think long-term rather than short-term.
    • Autonomous employees.
    • Merit based internal market competition.
    • Inspire passion.
    • Focus on value not repetition; value is creative, repetition is industrial age low cost production quality.
    • Make companies more humanized.
    • Manage complexity.

    That is a lot of ideas and a large number of potentially difficult tasks for leadership to cover, and thus the assertion throughout this paper that leaders of the future will have to be much more highly skilled and talented than they ever have been in the past; if the task is too much then there will simply have to be more leaders available at all levels as well as more delegation to others; again team work is indicated.

    What are Coercive and Persuasive Management?

    Coercive management is autocratic where a leader accepts all responsibility, sometimes even expecting themselves to know everything that their employees know, and expecting employees to simply follow instructions without necessarily ever asking questions or making suggestions. Coercive management is very demanding on a manager, can result in many errors in judgment and can cause substantial economic losses over long periods of time. Persuasive management on the other hand empowers employees as team members where they can contribute far more to the tasks at hand, and can actually make the job of management much easier because the manager delegates all forms of responsibility to employees where and as appropriate. So in persuasive management the manager does not tell people what to do but persuades them what to do and how, but also listens to feedback and suggestions, and changes plans accordingly. In some respects the persuasive manager’s job is much easier because the mental power and enthusiasm of more than one person are contributing, but there is a two-fold positive effect in that the manager has time freed up to lead as well as manage, and perhaps run teams with more members, or run more than one team concurrently. However, running creative teams of large numbers of members can have its own complexities and require far more skills as persuasive leaders, when compared to the coercive managers of the past. Modern managers and leaders must now have emotional IQ as well as intelligence IQ in order to manage, lead and guide their now more complex to manage teams of creatively contributing individuals. This all sounds complicated and little contradictory in places, but that’s part of the point in that leaders of the future will no longer be able to expect nearly as much predictability as there was in the industrial age.

    Which one Works the Best: Coercive or Persuasive?

    Persuasive management works much better than coercive management in the modern world with the constant need for flexibility and a razor sharp competitive edge. Persuasion involves more people, and the complex tasks in the future can be divided up so as to free up some of the manager’s time to allow for more effective leadership.

    What is in Store for the Future?

    More of the same globalization, rapid change, immensely intense competition – and much more is in store for the future. There are futuristic minds in the world such as Michio Kaku who think that the technological advances in the twenty first century may well dwarf the massive advances of the twentieth century by a thousand to one. If this is the case then the pace of change will only accelerate and probably accelerate drastically as the new century unfolds, and we will perhaps struggle to keep up as a species, to the point that we might even have to evolve both intellectually through genetics, and perhaps even cybernetically just to keep pace with the pace of change. Great things are in store for the future but the one overriding factor that is very obvious, is that leadership and management techniques must also change constantly, and must keep up with the pace of change. Even the way that we formulate plans and come to decisions will probably have to be formalized and quantified in the future, where in reality decision making and creative processes are two of the areas in science that are not yet understood. If change continues to accelerate we will have to find ways to both enhance ourselves and improve our tools, especially from a leadership perspective.

    Leadership Across Different Generations

    At present there are a number of generations in the workplace Silents (mostly retired), Baby Boomers (beginning to retire), Generation-X, and Generation-Y or Millenials (American Management Association, Leading the four generations at work). These four groups have some differences as well as some surprising similarities. Oddly enough the different generations are very much affected by the generation that preceded, raised, nurtured and mentored. The Silents went through tough economic times in the Great Depression and World War II so they are dedicated, risk averse, committed to collaborative team efforts and they value communication skills. Baby Boomers are affected by the stoic approach of the Silents and are thus hard workers who disparage a personal life – but Baby Boomers are also independent, optimistic and feel entitled. Generation-X does not want to work as hard. Baby Boomers think Generation-X is lazy. The truth is that Generation-X has perhaps just learned to work smarter by exchanging a pile of papers and box of paperclips for a computer (Mind Tools, Leadership by the new generation. Bridging the age gap). The Baby Boomers raised Generation-X as semi-absent parents, using television as a partial babysitter substitute because Baby Boomer parents worked much longer hours. Millenials are more team oriented (like Silents) but they can handle ambiguity, diversity and the new global marketplace.

    So based on the variety of values as described, the older generations should always be respected and deferred to but the younger generations should be given the freedom to stretch their legs mentally. Baby Boomers could learn a lot from younger generations in the use of tools as those same Baby Boomers mentor the younger generations to be able to take over the reins as the future begins to emerge and unfold.

    Incentives are very different among the different groups where Baby Boomers like money (Houlihan, When gen-x is in charge: how to harness the young leadership style) and Generation-X is not as interested in money and would like more time off, or even perks such as telecommuting. Millenials on the other hand want meaning in that they might be heard to complain about not having enough interesting things to do, which Baby Boomers might see as an inability to pay attention; but those Millenials can get things done much faster than Baby Boomers might be willing to believe at first because Millenials might work much smarter and more effectively when they do work. In some respects, Millenials might even be learning to multitask, which Baby Boomers will say is impossible – consider that Millenials are accustomed to the constant bombardment of electronic multi media and young children can be playing a game on a computer, talking on the phone, watching TV and singing along to Youtube videos – all at the same time. How much they are concentrating on each Round-Robin parallel processed piece is debatable but they are at least attempting it.

    Lessons of the Past

    What worked in the past? In the past during the industrial age the objective was to produce as much of the same quality product as possible, in the same way, as efficiently as possible. The task of leadership was thus divided up into one of operational management in the day-to-day running of a business, or two that of leadership and the vision of the business.

    Have we learned anything from the past? When comparing the industrial and the modern global age of flexibility and the new furious pace of change, the past has taught us how to run a business once it has matured. Given that everything is changing so fast in the modern world perhaps the most important thing to learn is that the way that companies are managed and lead must also keep pace with the high velocity of technological change. So the skills of operating a business can still be utilized but they have to be adapted to include what in the past were quite often top level leadership skills only. In the modern world, everybody has to be a leader including the CEO, managers and even employees – and teams where everyone leads (depending on the task) might be very effective.

    What will work in the future? A more open and downward empowering and inclusive, heavily people oriented style of leadership will work better in the future, which is needed in order to take advantage of the labor pool far more effectively. How will leadership have to evolve? Leadership will have to adapt to the new world where far more is expected of leaders in terms of emotional IQ and skills that involve getting the best participation from their employees.

    Types of Leadership

    Leaders fall under certain categories including charismatic, transactional, transformational, value-based, authentic and positive (Nahavandi, The Art and Science of Leadership). A charismatic leader leads by persuasive charm but can take advantage of followers if the leader has evil intent. A transactional leader leads by the transaction of goal-gets-reward or light monitoring and guidance. Transformational leaders are often charismatic as well and they lead changes either small-scale within organizations, or large scale from the CEO level, or even when running an entire country. A value based leader is a leader who leads based on the values held dear by the leader, such as a very high degree of integrity (Warren Buffett might be a good example). An authentic leader leads based using the best strengths of the leader and exploiting those best strengths for the good of the organization being led; for example, Richard Branson or the Costco CEOs. A positive leader focuses on what is right with people and situations rather than the negatives (not completely ignoring the negatives), but creating a positive happy place where people are encouraged to be willingly more productive. One must not forget that some leaders exhibit less effective and perhaps more defensive approaches to leadership, such as leading by fear – fear works but is less effective and is more prone to being usurped; in comparison to positive leadership being more likely to be revered and less likely to have to constantly be quelling the seeds of a real or imagined rebellion.

    Past Leaders

    The skills and personality traits required of leadership does change over time. In days of old when knights were bold and we ran around hitting each other with clubs, brawn might have been more important than brains. Somewhere in between the feudal system and the industrial age we ceased bludgeoning each other and began to use machines and more industrious methods to get things done. In the late twentieth century people started building electronic gadgets like computers that did paperwork and heavy lifting for us, and life got even easier still. Now we have to figure out how to lead the use of these new inventions where all the library books of the world are at our fingertips and we don’t have to remember anything specifically and we have a lot of time to think, especially creatively. So somewhere in the last few millennia we have progressed from leadership by brute force to an environment that as leaders that we are having to constantly negotiate with those that we are leading.

    Present Leaders

    Present day leaders are catching on fast but in some parts of the world they are catching on even faster. For example, Silicon Valley leadership has been ahead of the curve every since the dawn of the computer age. On the contrary, in some locations in the world and even in parts of advanced nations such as the United States, the leadership remains largely uninspired by new age thinking and remain generally autocratic and thus seemingly unable to cope with the complexities of leading businesses in the modern hyper competitive globalized creative world. This issue does also bring into question how a dictatorial China can cope better with the new competitive age, and perhaps better than a more democratic India? Is there an answer to this question? Is the difference a cultural difference perhaps? Or is China not succeeding where India can because China is held back by autocratic centralized leadership?

    Leadership techniques and requirements have changed and the gap between leader and follower and that gap is growing ever smaller – even followers can now be found leading anything from meetings to entire initiatives. In the modern world the person in charge often seemingly simply plows a path of least resistance, facilitating for other team members. An important point to note is that leadership must retool, retrain and reorganize to cope with new realities – it is not just the companies and the employees who are outdated, it is the leadership and management people themselves who are very out of date in some cases; they will not compete and there will be a dying breed of autocratic leadership if they do not start reequipping themselves now.

    Future Leaders

    A company I recently worked for uses IQ intelligence tests to assess people because as they said, “you will eventually meet someone who is more intelligent than yourself”; unfortunately, IQ testing does not always seem to reflect on competence. I have encountered many highly intelligent people in the IT field who when faced with a moving and unpredictable target, are out of their depth and have little capacity to react and respond with appropriate solutions. Intellectual intelligence can help a great deal but it often does not equate to leadership ability because that high intellectual IQ in IT does not always seem to be coupled with a healthy emotional IQ (simple social people skills). When I was a teenager I had a friend who barely scraped past in high school, but he can run a business and has done so successfully and repeatedly many times time over – he just gets people and all the technical stuff that he can’t do he can always delegate (knowing what to delegate and who to delegate to is yet another leadership skill). The top layer of leadership has for millennia has always been emotionally intelligent and only the best managers ever reached the purely leadership level. Has not anyone ever heard that, “the good sales people are always at the top” – sales people are often some of the best communicators. In the new world of the information age, all managers and leaders must be emotionally intelligent in order to be effective, so that they can function independently of the specialized skill sets they must recruit and retain in the people who they delegating details to. In reality, the leaders of the future are going to have to be much better communicators, but also much better at leading from a bigger picture perspective, delegating and even avoiding more of the details because they won’t have the time for all the little bits and pieces; the complexities of the modern world and the availability of information was simply not available thirty years ago and the world has changed a great deal – leadership will have to adapt to thrive and lead their organizations in a productive direction.

    The Latest Research in Leadership

    The latest in leadership research includes areas such as Flexible Leadership Theory (FLT), which theorizes from leadership in practice and how leadership is adapting to the modern world of business. Technically, Flexible Leadership Theory describes a method of leadership that functions in two ways: (1) three behavioral attributes including tasks, relationships and change; and (2) how decisions are made (Yukl. Leadership in organizations).

    The main components of Flexible Leadership Theory can be described as having two approaches where the first uses the behavior of leadership to apply influence, and the second approach is about making decisions. The behavior of leaders can be subdivided into task oriented behaviors for efficiency and operational processes, relationship oriented behaviors that work on the human aspect (the employees), and finally change orientation that helps innovation and external adaptability (transformational change). Decision making concerns competitors, the structure of organizations and programs for management.

    The Future for the Maladaptive is Bleak

    The future for maladaptive leadership that cannot teach themselves to be new age leaders could very well be bleak – they have to adapt. Amazon took out the publishing and book retail industry in a matter of years, and Apple took out the music industry just as rapidly – the publishing and music industries are now not anywhere near the giant all powerful corporations they were even as a little as a decade or two ago. The same thing could happen to other industries such as software, where software becomes more and more automated and more and more competitive if products begin to emerge from other countries. Leaders in the software industry in the United States might have a difficult time taking this seriously but it is quite possible that a decade from now, that only the best people will need to be retained inside the United States, and by the companies that are progressively lead and focus on retaining their best talents – these might be the only companies to survive. The reality of off shoring is ever present but there is on shoring occurring lately because talent cannot be found overseas, but not much; part of the ship has sailed and it is not coming back anytime soon – if ever.

    The medical industry in the United States is another candidate for off shoring where Doctors will diagnose illnesses and prescribe pills over the Internet from anywhere in the world, partly because medical care is so artificially expensive in the United States. A natural progression will eventually occur and leadership inside the medical industry that cannot adapt to enforced diversity may find that nobody wants to do business with them.

    In Concluding

    All this stuff in this posting matters because great changes are afoot in the world of business, and one of the primary groups of people who have to change to keep pace with the new world is that of leaders and managers. It is possible that it is now the leaders and managers who have to change the way that they lead, manage and run businesses in order to remain competitive in a hyper competitive, rapidly changing, globalized business world. In understanding what the leader of the future looks like, perhaps some insight can be gained into how best to approach the matter of retraining and retooling the entire commercial leadership and management work force.


    Vulnerability and authentic leadership.