Leadership deficits

Yesterday, in three separate conversations, with people from three different organizations I listened to the challenges these organizations are facing with their leadership. There were some common threads in the discussions:

  • Leaders used to leading in a command and control way in a hierarchy with layers and spans are having a hard time changing their leadership style to one that is more collaborative, involving, and recognizes networks of expertise rather than positional power.
  • Leaders are not skilled at managing, and excellent operational management is less valued than strategic leadership – to the detriment of a effectively functioning organization.
  • Good leaders are few and far between, and even more scarce are leaders who can also manage well.
  • Leaders effective in one context may not be effective in another context (which is costly to both the individual and the organization).

Mulling this over, I remembered a World Future Society blog "anticipatory leadership", and took another look at it. Starting with Buckminster Fuller's question "What is the most important thing we can think about at this extraordinary moment?" Tim Mack, President of the World Future Society, suggests "10 leadership skills that will better prepare you to bridge the gap between the present and the future." These are adapted and excerpted from "The Anticipatory Leader: Buckminster Fuller's Principles from Making the World Work" by Medard Gabel and Jim Walker. (This article first appeared in the September-October 2006 issue of The Futurist). And are presented as part one and part two:

The ten skills are:

  • Think Comprehensively. Rather than try to deal with problems in an isolated fashion, take a step back and look at the big picture. Frame the problem within a larger context.
  • Spot Future Trends. The importance of spotting trends can't be overemphasized: Anticipating them is critical if you're going to accurately pinpoint upcoming problems and find the best possible solutions.
  • Understand the Rules of Gestation. Everything has its own gestation rate. Technological gestation rates are much shorter than they used to be, and they're getting shorter each year. Anticipate the gestation rate for your idea/innovation/service/product and it out there.
  • Do More With Less. Any technology that can create more output with less input will rapidly gain influence in today's hyperlinked global economy, Creativity and initiative drive the development process. Resources plus human know-how equals the ability to meet our needs.

  • Seek to Change the Environment, Not Human Nature. Instead of trying to force or even simply convince people to change behaviors, Fuller sought to change the environment to which those behaviors were a logical response.
  • Take Individual Initiative. Understanding and expertise (unlike wealth and power) are essential to leadership. Buckminster Fuller believed that we all should be leaders. To make a difference in life, you don't need an official blessing or sanction. You just need to be self-motivated.
  • Ask Naïve Questions. Why can't we feed everyone on the planet? Why do we do things this way instead of that way? What does it mean to be wealthy? Revisit and challenge basic assumptions using your own insights and viewpoints, especially when critical issues are at stake. To quote Fuller, "Dare to be naïve!"

  • Solve Problems Through Action. Identify the immediate next action to start addressing the problem or opportunity, and then take that action. (For the power of the 'next action' approach see Dave Allen's book Getting Things Done.)
  • Work Toward the Best Possible Future. Large and inspiring changes are sometimes what's really needed, rather than smaller, safer incremental changes. Again, concentrate on the bigger picture, and strive to develop a strong moral vision. For example: We know that we have the technological capacity to meet the basic human needs of the entire planet and to do so in an environmentally sustainable way. The big questions are: How do we accomplish this goal, how long will it take, and what's holding us back from achieving this?
  • Small Efforts Can Produce Big Results. That said, sometimes small, strategic actions can cause large-scale change.

The questions that are not in the two postings are: Are these the skills the organizations I was talking with are looking for? If so, and they are not present in the current leaders can the skills be taught or learned? If yes – how will organizations do this? If not, how will the shortfall be addressed? The skills look fairly unarguable with but what is the next action on checking this and getting leaders skilled up? Will having these skills help leaders manage more effectively? I'll discuss these questions over the next few days.