What is the leadership quality of the future, according to CEOs?

Gaia Grant
Andrew Grant

By and

written on September 4, 2017

Many leaders may not be adequately prepared for future rapid change environments. So here are some strategies for getting leaders and organisations future ready.

Ever since the IBM survey of 1500 CEOs from more than 60 countries and 33 industries around the world came out a few years ago, one leadership quality has jumped to the forefront of future-focused discussions.

The CEOs were asked what they thought was the key leadership quality needed for the future, and they ranked one quality well above the others: creative thinking. While 35 per cent of the CEOs chose global thinking and 52 per cent chose integrity as the most-needed future quality, 60 per cent of them put creativity in the top position.

But creativity is fairly vague, so just what sort of thinking will future-proof your organisation?

Cross pollinated concepts

“The future will depend on how well we can integrate technology into our daily lives,” CNN host Fareed Zakaria has suggested, “And that depends on skills fostered by the liberal arts, such as creativity, aesthetic sensibility and social, political and psychological insight.”

Zakaria believes that creativity and innovation emerge at the intersection between different disciplines, where there is the opportunity for cross-pollination, so it is essential that education remains broad. As examples, he points to how Steve Jobs’ experience with learning calligraphy influenced his focus on the aesthetic of Apple products, and how Mark Zuckerberg’s early studies in psychology impacted the development of Facebook.

Creative analytics

As we move into an unfamiliar future, the skills that have brought us to the present may not be required. What’s certain is that we will need more advanced investigative thinking skills to ensure we can address any unknown challenge.

Individuals will need to be able to think both critically and creatively in order to effectively solve the sort of problems that are becoming inherent in contemporary society – issues that are difficult to define and socially complex. We will not only need more advanced technological skills to invent and manage innovations, but also more advanced exploratory and research skills to make sense of the high-tech world we are creating.

Elevated, not automated

As robots take over many of the simpler, physical work functions and with the growing reality of AI creating a more automated workplace, there will be fewer low-skill jobs available, and humans will be required to take on these more advanced problem-solving roles. While the simpler administration, agricultural and factory roles will be taken over by machines, there will still be a need for integrative thinkers.

The new jobs that will emerge will require more emotional and social intelligence, along with critical and creative thinking, rather than task specific skills that can easily be automated.

Heavily hyperlinked

The future is a heavily hyperlinked and integrated world. As our lives become less segmented, innovation will need to be more connected to real-world needs. There will need to be closer and more purposeful connections, which will become essential for identifying challenges and developing more creative and innovative ideas.

Technology will more consciously enhance our lives through supporting real-world learning and connections rather than providing an alternative to real-life experience and so isolating us from it. As analysts have commented, “In today’s hyperlinked world, solving problems anywhere will solve problems everywhere”.

More sustainable solutions

The point of integration will be to provide greater sustainability, and creative solutions will need to be sustainable solutions. Sustainability is about doing things differently economically, environmentally, socially and individually so they are more workable over the long term. Sustainability needs to prioritise a broad range of values rather than simply focusing on economic value.

Coordinate and cultivate

In order to effectively guide organisations into the future, leaders will need to lean towards a “coordinate and cultivate” leadership approach that focuses on values, freedom and flexibilityIt will only be through harnessing their own creative capabilities and nurturing it in others that innovation potential will grow.

Are you and your organisation future-ready?

This article is an adapted excerpt from “The Innovation Race: How to change a culture to change the game”, by Gaia and Andrew Grant.

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