Thriving in Turbulent Times: The 5 Leadership Superpowers – The Present Futurist
Disruption and uncertainty are nothing new. They've been around since the beginning of time: think the ice age, volcanos, the rise of agriculture, Gutenberg's printing press, the Industrial Revolution, the launch of the internet ... you get my point. Yet the frequency and severity of disruptions and the resulting uncertainty that inevitably follows have increased in recent years due to factors like the increasing pace of technological innovation, geopolitical instability, global economics, social justice movements, climate change and more.
No wonder leaders feel stressed.
Why Are Disruptions and Uncertainty a Problem?
Disruptions and crises have a nasty habit of appearing unannounced, catching us off-guard. However, in many cases we should have been aware of, monitored, assessed and acted on early warning signals.
Unfortunately, the truth is we rarely work to proactively understand and address emerging challenges or new business models. Remember, not all disruptions are acts of nature or even necessarily sudden or damaging. Some creep up slowly, unnoticed or are left unaddressed until it is too late. And given our interdependent and interconnected world, the impact of this negligence is significant. Consider the secondary and tertiary impacts of COVID-19 that have occurred and are still occurring.
Given the extreme focus on efficiency and short-term results over the last decade, we did not consider or see the value in preparation and building resilience. Why would we? We were humming away. Even now, when the last two and a half years should have taught us a lesson, we still make excuses that we are too busy fighting fires or don't have the time or resources to prepare for the future. Then when things do happen, we claim we are victims of conditions we could not have foreseen or controlled. In truth, that is rarely the case.
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While we cannot choose when or what variety of disruptions will happen, we can decide how to respond. Start by answering a few key questions:
- How do we prepare for a disruptive and uncertain future, so we not only survive, but thrive?
- What capabilities must leadership have to do this?
- What organizational attributes are necessary?
The fact is, what's made leaders and organizations successful in the past is no longer enough in the face of disruptiveness and uncertainty. New leadership capabilities are needed to help organizations prepare, adapt and act to succeed. The key is seeing, thinking and doing differently. But how do we do this?
To succeed in a world of accelerating change, frequent disruptions and rampant uncertainty, leaders must effectively navigate five distinct but interrelated and interdependent tensions. These are:
- Present vs. Future
- Experience/Expertise vs. Learning
- Preparedness vs. Risk Taking
- Strategy vs. Execution (Operations)
- Accountability vs. Collaboration
In response to this challenge and based on extensive research, I developed a new leadership capability model aptly named The Five Leadership Superpowers that addresses each of these tensions.
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Before detailing the first Superpower, I would like to highlight some key attributes of the model.
- This model does not replace core leadership capabilities; it is an overlay set of capabilities that enables leadership to be far more effective in whitewater-like environments.
- The model is based on both/and vs. either/or thinking. Instead of choosing between and getting either low price OR high quality, it is about choosing and getting BOTH low price AND high quality. It was this thinking that led to the increased demand for and sales of Japanese vehicles.
- Each of the Superpowers is a paradox or polarity, opposing forces complementing one another. It is not about compromising where everyone loses something but finding a third way where everyone gains and the pie grows.
- The Five Leadership Superpowers are not linked to any industry, strategy, or function, nor do they reflect leadership attributes or personality traits. They are universal capabilities.
- The framework is designed to produce desired outcomes, aligned with stakeholder capitalism, focused on long-term value creation vs. short-term results, and premised on strong and visible leadership support and a foundation of trust, transparency and psychological safety.
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The Present Futurist does not focus on either the present or the future, rather they do both to prepare for the future (both near- and long-term).
Consider what Home Depot does to prepare for hurricanes or other storms in its markets. It begins watching the tropical forecast as soon as potential storms are identified and then vigilantly monitors how the storm develops and its expected path. It considers how the storm could affect the markets it serves and closely monitors the inventory of critical items in the stores likely to be affected. Leadership then integrates this information to ensure any stores in the storm’s path are staffed and stocked to help before, during and after the storm.
The leadership teams of companies like Apple, Amazon and Disney are strong in this Superpower. Not only do they maintain an understanding of factors affecting the present, but they constantly watch trends and a wide range of signals to better anticipate the future. They integrate all factors to inform decision-making and the actions they take.
Here are some tips on how to become and sustain being a Present Futurist:
- Build and maintain a robust understanding of the present by considering various perspectives, including customers, employees and owners.
- Set and communicate the company’s desired future state and direction.
- Identify, monitor and assess trends and early warning signals on an ongoing basis to determine which require further scrutiny, escalation or action.
- Discuss and think through a variety of both positive and negative scenarios. Ask “what if” questions to identify unthought-of but plausible scenarios that should be considered.
- Synthesize the insights gained from the above to inform decision-making and priority setting.
Being a Present Futurist Is Vital
The Present Futurist is a vital part of The Five Superpowers, as it informs all of the other superpowers. Those who have and utilize the Present Futurist Superpower have a more informed view of the present and can better anticipate and prepare for future conditions (versus being limited by tunnel vision and unchallenged groupthink). This results in fewer surprises and reducing the chances you're caught off guard or unprepared. It enables faster, more informed decision-making and action, reducing risk and improving results.
In the coming installments, I will discuss each of the remaining Superpowers. Then we'll address how the Superpowers work together, where they should be applied, and the competitive advantages and benefits that result. Next up, Experienced Learner and Prepared Risk Taker.
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About the Author
Jay Weiser is the Principal and Founder of Jay Weiser Consulting. Fueled by a passion for helping clients reach their potential, he enables leadership teams and their organizations to not only survive but thrive in the face of disruptiveness and uncertainty.