What does thriving leadership in the 21st century look like?


L&D expert Barbara Walsh on how organisations should prepare their leaders for the age of disruption. 

In a world of disruptive technologies, political uncertainty and fast paced change how do we prepare organisations and leaders to have the foresight and resilience to ride these waves of change?

VUCA is a concept that originated with students at the U.S. Army War College to describe the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity of the world after the Cold War. In times of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity there also exists the potential for exponential growth. Examples of this abound in our lives evidence of which can be seen in the way we behave and live. And the trend continues.

New research from BloombergNEF says electric cars could be cheaper than combustion-engine cars by 2022, but how will that impact South Africa and Africa when electricity itself is in short supply?

A group of Chinese and American researchers recently created an AI system that diagnoses common childhood illnesses, ranging from the flu to meningitis producing diagnosis outcomes with unprecedented accuracy. How could this be utilised in the dual first and third world economies that South Africa and Africa represent?

These are questions from examples of just two industries which are undergoing unprecedented rapid transformation and exponential growth due to the influence of AI. The truth is that industries across the spectrum are experiencing radical shift and the opportunity for exponential growth. 

21st century leadership complexity

Leaders are now having to deal with the reality of global political uncertainty that affects local markets, the need for real time view of the organisation, generation X, Y and millennials as the dominant force in the market, climate and environmental challenges, the need for rapid growth and agility, local economic turmoil and cross cultural challenges to mention but a few, over and above typical leadership challenges.

Many leaders and organisations understand the need to build new frameworks, but the real challenges lie in the connections between people, teams and functions. To truly future proof organisations and to effect change, leaders need to leverage teams and technology to envision and enact change before it happens. 

Leadership through collaborative influence

As the digital age leads organisations into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, foresight and innovation analyst Yehezkel Lipinsky suggests that the “next decade’s breakthroughs might not be new gadgets, but new minds.

Twenty-first century leadership is no longer about the individual’s ability to lead but rather the ability to form relationships as partnerships in service of a clearly articulated and commonly understood purpose.

Peter Hawkins, Professor of Leadership at Henley Business School, UK points out that “the world has moved beyond the time when major challenges could be met by the great individual leader [CEO]… Human beings have created a world of such complexity and global interdependence, and of continuous, fast-moving and volatile change, that leadership is beyond the scope of any individual [no matter how competent], and requires more effective collective leadership and high-performing leadership teams.”

Leadership competencies and executive learning have changed 

The methodology of executive learning and development itself has shifted to accommodate the needs of the exponential world. This means that learning no longer takes place outside of the environment or context but rather uses a consolidated approach working with senior leadership teams within the environment to act as mirror, challenger, trusted advisor and sometimes critic to generate new ways of thinking and working.  

Its this new way of learning combined with technology that will shape leaders who can envision, transform and disrupt their industries. It’s these change agents, who courageous and vulnerable, able to cope with complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity, who will shape the future with and for their people. 

It’s for this reason that at Metaco we’ve begun to focus so keenly on Systemic Leadership Team Coaching as a primary area of specialisation, why we are privileged to have the expertise of Professor Peter Hawkins as a Non-Executive Board Member, and it’s also the reason for our large investment into technology as a powerful platform for sustainable learning. 

The bottom line as we see it is that in these times of dynamic change, it’s those who possess the skills and characteristics to lead in this new exponential world who will thrive. It’s our purpose to create opportunities that transform leadership thinking, deliver value, change lives and create a better, more connected world. In an exponential world, we don’t see any other way.

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