Make the future

by | May 5, 2012 | Blog | 0 comments

Provocative… Polarizing…. Persuasive…

That’s Bob Johansen’s newly revised and expanded book, Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World.

The book jumped to the top of my reading list after I heard Dr. Johansen, a distinguished fellow of the Institute for the Future, speak on External Future Forces That Will Disrupt the Practice of Change Management at the ACMP conference in April.

The book was well worth the time and investment. (I also have to admit I enjoyed the dead-tree version because of the inside book jacket. It features a visual forecast map of the most likely external future forces that Dr. Johansen believes will shape how leaders must lead in the future.)

Typical for these thorny times, the 10 new leadership skills are add-ons to current leadership competency models. So, yes, we’re expected to stretch to do and be more.

All 10 skills are in “forecaster’s haiku.” Dr. Johansen defines this as terms that “provoke people constructively without turning them off.” He goes on to write, “If you get a forecast headline right, it draws people toward the future. If you get it wrong, it repels people or doesn’t stretch them enough to be provocative.”

Even with this care, Dr. Johansen’s work rubs some people the wrong way. For example, the reviews on of the first edition of this book are mixed. I too experienced a reverse “halo effect” when a handful of my newsletter subscribers cancelled after receiving my issue about his forecasts for our VUCA world.  (VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity.)

One reviewer noted, “The author does an effective job in explaining the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ but not the ‘how’.”

Well, Dr. Johansen practices what he preaches. He believes leaders of the future will need the skill of clarity even more than they do today. They will need to express this clarity in intent statements—clear intent about where to go with great flexibility about how to get there. So, it’s the idea of practicing “tight-loose-tight”—a well-defined goal, choices on how to achieve it, and specific measures to determine if you hit the goal.

Throughout the book, Dr. Johansen is a provocateur. His clear goal is to trigger insights that will propel leaders forward. One of his themes is that leaders “must immerse themselves in the future and practice their skills in a low-risk environment.”

Why is this so critical? The VUCA world is changing so rapidly, and bringing leaders more dilemmas than problems. Dilemmas, as defined, have no solutions. Yet, leaders will have to make decisions anyway. So they’ll need to flip dilemmas around (one of the skills he’s identified) and figure out how to find the opportunities.

And how do you immerse yourself in the future? Dr. Johansen suggests taking personal learning adventures and participating in formal structured leadership development programs. By partnering with the Center for Creative Leadership for this second edition, he has included more tools and resources to help with this journey.

The last chapter features a self-evaluation to assess where you are today and tips for learning the new skills. The book’s publisher, Berrett-Koehler, also will be offering an online Future Leadership Skills Indicator scheduled for later in May.

As for my own self-immersion, I’m starting with the easiest of the skills for me—“bio-empathy—the ability to see things from nature’s point of view: to understand, respect and learn from its patterns.” This involves understanding ecosystems, especially as FEW (food, energy and water) issues are likely to dominate our VUCA world. According to Dr. Johansen, it’s easiest to grasp the importance of bio-empathy if you have a biology degree or live with a dog. (Yes!!!)

Next, I need to find a digital native who can mentor me in gaming, get a subscription to MAKE: Technology on your time magazine and start rapid prototyping. Hmm. Guess I can’t just hang out at the dog park….

What about you? Are you ready to immerse yourself in the future?


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