Wednesday, August 21, 2013


What's the point of Leadership in the 21st century?

When you hear the notion leadership it’s almost always in the context of business, of growth, of consumption. Do you really believe that is all it is to it ... is at all leadership? Do you really think leadership is just about business, just about making money, no matter the consequences? Don’t you think all of us have a responsibility for all of humanity, for all species, for all of those coming after us ... for our planet at large? Can you see the larger context and how it matters to you ... at all? ... Don’t you think? ... 

I do believe it does matter to you, either because you are conscious about these issues and you want to bring about change, or, you are going to pay the price for what is actually being created: a set up for disaster. 

Debt crisis, financial meltdown, peak oil, globalization, big data, Geo politics, international trade, ... want some more? ... here you go: global warming, water pollution, rainforest destruction, world population, etc. … what do all these problems have in common? Those are complex systems in an even more complex and larger environment. And the threat level is steadily increasing. We are about to destroy the very foundation of human life on this planet. “Yeah right ...” you might say, however, closing your eyes won’t make it go away. 

And then there is never a shortage of people telling you to forget the “old rules”, since those are replaced by the “new rules” altogether you must follow now. And, obediently, most people bend over every single time, and, not surprisingly, the problems continue and grow. “No one does what one is supposed to do, everyone does what one wants to do, and all are cooperating and cocreating like there would be no tomorrow!” ... those are the words a wise old man told me years ago. And guess what: There might be no tomorrow ... at least no desirable tomorrow for those generations following us. 

In the 21st century more than ever Leadership is needed. However, what we need is a different kind of Leadership. I am talking about true Leaders able to understand, truly understand our complex world … our complex environment, and are capable of translating their findings into conclusions and actions that can actually work in a complex world. 

The actual leadership in corporations / organizations is ill prepared to deal with the sophisticated challenges of a complex environment. The most significant mistake we are making in today's leadership is, that we are trying to fix problems of complex systems using the toolbox of “complicated systems”. It is as futile as trying to perform nuclear fission with an ax. 

While complicated systems are predictable, complex systems are not predictable. In complex systems uncertainty rules. In complex systems general rules do not apply. Complex systems are governed by a few fundamental principles. For each particular situation Leadership, true Leaders, must have the situational awareness to choose one of multiple, changing possibilities to deal with it.

Just twenty years ago the mantra was “what’s true now might no longer be true in a couple of years” ... Nowadays it’s more like “what’s true now might no longer be true in a couple of hours” ... it might sound a bit exaggerated ... it’s not. The speed of change, the speed complexity increases is becoming more than just breathtaking. An organization / institution / corporation / business that cannot keep up with that is doomed, rather sooner than later. 

Organizations, corporations, institutions will transform ... will have to transform and quickly, or, face extinction. Classical traditional hierarchies are no longer working. Those were fine in a complicated environment like manufacturing as it used to be. Complex environments are so much more demanding. Independent self organizing groups with rotating leadership will emerge ... and are already emerging. Such groups will be led and orchestrated (not just coordinated) by Leaders, who are first amongst equals ... true Leaders whose sole function is making others powerful by awakening possibility in them. These Leaders will be teachers and coaches rather than the traditional CEO. These Leader know and understand complex environments, where uncertainty meets possibility.

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