As it becomes increasingly clear that yesterday’s leaders are just that – yesterday’s leaders – so the search has to begin for tomorrow’s leaders – people who have the ability to see in three directions as they lead their countries, communities or companies into the future.
Yes, tomorrow’s leaders have to be able to see in three directions: behind them, ahead of them and inside themselves. Up until now, leaders have largely looked in one direction only – behind them.
Large consulting companies tell me they regularly encounter executives who are trying the same old, same old, not understanding why it doesn’t work. And they just keep trying harder, with the same results. That’s because they were trained to look behind them and they don’t know how to look ahead.
“Oh,” you say, “are you suggesting that there haven’t been any leaders with strategic thinking skills?”
Not at all. There have been many leaders who have displayed great strategic thinking skills and who have led their companies very well … until now. That’s because their strategic thinking was applied in a world that was predictable, fairly static and unambiguous. That world is no longer the one we affectionately call Planet Earth. It’s gone for ever.
Take a quick look around the globe … What kind of political leadership have the Americans got? What about the British? What about the North Koreans? What about the Middle Eastern countries? Is there visionary leadership in Europe, South America, Australia or, for that matter, South Africa?
Mmmmm … It’s time for tomorrow’s leaders with three-way vision.
1. Tomorrow’s leaders have hindsight
Leaders without hindsight will have an inability to see the past for what it is and avoid repeating the mistakes of their predecessors. They will be able to take note of what arrogance, unethical behaviour and greed did to and for yesterday’s leaders. They will learn from the mistakes of the past and avoid the traps yesterday’s leaders so easily fell into. They will have the humility to acknowledge their own short comings and demonstrate a willingness to learn from whomever can teach them, regardless of at what level those “teachers” are in the business world or in society.
2. Tomorrow’s leaders have foresight
Foresight is defined as the ability to predict what will happen or be needed in the future. This is probably one of the most important skills or qualities, if not the most important, tomorrow’s leaders need. A leader who is unable to predict what will happen or be needed is going to be pretty useless to anyone.
Remember that saying, “You have to be able to connect the dots”? That was applicable to yesterday’s leaders. Tomorrow’s leaders don’t only have to be able to connect the dots (in fact, that’s actually the easy part), they now have to be able to see what’s in the spaces between the dots. And that’s the “not easy" part.
3. Tomorrow’s leaders have insight
Insight is defined as the capacity to gain an accurate and deep understanding of someone or something. That “someone” includes other people as well as the leaders themselves. Leaders who do not have the capacity for self-reflection to see themselves as others see them will have a relatively low level of influence because they will have huge blind spots that serve as stumbling blocks to their being able to exercise influence. You will never be able to win people’s trust if they can see things in you that you can’t. Look at what’s happening in our own political arena … Politicians are blissfully unaware of the view that people have of them.
In the past, leaders could live separate lives – a public and a private life. And what happened in the one didn’t have a bearing on the other because it was easy to hide things. In the world of tomorrow, it will be increasingly difficult to hide anything. Many leaders around the world are already finding that out. If you think the world has already become transparent with Google, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and so on, think again. We’re just at the birth of this transparency phenomenon. Wait until this baby grows up …
In tomorrow’s world, we have to accept that none of us has sole rights to the truth and that none of us is as smart as all of us. Insightful leaders will understand this and be comfortable collaborative leaders who can lead people who are far more knowledgeable and, sometimes, far smarter, than they are and not be phased by that.
So, tomorrow’s leaders will have to have eyes in the back of their heads, eyes in the front of their heads and eyes inside their heads if they want to make an impact!
Alan Hosking is the publisher of HR Future magazine, @HRFuturemag, and assists executives to prevent, reverse and delay ageing, and achieve self-mastery.