“A leader is one who has an unusual degree of power to project on other people his or her shadow or his or her light” Parker J. Palmer
The early explorers charted new geographical landscapes that spanned oceans and mountains, relying on maps and sextants, compasses and the promise of discovery. Fusing a sense of adventure with an innate human curiosity for looking over the horizon, they braved the natural elements to discover new worlds.
The 21st century explorer’s journey is a journey spanning the complexities and nuances of an inter-connected, digital world in which the looming promise of artificial intelligence is being offset by the problem of leading in a post-truth world. The gap between technology and human ability to use the same technology for creating a better world has never been greater. The gap between a networked, interconnected world and the growing forces of nationalism and protectionism has never been greater. The 21st century leader is being called upon to lead in a world where the once familiar maps from the Industrial Age no longer seem to work.
A new leadership mindset is imminent: The Explorer Mindset
Welcome to the 21st century: where continuous disruption is the norm; where information is no longer a source of strategic advantage, and where agility is fast replacing every other parameter of business success. It is no longer possible to solely rely on old ways of running our organisations, and leaders have to learn to abandon many of their Industrial Age maps and concepts, to thrive in complex and ambiguous situations. Not since Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in c.1439 has there been a more momentous inflection point in history. The impact is going to be massive.
Most of our leadership theories are largely based on the image of the leader as a general leading “his” troops in a planned, predictable world where instructions are obeyed and strategy is king. So much of the 21st century bears little resemblance to a time when linear solutions worked. In a world of multiple, convergent causes and unforeseeable discontinuities, leaders have to learn to think and respond differently.
Five dominant forces seem to be reshaping our organisations and societies in the 21st century and creating massive shifts in the way we live, work and lead:
- Globalisation and its consequent implications
- The rise of “socially created information” and its impact on right action
- The resurgence of nationalism and the redrawing of global maps
- Digital technology and the commodification of knowledge
- A new millennial demographic demanding transparency and authenticity
The implications for leaders are many:
- Having to take decisions with incomplete information (why?) or lack in thereof?
- Picking up early warning signals and weak cues from the periphery and quickly adapting to a fast-changing environment
- Providing inspirational leadership in times of great uncertainty
- Developing the ability to rapidly learn and unlearn
- Advocating and maintaining the highest standards of ethical behaviour at a time of growing turpitude
- Becoming role models of authenticity and building organisational purpose