This is the seventh and last in a series of articles examining the future of leadership in a changing world. It considers a seven step approach to leadership.
We started this series of articles looking for a new approach to leadership: one explicitly designed for the volatile, complex, and uncertain world we face. What we quickly found is that we have an opportunity to create organisations that not only cope with change but actually grow stronger with each challenge they face.
Subsequent articles have led us through the actions needed to achieve this. They showed how future leaders will use vision, values, and purpose to enthuse people to move easily through the three stages of transition. We learned how to create an inspiring vision, how to find more opportunities in a crisis, and how to select the best way forward. Finally, we saw that implementation will be more likely to succeed when leaders learn to make clearer sense of a changing world and connect more deeply with who they are and what matters most to them.
Together, these steps define the seven competencies of future leaders.
Placed in reverse order, they also describe a process for achieving that future leadership:
- Centre and ground: connect deeply with who you are and what matters most to you
- Check for mistaken assumptions, spot emerging patterns
- Find more opportunities in the situation you face
- Choose the one that suits you best
- Check how it aligns with your purpose and values
- Articulate your chosen way forward as an inspiring vision-story
- Use vision, values, and purpose to speed the transitions as you move forward
Personal Growth, Organisational Advantage
An individual who applies this framework will connect more deeply with what matters most to them, find more ways to apply that in the situations they face, and increase their ability to get the outcomes they want. As they do so they will learn more about themselves and become more able to put that into practice: they will self-actualise.
An organisation that applies this framework will become more stable and directed. When issues arise it will know which to ignore and which to pay attention to. For issues that matter, it will find a wider range of solutions and put them into practice more quickly and inspiringly. Such an organisation will use change to become stronger. In a VUCA world of constant change this will bring competitive advantage.
Generative Enterprise, Generative Economy
Together, people and organisations that apply this framework will become a new kind of enterprise, aligned around their shared purpose and values:
- The people provide the energy and enthusiasm for getting things done. This brings higher quality, shorter timeframes, lower costs, plus greater resilience and adaptability. As Gallup has shown, “a highly engaged work-force means the difference between a company that outperforms its competitors [by 147%!] and one that fails to grow.”
- The organisation provides an inspiring and supportive environment. This not only gives people more enthusiasm for tackling the issues that arise but also enables them to do so in ways that challenge, stretch, and develop them. The more that people then discover and develop their own unique talents (self-actualise), the more they will develop and deliver unique products and services for the organisation. This is why companies like Google create “an environment where people can flourish and grow,” then commercialise the best of whatever emerges.
Together, organisation and people become ‘generative’: they each help the other to grow.
Together, they become a kind of mechanism for putting their shared values and purpose into practice in a churning world.
Together, they generate stability, enthusiasm, then growth.
What happens next, as Paul Polman of Unilever has described, is that others feel attracted to join and contribute. In this way the generative attitude of a single future leader becomes manifested into the culture of an organisation, then outwards into a wider generative business ecosystem of suppliers, customers, and investors that each help the others to grow, aligned around the purpose and values.
In the same way that the organisation develops its people and the people develop the organisation, so the ecosystem now develops its members and its members develop the ecosystem. In this way, these generative business ecosystems have the potential to create an abundant, generative world. They do so partly because it feels right to live in line with their purpose and values, and partly because doing so brings competitive advantage, enabling them to evolve faster in a changing world. (Unilever, for example, has seen its ‘sustainable living’ brands grow 30% faster than the rest of its business.)
Infinite Growth on a Finite Planet
We started this series of articles looking for an approach to leadership designed explicitly for a changing world.
The seven-step approach we uncovered is listed above. It begins when a single leader connects deeply with who they are and what matters most to them. If they apply this as purpose and values they can create an organisation that responds better and faster to change. That organisation will generate enthusiasm in its people, developing them, and bringing higher returns. A business ecosystem that replicates these patterns has the potential to create infinite growth on a finite planet: not necessarily infinite in terms of quantity (though in a knowledge economy this becomes possible), but infinite in quality, and infinite in value.
There is actually nothing new here. Each building block of this ‘new’ style of leadership already exists and is emerging into the world in companies like Google, Tesla, and Unilever. It is emerging because it works: it brings competitive advantage. It is an inevitable, human response to a VUCA world, replacing volatility and uncertainty with stability, enthusiasm, and growth: in people, organisations, the wider business ecosystem, and the world.
The intention of this series of articles has been to make what is beginning to happen explicit: to join the dots, show the larger process, and in doing so accelerate that process.
Under our old style of leadership this VUCA world is a problem. Applying the new tools and techniques described here (and in more detail in my book The Churning Vol. 1, Inner Leadership) it is an opportunity to create competitive advantage, personal growth, and an abundant world.
This is the last in a series of articles examining the future of leadership in a changing world. Click here to view all of the articles in the series.
Finn Jackson is a consultant and coach who helps clients generate lasting solutions to issues of strategy, leadership, and change.
His first book, The Escher Cycle , was called “A unified theory of business” and “A blueprint for winning any game your business chooses to play.”
His second book, The Churning, Inner Leadership, has been called “The inspiring manual to improve our VUCAbility,” “A book which should be on every change-maker’s bookshelf,” and “an ethical framework for business decision makers, based on emotional maturity.”