Future of leadership

Or, how to be a great leader in the complex world of the 21st century

(This is inspired and informed by, among others, work conducted by Berlin-based The Dive.)

We are living in a time of great complexity. 

Who says? Ha! Everyone — from The Economist to anthropologist Ian Morris. Read Why You Need a Futurist for more on this.

And why? The Law of Accelerating returns. Again, there's more on that in Why You Need a Futurist.

Anyhow, even if it's difficult, we may as well get on with it and enjoy the age of complexity — when it's every harder to predict what will happen and make decisions.

Note this is not about complicated systems, which are

  • linear
  • predictable

It's about complex systems, which are

  • non-linear
  • non-predictable

This is the time of known unknowns, unknown unknowns, and Black Swans

As explained by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his brilliant book The Black Swan, and in this video.

What does this mean for organisations?

Organisations are also becoming more complex, in terms of:

So management is changing too

Management 1.0 is…

  • Classical
  • Hierarchical, top-down
  • Command & control
  • Leader decides alone

Management 2.0 is…

  • Transactional
  • Management by objectives (MBO — as proposed by Michael Porter)
  • Incentives
  • Leader consults, then makes decision

Management 3.0 is…

  • Visionary
  • Management by vision
  • Empowerment
  • Leader collaborates

Management 4.0 is:

  • Organic
  • Group power
  • Distributed leadership
  • Mutual decisions, adjustable roles

How to be a leader in the future 1

These are the 9 key skills for leaders in the future, according to 1,200 managers in Germany:

1. Flexibility & diversity
•Agile and ever-changing structures
•Time autonomy

2. Process skills
•Capability to design open-ended and iterative processes

3. Networks
•Self-managed networks
•Collective intelligence

4. End of hierarchy
•Increasing failure of traditional, result-oriented management tools

5. Willingness to cooperate
•End of traditional competitive strategies

6. Personal coaching
•Engagement and motivation through personal reflection anddevelopment

7. Self-determination & appreciation
•Autonomy of decision and individual responsibility

8. Social responsibility
•From shareholder to stakeholderapproach

Source: KPMG, Was gute Führung ausmacht; survey of 1,200 top managers in Germany

How to be a leader in the future 2

A useful framework from Jana Costas at the Free University, Berlin.


  1. Sensemaking
    1. Letting go of old mental models
    2. Reaching out to others
    3. Moving beyond stereotypes
    4. Listening carefully
    5. Learning from failure
  2. Relating to others
    1. Inquiring in order to understand
    2. Creating environments that encourage the expression of ideas
    3. Identifying shared interest
    4. Establishing and maintain ties in disparate social worlds
  3. Visioning the future
    1. Drawing a compelling picture of what the future could be
    2. Providing space for ideas to emerge
    3. Linking concrete vivid imagery with fundamental values
  4. Inventing new ways of doing business
    1. Breaking the rules of “how things are done around here”
    2. Inventing new ways of working that are aligned with the vision
    3. Giving autonomy to come up with novel ways
    4. Establishing an effective distributed leadership system

How to be a leader in the future 3: be agile

This is from management thinker Jurgen Appelo's book Management 3.0.

People are the most important part  of an organization and managers must do all they can to keep people active, creative, and motivated.

Teams can self-organize. This requires empowerment, authorization, and trust from management.

But beware self-organization! It can lead to anywhere. You have to give people clear purpose and defined goals.

A manager's role is to support teams, to develop their skills.

In complex organizations, it's key to make sure it's easy for people to communicate.

Successful companies to consider: 

  1. Patagonia
  2. Umantis
  3. Gore-Tex
  4. Etsy
  5. Zappos
  6. Sun Hydraulics Corporation
  7. Favi


4 key questions: Who, What, How, Why

  1. Who? 
    1. As Jim Collins wrote in the business bible, Good to Great.
  2. What?
    1. Results
  3. How?
    1. Process
  4. Why?
    1. Purpose — consider Simon Sinek's best-selling book Start With Why.

Source: Basedon Presencing Institute, Otto Scharmer, www.presencing.com/permissions

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

Want to update your organisation and leadership?

The answer is… ABC: Always Begin with Culture!

When thinking about culture change (and leadership development) consider the model below:

So, how will you lead in the future? What does this mean for you and your organisation?

For strategic advice on what this means for you and your business, and for inspiring, useful ideas on how to succeed as a leader today and tomorrow, get in touch.