Wise leadership seems to be vanishing …
At a time when discontinuity, complexities, change, and disruption are the only constants, the ability to lead wisely has nearly vanished. Some would see this as an aberration in the talent pool, but our analyses suggest it may not be.
To be sure, all the knowledge in the world did not prevent the Great Recession from occurring in 2008 (and maybe it couldn’t have), nor has it stopped well-established organizations, institutions, and governments from failing.
It does however seem that often the traditional tried-and-true approaches of our leadership are no longer working, and that those we depend upon for leadership guidance are too distracted to be much help. It’s apparent we need a new breed of leader to step forward to guide and nurture us out of our current mayhem. Where are they? Why is it that we are more often being left in a state of disappointment today?
Is our leadership just struggling with the times?
Many people have just blamed it on volatility and uncertainty of the times — but that is merely an anecdotal diversion — as it is NOT just volatility and uncertainty that’s leading our leaders repeatedly down the wrong paths. Others have attributed it to skewed morals and business ethics, a lust for money and power, a lack of virtuous principles, and a scarcity of empathy for those struggling with less. But, again, the reality is more complicated than that.
In truth, (and this is the primary driver behind augmentive artificial intelligence), many find it nearly impossible today, to reinvent conditions rapidly enough to cope with new technologies, demographic shifts, capitalistic economics, societal cultural changes, changing consumption patterns, and shareholder trends. They’re unable to develop personal skills that can allow them to see the bigger, holistic picture of what is keeping them up at night, and wrecking their chances for a “good and happy life.” So since they are unable to accelerate their performance, and many of our leaders just choke.
And, it appears, that if these leaders are leading organizations, their lack of coping skills are having an even greater impact on the society around them. Because they also lack clear understandings of how to operate their local groups/units in a global marketplace where it is essential to perform digitally, effortlessly, and effectively across all borders throughout the planet, they spread their bad decision-making to an even greater network.
Adding to this are the actual demands on organizational leaders who often find it difficult to juggle their shareholder demands with those of other stakeholders, and to remain tough enough on staff to ensure that their people adhere to the right values and ethics when making decisions and carrying out their work.
Hey … What’s in it for me?
To make matters worse, still, is the prevailing principles of all societal groups which seems to always be asking, “Hey … What’s in it for me?” Missing are those insights that would make them think, “What’s good, right, and just for everyone?”
The gulf that exists between communicating a grand strategy with a tactical implementation plan and shoring up “self,” stakeholder, shareholder profits, and executing ethically and professionally on the frontline “for the sake of the others involved” is a huge chasm that may have already become an impossible feat to straddle for many traditional organizations.
When things begin to not go right, and even start to devolve into chaos — even when chaos can potentially bring long-term positive outcomes, there is a human tendency for leaders to seize control (because something must be wrong), and act on gut instincts immediately. In nature, organizing methods of response are much more patient.
But based on the kneejerk response to conflicts, leaders often find they’ve caused people to behave less ethically within their organizations or groups, because they often mirror the emotive instinctive responses of their leader. Numerous studies show that ethical individuals, who may do the right thing in most normal situations, behave differently under such stress, and have a greater tendency to do so “when they feel threatened, or blackmailed by such bullying harassment, and/or using publicly-displayed acts of force by their superiors.” When that occurs, the common human-nature rationalizations — to act decently in the company’s best interest are seldom thought-through enough to justify “doing what’s right for the sake of the others involved.” The studies say this often leads to misconduct and rebelliousness.
Is there a lack of values and ethics in society today?
Hit by fraud, deceit, and greed, subordinate people are angry about the visible lack of values and ethics in society today. In business, the focus is even more severe. It seems there’s something wrong with the way schools, companies, and leaders are developing decision-makers, leaders, administrators, managers, and supervisors. Maybe the top-down, command-control approaches of the 20th Century are beginning to age and erode. Where has society gone wrong?
Have we forgotten the ageless Golden Rule provided in some form by all ancient societies of the world? It states an ethical/moral principle we must always lead with, and it’s also a good principle to live by: “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.”
Perhaps we should have trained our decision-makers, leaders, administrators, managers, and supervisors to better holistically understand and emulate the natural processes we see evident in the pure sciences. One mathematical constant that continues to reoccur naturally, for example, is Fibonacci’s Golden NumberHaving individuals and organizations mimic nature’s ecosystem evolutions for example, he believes, would provide us the best, most sustainable, and flexible solutions to our overwhelming volatility and uncertainty issues and provide more long-term growth.
Instead, it appears we’ve been teaching a more narrow-minded approach, where leaders have only been asking specialized questions such as “Where are we going (in this closed system)?” “How can this be delegated to get more involvement and come to resolutions faster?” “Who gains, who loses, and by which mechanisms of power will we garner the outcomes and profits we desire?” “Is this development good for our quarterly bottom line?” “What should we do about it to make our portfolio more profitable to the shareholders?” The approach we’ve established seems all about winning, because the ends always justify the means (even if we know that’s NOT true!)
Leaders and the Millennial Knowledge Economy
It is that narrow approach that has finally caught up with us at the beginning of the 21st Century. For leaders to cope with these myriad pressures, it seems evident that deep-learning and knowledge is more critical than ever before.
As we entered the 21st Century, many experts stated that to drive productivity and economic growth, organizations needed to lead society toward a new focus on information, advancing technologies, and building cultures for lifelong-learning. In 2001, they stated that the rapid and ever-quickening developments in science and technology were continuing to have a major impact on society and the way we live, work, learn, and play. They cited as examples, major advancements in digitization, digital content delivery, genetics, biotechnology, and nanotechnology that were greatly enhancing our understandings of the natural sciences. Since then, organizational executives have come to recognize that controlling and capturing the right knowledge, and then deploying it at the right times, can yield sustainable competitive and strategic advantages. Companies have also learned more embedded ways to capture, store, and distribute knowledge, so it continually catalyzes innovation and improves cultural communications. However, as we have seen, leading a knowledge-creating company is difficult.
Why doesn’t a pursuit of knowledge result in wise, noble, and ethical leadership?
The problem is that many leaders have never been trained to use, prioritize, or cultivate the right kinds of knowledge. They don’t understand how to lead based on a real strategy. Instead, they jump immediately to execution, plans, outcomes, and actionable tactics — and they usually manage in the traditional top-down silos that worked so well in the last century. Middle-managers who rely on explicit knowledge, because it can be codified, measured, generalized, and consistently repeated, await governance from their superiors who provide clearly specific commands often with the means to be used to assess results. Frontline workers await training from the top on specifically needed skills to efficiently and productively carry out their assigned tasks. Often, the budget is thinnest for those who are actually producing things and services on the frontline — so workers are left with little choice but to improvise, adapt, and overcome what has NOT been provided.
What makes a good leader in the 21st Century?
In the constantly changing societal climate of the 21st Century, an aspiring leader cannot succumb to leadership archetypes from the past and expect to meet the challenges, volatility, and uncertainty of today’s workplace.
The days of top-down, command-control dominance leadership of the 1950s won’t get your staff, or keep your workers on your side. And frankly, few organizations mass-produce products and services in huge assembly factories any longer (NOTE: In cases where such factories still exist, work has either been automated with robotic systems, or has dropped pricing of the product/services to such a low-end commodity that they are at the end of their lifecycle).
It’s also is no place for the “management-by-objectives,” “higher productivity equals higher efficiencies,” or for “motivational operational and marketing slogan workplaces” of the 70s and 80s. These Golden Age periods when some thought American throughput was at its best levels are actually trampled upon in the abundant age that Internet connectivity brought the global economy to everyone’s home and office in the 90s.
Today, in the 21st Century, scarcity economics are driven by design, and overproduction followed by mass layoffs are actually a greater problem to leadership and organizational sustainability than managing and speculating on scarce resources for “potential futures.”
Weakened management styles of the 1990s that biasedly clung to well-known branded latency processes and systems won’t work either because they won’t get the needed results fast enough to keep pace with the velocities of change and convergence that are building the marketplace.
And since the millennium, things have been changing even faster. Gigabyte processing computers advented in ’04 brought unbelievable power and supercomputer processing capabilities to the personal desktop — making organizational leaders and entrepreneurs a fully-capable one-man shop. Search engines and social networks took off immediately after that, while Apple shifted computing from the desktop to the wearable and mobile world making connectivity available for the first time to everyone and to everything, which has now led to concepts of the “Internet of Things.”
By the last decade, after the Great Recession, leadership shifted again to a “new normal” where full-time repetitive jobs were replaced by automation and a “gig economy of borderless globally contracted freelancers.” These freelancers, who also facilitated access for international to local supply lines and resources from everywhere, helped alter the product/service lifecycle which dropped from 20-years in the 50’s and 60’s to just seven weeks in 2017. Today, there are very few “cash cows!”
Through all of these 50 years, some of the essential factors that have made great leaders haven’t changed. Leaders in the 21st Century still need solid abilities to explore, learn, tinker, create, creatively integrate, innovate, think and make decisions, plan, execute, negotiate, use great people skills, and portray a strong role model image for your coworkers — and in the 21st Century, they are “coworkers,” NOT subordinates.
But, in addition, leaders now need to possess more comprehensive “deep” skills with less vertical or horizontal delegation to others of things like analyses/analytics, digitization of the workplace, new organizational structures, new approaches to strategy and business/enterprise modeling, data/information science, electronic and networked virtual communications, governance, use of technologies/automation/robotics, financial profit/loss, merger/acquisitions, organizational portfolio management, board/human/employee relations, and forecasting — all uniquely tailored for success in today’s environment. Leaders today cannot afford complacency or things that challenge their reputations. They need to locate good talent in coworkers or freelancers that can quickly unify and collaborate immersively in ways to achieve organizational outcomes. It’s a monumental task!
So far, the changes have just been transitional, something smart leaders and organizations have been able to manage and even ease into. So far, they have NOT been paradigm shifting or “transformative.” But, all of that is about to change. What we’ve witnessed in changes over the last 50 years, are absolutely nothing compared to what is about to happen to organizations and leadership over the next TWO YEARS!
So what are the traits the 21st century leader needs to succeed?
The prevailing paradigm that has underpinned organizations for the past 50 years is about to undergo a profound societal shift.
Firms had existed during that period, first and foremost to deliver “returns” to their shareholders’ capital — and the quicker the velocity of the return on equities and investments, the better. This organizational approach led to a strong middle class, major advancements in science and technologies, huge growth in understanding of the things around us, and a more attuned and monitoring professional service economy that kept leaders abreast of the changes around them. The connectivity to the Internet by the world’s 7.4 billion population has for the first time exceeded 50%. Which means over the last few years, organizations have grown almost exponentially adding to their markets new consumers, suppliers, gig contractors, partners, and territories. Mobile phone use has also grown to 9 billion units in use (for a population of only 7.4 billion requiring that audio sound MEM chips be produced for the phone demand at a rate of 14-16 billion units yearly. Ponder that for a moment …
Now, move to 2020, just two years away. With the introduction of the Internet of Things (IoT) to the marketplace, the mobile component of the Internet will grow from 9 billion units today to over 1 trillion units — a 99% increase in just two years. That’ll mean that one trillion “mobile-wireless-units” will be out there — all transmitting and receiving data, all creating massive cybersecurity issues and threats, all clogging up the scale and latency of the cloud, all requiring massive maintenance and regular upgrades, all providing more comprehensive predictive and prescriptive analyses and analytics (like the Cambridge Analytica systems that were used to help get Donald J. Trump elected as the 45th president), and all forever altering the idea of a “user interface” to where “users” literally become simply a part — immersed in the informational and communicative data stream that flows endlessly — 24/7/365.
Any 21st Century leader with a little common sense can see plainly that the advent of this new Internet connectivity is going to change EVERYTHING, and its going to do it quickly. Every leader who uses that common sense also should see that internal digitization, internal connectivity, and enterprise-wide analytical data systems should be highest on portfolio priority lists — and as a strategy, digitization must become an embedded core attribute of any business that hopes to grow and survive during this profound period of transformation.
What can they do? The Xavier Group suggests this
With the coming of IoT and one trillion nodes, combined with advanced machine learning, hard and soft artificial intelligence, and autonomous robotic and automation systems — leaders will very soon be dealing with what has been already called, “Industry 4.0,” and they better have a great understanding of all of its principles, because it will be a transformational paradigm shift — that changes everything we’ve come to believe in operating and organization.
To deal wisely, LEADERS will need to do three things:
- DEVELOP AND OPERATE USING A SOUND STRATEGY based on a clear mission that maintains the organization’s focus clearly on the vision and purposes for the organization’s creation and existence; drives all enterprise, business, operational, and strategic models; and is the basis for all leadership executables within and outside the organization. In the rapid velocities of the 21st Century — Strategy MUST COME FIRST. Contact us if you need help.
- ELIMINATE ALL OUTMODED LEGACY PROCESS AND SYSTEMS that are bleeding profits, encumbering any moves to accelerate transitions at the pace needed for a 21st Century society, and keeping the organization from ever realizing its full potentials. EXPLORE AND ASSESS NEW AND ADVANCED 21ST CENTURY APPROACHES AND TECHNOLOGIES, and build a solid understanding of recent technological breakthroughs. MAKE HIGH-PERFORMANCE COMPUTING (HPC) EMBEDDED AT THE CORE OF THE IT ARCHITECTURE LAYER FOR THE ENTIRE ENTERPRISE USAGE A CORE STRATEGY, and one of the highest budgeting priorities. Ensure 100% of your people and smart-AI systems are trained to make optimal custom use of the HPC in specific ways that will continue to grow and alter the internal culture while also greatly enhancing operations, sales, governance, analytics, customer-driven feedback, systemic feedback, and research and development. Comprehensive Digitization to augment organizational operations will be key to 21st Century success. Let us analyze what would be best for your specific situation.
- ADOPT NEW MEASURES AND TOOLS FOR DELIVERING YOUR PRODUCTS/SERVICES TO SPECIFIC CUSTOMERS WITH UTMOST INTIMACY AND SPEED and be sure to include predictive/prescriptive big data analytics to your 21st Century “engaged” customer relationship management services as part of your core enterprise upgrades. The addition of these processes and systems will allow leaders to run their core businesses, select options based on customer analytics to potentially develop new growth ideas and a growth engine. CONSIDER ESTABLISHING A SEPARATE R&D TEAM AND SKUNKWORKS TO BETTER MEET THE PRODUCT/SERVICE ROLLOUT PERIOD WITHIN NEW SEVEN WEEK WINDOWS OF OPPORTUNITY. By keeping R&D and new product/service development separated — you should be able to keep your existing and core business portfolio more focused. AS for rollouts, Edison’s Idea Factory laboratory in 1872 rolled out a new product/service every four-to-six weeks; and a new “major idea” every six months. The 21st Century requires similar rollout capabilities. Xavier can perform comprehensive technology assessments to help you achieve expectations in all of these areas.
In addition to the above, leaders of organizations may wish to consider keeping their businesses and holding companies private for longer periods, and when doing IPO’s and going public, they may wish to have a strategy in place that maintains more concentrated public ownership, flexible capital structures and the abilities to invest in specific products, services, and/or projects.
Sun Tzu’s lesson on Leadership and Strategy in 528 BC
“All Leaders can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved. The victorious strategist seeks battle only after it has been determined by meticulous study that the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat fights first, and afterwards looks for victory. The victorious leader knows leadership is a matter of intelligence, trustworthiness, humaneness, courage, virtues, and discipline … Reliance on intelligence alone results in rebelliousness. Exercise of humaneness alone results in weakness. Fixation on trust results in folly. Dependence on the strength of courage results in violence. Excessive discipline and sternness in command result in cruelty. When one has all five virtues together, each appropriate to its function, then one can be a leader.” — Sun Tzu