Saturday, 25 June 2011

What does the future hold for leadership?

An interesting and complex issue.... and one that I feel will vary considerably depending on the distance to this particular horizon. If we're talking about the next 2 or 3 years.... then I foresee a desperate struggle by those who truly wish to 'lead' to keep a focus on innovation and inspiration when the focus of most meetings and inititaives is budget constraints. I am seeing lots of organisations respond to the current economic conditions by using Theory X styles, MBO, hard targets and incentives to drive performance - presumably via managers who have yet to watch Daniel Pink's Drive piece on RSAnimate ( and thereby to realise the ultimate futility of that approach. But then, my Grandfather had many pithy things to say on the subject of human nature (some favourites: "there's no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes", or how about "only the boss is allowed an opinion, everyone else needs facts" or even "genius wilts in the face of persistence"?) and he was very fond of the old chestnut about "desperation is the mother of invention"... which perhaps gives some hope for innovation after all. Warning words though. Many senior teams seem to think you can drive innovation by institutionalising it through process.... I am unconvinced. Steven Johnson has some excellent input here in his talk on 'where ideas come from (

If we are talking about a more distant horizon, it gets very interesting! Pitch forward 20 or 30 years... and I can imagine work will have shifted significantly. Away from communal workplaces to work independently at home or on the move through technology, away from London into the provinces, away from the industrial centres into the countryside, away from full-time employment toward portfolio working, away from teams toward virtual communities, away from tasks & processes toward collaborative projects and so on. My colleague David Smith has much to say on this subject at and paints some very interesting pictures of future trends and the implications of congruence. If you consider the ramifications of a combination of even some of these changes... whither leadership? Engagement and empowerment on a whole new level. Theory Y finally the norm, sharing for the greater good taking over from exploitation and competition? I wish. But you never know...

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