Leaders – changing us to what?

We are facing incredible challenges – AI (artificial intelligence), dataism, health issues, the food we eat, the water we drink, the drugs we take, the life styles we adopt, the jobs we pick, the organizations we work for, the competition among states, organizations and individuals – all those and a lot more make our everyday life quite hectic and our future … relatively unpredictable.  And yet we live in the best of times – we live longer, if we are lucky, we live clearly and undisputedly in a much safer and friendlier world than the one that made Hobbs write the Leviathan. The state of nature, do we still have one?, is no longer “the war of all against all”, we seem to have a clearer and stronger understanding of what we need to do to continue to thrive as a species and as a world! Or … do we?

We are told that AI is changing the world – jobs will disappear, education has to re-invent itself, to teach soft skills, not knowledge, robots might become our overlords if we do not become creative and insist on doing the routine jobs they, the robots, can beat us at very easily. And if we still want a meaningful life for ourselves and our children we’ll have to drastically re-invent ourselves. It seems that this is easier said than done! At all levels. We are after all human beings irrespective of the hierarchical ladder we are on.

Tony Schwartz, the CEO and founder of The Energy Project, and Emily Pines, managing director of the same company, write an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review about why leaders are not embracing the skills needed for the future. Even if their talk is “correct” and they know and use the right words, leaders don’t seem to do what they talk about. They do not walk their talk. And Schwartz is very good at asking questions. Not any kind of questions, obviously, but those which are difficult and uncomfortable to answer. Such as “What am I not seeing?” and “What else might be true?”. Schwartz says that those two questions are the most powerful ones that leaders and through them their organizations can ask themselves. He also says that during the last ten years, 87% of companies have undertaken a business transformation, but only 25% of those transformations succeeded. Why? Because they do not ask the right questions, so how can they give the right answers?!? Unless we challenge our current beliefs and see through our blind spots we have no chance at success.

So what makes us behave like this? Some cognitive factors and some emotional ones. We tend to use strategies and behaviours that proved to be successful in the past, we “know” they are good. We are also afraid to try new ones. It seems that our thinking is not up to the fast changes happening in organizations. And therefore Einstein was right again: “we can’t solve our problems from the same level of thinking that created them”.

And if we look at what is theoretically required of organizations today we understand why there is this unwillingness or rather this incapacity to do so. So what exactly are we talking about? Creativity and innovation – as we live in a knowledge based society and the mantra is to become better and faster in innovation. Then agility – to move fast in the market which becomes more and more difficult in the highly regulated environment and with tensions among the variety of stakeholders organizations face today. Collaboration, at all levels even with your competitors, is also an important requirement. And, of course, the courage to change the organization (which is a shorthand for the people in the organization) to comply with those requirements.