“Whatever!” was the response that came to me across the room. Not a particularly dramatic or passionate comment based on a critical and poignant inquiry. A somewhat puzzling reply, which seemed to have a number of possible interpretations. Though not urgent nor trivial, the expected reply to, “Should I close the door?” would seem to be quite straightforward. It was simple enough, with a minimum of possible rejoinders one of which was not “whatever”. The answer threw my thinking to the basic theory of chaos and opened choices I did not want to embrace. Is it OK to close the door or leave it door open? What will be the ramifications? Does it make any difference? As it is my affliction, I began to think about all the decisions that leaders need to make in the midst of a constant and rapidly changing world.
A leader essentially captures the interest, passion, or acquiescence of people and motivates behaviour that supports an agenda. Today’s fluctuating economic, political, and social global environment has some discernable trends effecting every decision big and little. One of the most “obvious” subtle trends has been the scope and the depth of human intelligence, which through innovations has been improving over the last 250 years.
With this change comes the second trend, globalization. Globalization is the process of people from different parts of the world sharing aspects of economic, cultural, and social life. The resulting change in perception is evident in people and organizations at the societal and cultural level. Thirdly, the driver of the progression of people and globalization has been technology. The digitization of the world is changing everything including access to information, cultural diversity, clothing, food, travel, work, and the workplace.
These beneficial impacts are counterbalanced by some challenging trends.
The fourth tendency affecting a leader’s choices is inequity. Exposure to changes in local society or across the globe has inevitably increased disparities in people groups least equipped to access systems. This has a close connection to the fifth trend. Quality of life driven by technology innovations in the fields of health, trade, information, and travel have improved around the world. Those improvements, however, have triggered challenges. For example, health advances have increased the evolution of antibiotic resistant diseases and dangers of pandemics that follow travelers around the globe. The blossoming of trade, transportation, and information have allowed people to move seamlessly across borders at any time causing tension, derision, and violence.
Finally, conversations with leaders in education tell us that institutional education is in a state of crisis. Few countries have discovered the best way to educate the next generation of citizens and specifically the workforce. This century’s leaders will not only enjoy the positive effects of human intelligence, globalization, and technology but must also deal with the challenges of inequality, quality of life, and education.
There are three primary baseline characteristics that are the foundation of an effective leader. The first characteristics are creativity and inclusivity. Effective leaders continually are looking at ways of getting things done. They are constantly inquisitive. They are by nature flexible always looking to learn things, unlearn things, and to relearn things. Secondly, they are driven to deliver. They always want to know just a little bit more and do a little bit better in their performance. They are always analysing the data and making decisions based upon the best information. They understand that there is no perfect strategy but simply a lot of strategies that are good enough. They are not afraid to take risks.
Lastly, in the local or global context, effective leaders behave as trusted citizens. They understand how trust works and that someone is always watching. They understand that their word is their bond and never make assumptions without information. They never take anything personally always seeking the agenda driver. These leaders always do their best based on the information available and are not afraid to change course. They are focused on answers the solve problems, not “whatever”.