Where have all the good leaders gone?
Democracy... is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder; and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike.
We're living in ridiculously challenging times. It's increasingly harder to find hope in the midst of wave after wave of anxiety inducing stress, and I'm not blaming it all on the pandemic. We were in serious trouble way before the global health threat began, and this is very likely a big factor in the relative degree of success we've had dealing with it. For some time around the world, (with exceptions, but not enough of them,) we've been suffering a critical lack of effective leadership at multiple levels. I believe now more than any time in our social history, that our survival as a species depends on our ability to recognize the global leadership vacuum, and figure out how to repair it.
Not unlike other parts of the world, the intensity and volume of this lack of effective leadership in N. America is deafening, There is stressful noise coming from every direction. A lack of empathy and morality leading to corrupt political motivations benefitting the very few while others languish under the control of people who yield power, power designed to stratify society, not unify it, all under the guise of democracy, a most bastardized form of contemporary governance. The trickle down, residual effect of this self-serving form of governance is evident at multiple layers of interaction; from social media, to the coffee shops, at the office water cooler, the supermarket, restaurants etc. Hardly a social gathering is held that doesn't include dialog between highly opinionated people feeling empowered to espouse their wisdom, no matter how credible or factual it may or may not be. They feel empowered by irresponsible leaders who do the same thing. It seems that the only elements required to win an argument today is a loud voice and the ability to reference secondary information from self-proclaimed people in-the-know, often leaders with loud voices and strong opinions; facts optional.
Our leaders need to be better. Our leaders need to take on their leadership imperative with dignity, honesty, and humility. We have no room left in society for self-absorbed leaders that leverage the ignorance of the masses to gaslight and inflame for personal gain. We need principled leaders that understand and accept their opportunity to create influence and change for greater good as opposed to personal gain and the dissemination of subjective ideology.
These six intelligences will drive smart leadership in disrupted times:
- Contextual intelligence. In a sense, leaders are both the navigators and captains of an ongoing journey. They need ongoing mechanisms for achieving clarity both about their current situation as well as their desired outcomes (destinations, horizons of opportunity). This clarity of context is essential for taking relevant action. Fighter pilots, for example, are trained to think in terms of the OODA loop – Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. They are able to clearly identify a problem, establish options, select a course of action and execute, all in a blink of an eye. Cultivating (and listening to) divergent perspectives, exercising intuition in appropriate measure, perceiving weak signals, and conducting mental rehearsals for unimaginable outcomes are all approaches to cultivating contextual intelligence.
- Moral intelligence. All journeys express a purpose that is shaped by a particular set of values. Strategy (what we must do) is how we will realize our mission (what we seek to achieve) which in turn reflects our purpose (why we’re in business) which is based on our values (our enduring beliefs.) Unfortunately, it is common for leaders to begin and end with strategy processes, and in terms of a value-free format that focuses on maximizing shareholder value above all. Left in the dust, too, is any role in creating societal benefit and supporting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
- Social and emotional intelligence. Social and emotional intelligence expresses our values in terms of how we interact with and influence others. We connect through our empathy and compassion - our ability to put ourselves into the shoes of another. This in turn allows us to inspire and motivate as a trusted role model. Leaders must also cultivate the diagnostic ability to read beneath the surface to the emotional makeup of others. This enables smart decisions about how to collaborate, who to work with and how to develop one’s self.
- Generative intelligence. The ability to birth new ideas and realize value from them is the engine that provides the “how” of journeying to a desired future. Generative intelligence begs a fundamental leadership question: “How well do I mobilize my creativity and that of others to realize value? To what extent am I able to orchestrate the talents of diverse contributors?” It is time for innovation to come to innovation. Legacy approaches rooted in incrementalism and limited product development models will not be able to keep pace with the demands of disrupted times.
- Technological intelligence. Leaders must be able to understand, make use of and amplify the power of rapidly emerging technologies and their impact. This is a new set of literacies that apply not only to business models but to organizations and how they function.
- Transformative intelligence. Navigating to a desired future of necessity requires transformation, not simply incremental or isolated exercises in change management. An ability to create and drive a meaningful roadmap will motivate people to take action and align their efforts. Such a roadmap comes alive with clear, credible communication, compelling narratives and evangelism by credible leaders that drives a sense of urgency.
Much has been written about desirable leadership qualities, but these are mentioned here owing to their contextual relevance with respect to the cited leadership vacuum the world is suffering from at the moment. They present a simple, heuristic list of intelligences that, if emulated, would counter the debilitating leadership present in so many jurisdictions around the globe, but certainly here in our corner of the world.
Context is everything. The author mentions the OODA Loop – Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. The assertion here is the OODA Loop is an objective process to solve a problem at a high rate of efficiency. This can't be done in a muddled context susceptible to overt subjective scrutiny. I see this as effective leadership through effective management.
A set of commonly understood values that transcends ideology and personal perspective is critical to frame a multi-partisan agenda as it pertains to the greater good. The aforementioned Sustainable Development Goals are one such example. As I have said to students and aspiring high functioning teams for decades, an organization is only as good as its weakest links. Pure democracy represents a reality where we take care of our needs collectively and in ways that provide opportunity for all.
Social Emotional Skills...
We can't thrive if we can't communicate in understanding and accepting ways. We need leaders who understand the power of interdependency. Interdependent leaders know that the answers are typically found "in the room" so to speak when the room is characteristic of open, accepting, objective, and intelligent people with a desire to contribute. When effective leaders surround themselves with circles like this, the effect is exponential; like a handful of stones thrown in a pond where each precipitates a circular ripple wave that inevitably collides with another, and the multiple ripples create circles of connection that would not be possible if but one stone were thrown in the pond.
Creativity is the hallmark of generative intelligence; the ability to dream up and conjure new ideas and concepts coupled with a skillset that brings them to the forefront quickly and purposefully. An innovation without a vessel does not evolve from concept to reality. Effective contemporary leaders must understand the imperative of open source ideas; the notion that people need things to thrive, and that some of these things should be universally provided in the interest of the greater good. Unbiased access to insulin and no-cost feminine products are specific examples to add to more generalized assertions that nobody should be without food or a safe home environment. There is a great need for increased access to open source ideas and vessels to bring us to that elusive democratic state of greater good.
Conventional attitudes toward "how we do things" are hindering our ability to create equity and efficiency within society. If we can't accept that electronic voting machines are designed to provide equity of access to the ultimate democratic process of voting, but instead create false narratives around the alleged manipulation of these digital machines, then we are far from understanding how to support the greater good in any context by leveraging technology.
Transformational leadership involves an intense understanding that until something is evidenced in practise, it has not been learned and it has not had any net positive or negative impact. Transformative leaders insist that evidence is required to show beyond a shadow of a doubt that something has changed, good or bad, so they can make the next move toward the requisite desired outcome. Without this evidence, strategy usually shifts toward propaganda and gaslighting in an attempt to save any salvageable degree of credibility.
Contemporary leadership is hard; it should be hard. Leaders are dealing with very hard problems. The solutions to these problems originate in the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of contemporary leaders unafraid to step up and display qualities designed to repair the divisiveness and subjectivity so prevalent in society today.
We need a new breed of bold, intelligent, ethical leaders willing to serve society at every level with purposeful disregard for any effort to further divide or erode our potential to thrive and take care of one another.
The strength of the pack is in the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is in the pack.