JOHN LODDER: What is Happening? It is the Transformation of Leadership!

“Leaders must understand that we are living in a world marked by uncertainty, volatility and deep transformational changes.”   
(World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab)

More than thousand global top leaders, experts and politicians attended the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos this January to exchange and discuss issues and trends like a.o.:

  • Will China become the new leader of global trade?
  • America is not as wealthy as it appears.
  • Japan’s economy may soon accelerate.
  • What is behind Sweden’s success?
  • The trade war may have already begun.
  • Why are we not investing more in women?
  • Developments on the future of jobs.
  • The global war on hiring talented people.
  • Fixing wage inequality. We need decent work and decent payment!
  • How the Fourth Industrial Revolution will change NGO’s.
  • Artificial Intelligence has already come to journalism in China.
  • Innovation is not enough. Ways to share technology's benefits.
  • It is not enough for leaders to listen; they need to have a moral compass!

The main topic of the Forum was about the consequences of global developments for ‘Leadership in the 4th Industrial Revolution and the digital age we are living in’, summarised in three questions:

  • ‘’What is responsive and responsible leadership?”
  • ‘’What kind of Leader do organizations need in today’s rapidly transforming world?’’
  • ‘’How can Leaders restore the compact between business and society; ensuring that companies are responsive and responsible to all their stakeholders?’’

Six experts were asked the question: ‘What does it take to lead in these times of turbulence?‘ Here is a summary of their answers:

1. Adam Grant, Wharton school of Management:

In times of uncertainty, a critical skill for responsible leaders is to say “I might be wrong” – and I really mean it. Too many leaders cling to their convictions with an iron will, this is a huge barrier to make wise decisions as circumstances change.
Leaders who fare best at predicting the future are the ones who recognize that the future is unpredictable. By embracing doubt, they stay open to new ideas.
As a result, they are ready to act when headwinds turn into tailwinds. So I have a simple message for leaders: ‘if you want to increase the odds that you will be right, accept that you are probably wrong’.

2. Phil Tetlock and Dan Gardner, authors of ‘Super forecasting’:

Heightened uncertainty puts a premium on good judgement. And nothing is more fundamental to good judgement than intellectual humility. Note the adjective!
This is not self-denigration. Intellectual humility simply means appreciating both the infinite complexity of reality and the fallibility of human beings. It’s invaluable because, taken seriously, three consequences follow.
One, intellectual humility causes the wise leaders to distrust quick-and-easy answers. The intellectually humble always want to learn more and explore different perspectives, in hopes of finding additional bits and pieces of truth.
Two, intellectual humility spurs introspection. Mistakes are inevitable. Only relentless critical examination of one’s own thoughts can catch and correct them.
Three, and perhaps most importantly, intellectual humility dispenses with certainty. Indeed, for the intellectually humble leader, “nothing is certain” is axiomatic. All judgements are matters of probability only, with the goal of this “probabilistic thinking” being to accurately distinguish ever-finer degrees of uncertainty.

3. Linda A. Hill, Professor Harvard Business School

Leaders must be able to build organizations that are agile and can routinely innovate. People do not want to follow a leader to the future – that is yesterday’s model.
They want to co-create it.
Innovation is a collective activity, one in which different people – depending on their particular talents – come forward at different times to move the group where it needs to go.
Leading innovation is intellectually and emotionally taxing work, much of which takes place behind the scenes. It requires a belief in others’ slices of genius and a sense of generosity to share power, control and credit.
Leading innovation is more about being the stage-setter than the performer; this is not always easy for leaders with star talent themselves.

4. Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy

One key skill that all responsible leaders need to have today is a deep understanding of the key global trends driving change. Three tidal forces are sweeping across our world simultaneously.
The first is the return of Asia and the end of Western domination of history.
The second is accelerated globalization creating a small, interdependent, borderless world.
The third is explosive change in technology, which is driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Each of these tidal waves must be understood in depth. That is the easy part.
The hard part is working out how each tidal wave affects the other.
This is why it is so difficult to work out the future of US-China relations. Globalization and technology are creating a deep interdependence between them. The shift of power is driving them apart. Hence, it is not enough to watch personalities like Xi Jinping or Donald Trump. We also need to understand the deeper forces driving their behavior.
Any leader who fails to understand this unique complexity of our time is ill-equipped to provide leadership to their society.

5. Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice, London Business School

The path to leadership is both an inner and outer journey.
The role of the inner journey is to create within the leader a deep sense of their values, a narrative that is unique to them, and the courage to act on their values.
The outer journey connects the leader to the world, to understanding the place of their leadership in this time of extreme change, and to use wisely the power and resources that are at their disposal.

Top Business Leaders in Davos exchanged some (confronting?) personal opinions about questions like:

  • What is your personal view on Responsive and Responsible Leadership?
  • What kind of Leader does your organization need in today’s rapidly transforming world?
  • What type of leader do you really want to be?

An impressive personal view is written by Michel van der Bel (President Microsoft EMEA, 17-01-2017) which might be of inspiration when you choose to reflect on these questions for yourself.

Van Der Bel says we lead or follow in various aspects of our lives.
Within our families, among friends and in other areas like sports teams we take on different roles depending on our personal experience. At Microsoft I had the pleasure to work with different leaders from around the world and unsurprisingly I found myself evolving the type of leader I am.  
That is because change is the new normal today:

  • Markets are changing and technology has become a core differentiator in all organizations.
  • The number of stakeholders we must consider has grown thanks to the Internet.
  • New business models are forming, customer expectations are developing at a rapid pace and competition is fierce.
  • People are changing, too. The workforce includes different generations from Baby Boomers to Generation Z and they all expect a different type of leader.
  • Of course, timelines are also different – don’t think that what was relevant yesterday will be relevant today.

When you combine all this with technological, societal and political changes, leadership can appear to be an overwhelming task.

It’s made even more daunting when each day gives birth to new leadership theories. Depending on what you read, the ideal leader is mindful, authentic, a servant, an inspiration, a follower, always on, exceeding expectations, a role model, a terminator, Machiavelli, strong, extrovert, super smart, communicator, a talent attracter, a talent spotter, a transformer, 360 degrees digital, a learner, an innovator and the list goes on. However, solid leadership is now more essential than ever before.

In my experience, the leadership journey evolves over time and my sense is rather than focusing on continually trying to be the best of the best and jumping from one theory to the next, the focus should be on being a ‘relevant leader’. This means adapting and learning new behaviors to apply based on what is needed for the coming 12-24 months.
Being a relevant leader is about having a vision, strategy and style that is adaptive to a world of fast and dramatic change, but where you maintain your core values and stay resilient to the necessity of performing while transforming.

So how do you stay relevant as a leader? 

Through my experiences and what I have observed from others, there are four clear pillars that form the foundation for relevant leadership today:

1. Learning is Oxygen

The core challenge for any organization is having a culture that fosters learning and growth – in our industry, this is at a premium, and given every company in every industry today is digital, this holds true for everyone. As leaders, how do we foster this learning culture in our teams and push the boundaries on what is possible? This is where the growth mindset comes in. It means that we are willing to leave our comfort zones, persevere and tackle big challenges in order to learn new skills and businesses. Learning is oxygen and we need to learn from these changes as we go to ensure the goal stays in sight. 

2. Core values and beliefs

Rapid change and transformation calls for leadership from the front, and clarity of the journey we need to make. In times of change, people look at leaders through a giant magnifying glass. Performing and transforming is hard and leaders modelling the right behaviors through small things everyday with clear values and principles build consistency across the organization to accelerate the transformation.

3. Passion for new business and new people

Every business is facing change and leaders provide clarity on how their organization will evolve to change or find new business models, transform their operations and better serve their customers in a highly competitive landscape. A leader’s ability to be agile and constantly respond to threats and competitive forces are infectious and build passion and energy in the organization. With this foundation, the pace of change is then fully dependent on people within the organization.
One of my core beliefs is ‘trusting people’ to achieve to the best of their ability.
This means empowering them to transform and connect in different ways. It also means providing an environment that encourages transparency, resilience, speaking up and willingness to take risks and do things differently.  
In parallel to trust, diversity and embracing all different types of people allows the organization to align, and stay relevant to our customers in a much more inclusive way with many differing approaches, ideas and strategies.

4. Energy and connection – the fuel

Underpinning all of this is maintaining the right energy and connection with your work.
Leadership is about giving energy and creating energy within our organization. Leading a business means it is your job to show up passionate, energized and enthusiastic every single day – no exception.
With that, I want to be clear – it is not about working longer or burning the candle at both ends. It is more about how you manage your mental and physical health whilst navigating unchartered waters. At a time when 74% of employees are experiencing “a personal energy crisis” leaders have to foster, practice and demonstrate resilience.

So rather than contemplating what makes a great leader, let’s focus on how to be a relevant leader as the geopolitical, economic, social and technological aspects of our world continue to evolve rapidly.

(Michel van der Bel)

Now: how do you answer these questions when you think about your personal development?

  • What is your personal view on Responsive and Responsible Leadership?
  • What kind of Leader does your organization need in today’s rapidly transforming world?
  • What type of leader do you really want to be?

John Lodder  MA., MSc.



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