New Leadership Literacies for a Disrupted Future

New Leadership Literacies for a Disrupted Future

Apr 2, 2020

New Leadership Literacies for a Disrupted Future

by: Dianne Dickerson

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic began, we were noticing an increase in the speed, frequency, scope, and scale of disruption in our client’s businesses and in our own. Whether it is the Corona virus that our public health clients are bracing for or the climate issues that our clients in the environmental space are working diligently to mitigate, dealing with issues that have the potential to shape our world in monumental ways is an enormous responsibility.

As COVID-19 has clearly shown us, the world will continue to become more and more connected and the advent of new technologies and ways of getting work done will change at an explosive pace. ​ Here are some of the realities we are all facing:

  • As the industrial age gives way to a new digital world, leaders are having to confront change on a larger scale and at a faster pace than ever before. ​
  • Workplaces, teams, and networks are becoming more and more distributed and require organizations to radically rethink the practices and policies that made them effective in the past. ​
  • Hierarchy and rules are giving way to fluid forms of organizing. Culture will be the glue that holds mutually-beneficial partnerships together — for as long as they serve.

The good news is that enduring leadership qualities like strength, humility, and trust will still be foundational in this new world.  At Integrated Work, we see our philosophy of treating people as a human first, acting with a heart of service, amplifying our impact, being in integrity always and growing together as more important than ever in uncertain times. These ways of being will always support us to be more effective together and if we are to “leapfrog” into greater effectiveness and relevance in this connected future, together is the only way that makes sense.

To fuel our creative juices about how to navigate the way, the team here at Integrated Work recently read futurist Bob Johansen’s book, The New Leadership Literacies, Thriving in a Future of Extreme Disruption and Distributed Everything.  

Johansen outlines five competencies for thriving in a future of accelerated change and disruption:

  • Looking Backward from the Future: Forecasting likely futures so you can “look back” and make sure you’re prepared now for the changes to come ​
  • Voluntary Fear Engagement: Using low risk “gaming” spaces to work through your concerns about the future and hone your leadership skills​
  • Shape-Shifting Organizations: Leading organizations where you can’t just tell people what to do​
  • Being There When You Are Not There: Being a dynamic presence even when you’re not there in person​
  • Creating and Sustaining Positive Energy: Keeping your personal energy high and transmitting that energy throughout your organization​. 

Bob Johansen, Institute for the Future (2017)

Johansen’s five literacies also highlight the notion that rock-star leaders will be rare, while networked leadership, with strength and humility, will best serve a world where work becomes increasingly distributed.

Johansen suggests that the ability to cycle from foresight to insight and action continuously and in several directions is a skill worth developing.

Successful leaders will need to be multi-literate in this new future and will require skills that combine balance, discipline, and order, but not so much that they restrict exploration. They will need practices to understand what works and what doesn’t, openness and perspective to learn from a wide variety of views without getting stuck in any single view, and the ability to look at the long-view balanced with a focus on action when it is needed.

Providing clarity will continue to be an essential leadership skill. Having the ability to be clear about where you are going while maintaining flexibility about how you get there will provide the kind of focus that can make disruption tolerable and perhaps, even motivating.

And, in this rapidly changing environment, finding a way to transform disruption into a force for positive change may one of the magic ingredients that can take us from surviving to thriving.

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