I sat down with Canadian HR Reporter TV to talk about what it takes for organizations to be a competitive force in an increasingly global market.
People like Roger Martin, Tim Brown and Matt Ridley, have it absolutely right when they talk about the fact we need to fundamentally approach problems and think differently. All of them have suggested, in slightly different ways, that our success as leaders in the future will be determined not by WHAT we do but by HOW we look at the future and whether we can genuinely open our minds to the opportunities rather than shelter behind convention and the status quo.
This extends to the material successes seen in modern innovation. The biggest breakthroughs in history have not been in the ‘What’ we do, but in the ‘How’ we do them. People have always travelled; by foot, horse, carriage and even boat. But now we can travel to places faster by car, train and plane. The act of travelling hasn’t changed; but HOW we travel has!
Leaders who do not have the ability to “think in the future tense” and more comfortably compete in the realm of the unknown, will not be able to orient themselves and their organizations in time and space. Eventually, they will find themselves sucked into a “black hole.” Leaders must bring a sense of fresh perspective to the table, not about the past, which we already know, but about the future we do not yet understand.
At the end of the day, it is the net result of the choices we make and the things we choose to do, or not to do.You can choose to be nostalgic for the old days – but those days are gone. You will left behind as others continue to move and grow. You can choose to whine about the present – but whining does not inspire nor spark the changes necessary to grow.
Or you can look tot he future – By thinking in the future tense you can anticipate, shape and create the future. These ‘forward thinking’ people are the kind of leaders that are at the head of successful businesses and organizations. And they are the type of leader I would want to follow.
One of the many transformational leadership competencies required to successfully navigate the future is contextual intelligence. Contextual Intelligence is the ability to sense subtle shifts in the environment, to become aware of those changes before anyone else and to predict their likely implications going forward. It is the ability to put things into crystal clear perspective and then accurately frame the picture so others can understand it. Naturally, there is then the need to communicate the picture in a way that others can grasp and comfortably relate to.
Canada has a great deal to offer the world when it comes to business leadership and ideas, but we have not worked hard enough at defining, packaging and exporting our unique point of view. We appear to have been more than willing to outsource our leadership thinking, operating models and business principles to the Americans, and that is simply not in our future best interest. As a result, the brand called Canada is seriously underleveraged.
We must make it an urgent priority to breathe new life into our brand or we will miss the opportunity to seize the business leadership baton from the hands of our shaken American and European cousins. We are all going to live in the future, whether we want to or not, and we can’t afford to allow the future to happen by accident or be shaped by others to suit their own ambitions. We have to be deliberate, thoughtful and intentional. We need a strategic plan for the future of our national brand, but we must begin by first nurturing a new leadership mindset for the future and the leadership competencies that go along with it.
Sadly, there are still too few spokespeople in the leadership field in Canada, and their voices are muted in the boardrooms of business because the voices we do hear tend to come from the halls of academia. We need to fill that void with a robust national dialogue on the subject of what constitutes global business leadership for the future, and then we must begin to develop the type of leaders dictated by the context in which we live. We need Canada’s brand to be known, admired and respected around the world, not just for our products and services, but also for our leadership capabilities and the Canadian way of doing business.
In recent years, the rules that historically defined and determined the way we think about and conduct business have been sorely tested. In many cases, the rules have been found to be seriously wanting. Many of the old rules on which we had relied in the past have shown themselves to be far from perfectly suited to the modern more turbulent and unpredictable world we live in today and will likely face for the foreseeable future. Other of the rules have simply been misguided, misconceived, misappropriated or misapplied. The concept of collaboration is just one of these. Collaboration is not only measured by the level of cooperativeness shown between people and groups but also by the level of assertiveness that individuals are prepared to show as they strive for optimal outcomes.
Canadians have a terrible tendency to believe we should be artificially kind and modestly self effacing when it comes to confronting harsh realities, long-held misconceptions and serious misalignments in our organizations and their people. We do so in the misguided belief the truth might cause pain and distress and that someone’s feelings might be hurt in the process. This perspective results in a fundamentally flawed and unhealthy preference amongst many Canadian business leaders for conflict avoidance, rather than determined conflict resolution. It is based on the ill-conceived premise that, somehow, we can create high-performance organizations and build high-performance leaders by placing the values of harmony and tranquility higher on the scale of importance than straight talk and truthfulness.
On Dec 17th, 2013, I had the pleasure of doing a webinar with Soundview Book Summaries, entitled “Transformational Leadership – Solving our Leadership Crisis.” It was the second highest attended webinar they had hosted, with 600 attendees.
In the webinar I outline four principle challenges facing the modern executive and the eight essential leadership competencies required to navigate the future. I also provide tools and techniques for how to reframe the way we need to rethink leadership and reform. There’s a lot of exclusive content in there so give it a view!
Throughout history, the truly great leaders have known when and how to pivot when the situation and the context change. They seem to have a sixth sense and know exactly the right moment at which to abandon what is no longer working and comfortably embrace new tools more suited to the conditions they find themselves in. It is part experience, part intuition and part luck, but successfully identifying and then navigating these crucial inflection points is the responsibility of leaders. The average leader can perhaps do a respectable enough job when conditions are normal, but it takes an exceptional leader to navigate confidently in uncertain, uncharted and turbulent waters.
It seems as though the dangerous, pivotal moments of transformational change have been presenting themselves with increasing frequency in recent years. The more interconnected global economy, rapid technological advances and constantly evolving social, political and demographic changes have all come together to alter the once reliable maps we used to guide us in the post-WWII period. The question that should concern and even haunt us all is why, in the face of these changes, so many leaders, organizations and nations have not been brave enough, vigilant enough or just plain smart enough to switch tack from what may have been right and relevant in one set of circumstances to a new course, better suited to the changing conditions of the future.
Some more reasoning behind my decision to write ‘Straight Talk on Leadership.’
Doug shares some motivation behind the writing of ‘Straight Talk on Leadership.’