Back to the Future

Jeni Nichols

What are the key skills that leaders need to develop to survive in the future? Bob Johansen of the Institute for the Future (IFTF)—an independent, nonprofit think tank—believes that in a world of increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (what he calls VUCA), leaders must learn new skills in order to make a better future. And key among those new skills, Johansen identifies, is the ability to "see through messes and contradictions" to a future that others cannot yet see.1

As we know from Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, leadership is about encouraging and inspiring others to envision the future by "painting a picture" of exciting possibilities. People don't often admit that they are an artist or extremely creative. Yet, these talents are demonstrated by highly effective leaders in their every day activities when they see through messes and contradictions, painting a picture that excites and inspires.

Another key skill of the future leader that Johansen identifies is "commons creating": the ability to stimulate, grow, and nurture shared assets that can benefit other players. Looking at Johansen's notion of "commons creating" though the lens of The Five Practices model, we see Enabling Others to Act. In the future, leaders will need to develop competence, build confidence, and invest in strengthening the capacity of individuals and organizations-more than ever before—even though Enabling Others to Act may look a bit different for future leaders because of the tools available. As leaders, we can create social change networks, organize smart mobs, and use our advanced electronic and media tools to foster collaboration and strengthen others.

No matter how we paint pictures or create commons, as leaders we need to be more overt: let our constituents see and benefit from these skills. For example, when interviewing past participants of The Leadership Challenge® Workshop, we asked how they were influenced by The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®. One leader, remarking on the practice, Inspire a Shared Vision, replied "It wasn't so much that I didn't have leadership qualities. It was that I wasn't putting them out there for others to see." She realized that "It's really about what's inside of you and people follow you because you exhibit those qualities that they feel are 'follow-able'."

For more insight from interviewees, visit http://sonomaleadership.com/about/client-results/. Hear more about the ways in which leaders are using the model of The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® to paint pictures, see through messes, and create commons.

1Adapted from Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World (2009), Bob Johansen

Jeni Nichols is Queen of Connections at Sonoma Leadership Systems, a leading provider of The Leadership Challenge® Workshop, training, and materials. Pat Schally is Sales Consultant, Sonoma Leadership Systems, and editor of The Leader's Almanac. For more information on upcoming public workshops, visit http://sonomaleadership.com/tlc-workshops/

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