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Book review: Leadership skills for an uncertain future

Leaders Make the Future- Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World

By Bob Johansen

(Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., $26.95)

So here's a cheery thought.

What if, in 2019, we look back on today and reminisce about the good old days? Days that, in retrospect, were kinder, gentler and simpler. Days when job losses and bailouts were our biggest worries and we still had some idea as to which end was up.

Author Bob Johansen thinks that's what could happen. Johansen is a distinguished fellow, past president and board member of the Institute for the Future. The institute, formed in 1968 by engineers and mathematicians from RAND and the Stanford Research Institute, issues 10-year forecasts and works with clients such as Procter & Gamble, Disney, Kraft Foods and Hallmark.

Brace yourself for stormy weather. "We are entering a threshold decade: our natural, business, organizational and social systems will reach tipping points of extreme challenge and some of those systems are likely to break," says Johansen.

We'll all be living in a VUCA world, marked by unprecedented volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Climate change and a host of other factors will create unprecedented displacements, making this the Age of Diasporas. The gap between rich and poor will widen further, and food security will prove to be the flashpoint for redistribution and retribution. Expect to be confronted with local to global dilemmas to which there are no solutions and no way to duck and cover. As former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger once said, dilemmas can't be solved. They can only be survived.

The need for strong leaders to make hard choices in tough times will never be greater. But don't lose faith. Johansen says smart leaders can also create a better future.

"Leaders need not be overwhelmed and pummelled by the world of VUCA. The future will also be loaded with opportunities. Leaders must have the skills to take advantage of those opportunities, as well as the agility to sidestep the dangers."

Here are the 10 new leadership skills Johansen recommends we develop now to make the most of what's coming our way.

1. A maker instinct with the inner drive to build, grow and make things better with a do-it-ourselves approach to leadership.

2. Clarity to cut through the confusion and contradictions of a VUCA world and chart plans and paths that are precise and prescient.

3. Dilemma flipping to reframe unsolvable challenges as opportunities.

4. Hands-on, first-person, real-world immersive learning.

5. Bio-empathy and seeing the world from nature's point of view where everything's connected

6. Constructive depolarization to calm tense situations, bridge differences and find common ground in an uncertain world.

7. Quiet transparency, with the ability to be open and authentic about what matters to you without advertising yourself.

8. Innovating through rapid prototyping with a focus on failing early, often and cheaply.

9. Connecting with business and social-change networks through the wonders of smart mob organizing. "Leaders are what they can organize. They make connections and draw links."

10. Focusing on commons creating to foster collaboration and achieve mutual success.

Apply these leadership skills in a VUCA world, and Johansen says volatility will yield to vision, uncertainty to understanding, complexity to clarity and ambiguity to agility.

"Leaders will make the future, but they won't make it all at once, and they can't make it alone. This will be a make-it-ourselves future," says Johansen. "The space between judging too soon (the classic mistake of problem-solvers) and deciding too late (the classic mistake of academics) is a space leaders of the future must love — without staying there too long."

So if you care about the world our kids and grandchildren will inherit from us and the dilemmas they'll be forced to confront, it's time to get up, stand up and start making the future.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Jay, Thanks for posting the review, and I am now looking forward to reading the book. People know what VUCA is, but I think don’t quite internalize what behaviors mean yet. I am starting to outline VUCA behaviors and linking them on my blog at http://www.bloomport.com

    September 19, 2009

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