Ten Leadership Skills for the Future – Valuable Insight from Bob Johansen (The Institute for the Future)


Here’s one of the ongoing challenges. Just what is the job of a leader?

We start with definition. I liked these portions of the definition from Merriam-Webster (as I googled “Leader – define”):

• something that leads — as a primary or terminal shoot of a plant
• something for guiding fish into a trap
• a short length of material for attaching the end of a fishing line to a lure or hook
• something that ranks first
• a first or principal performer of a group
• a horse placed in advance of the other horses of a team

In other words, the “leader” is the one that is in the lead, out in front of the others.

And, from this article by Kevin Kruse, What is Leadership, Anyway, he quotes, and disagrees with, these definitions:

Peter Drucker: “The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.”
Warren Bennis: “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”
Bill Gates:“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”
John Maxwell: “Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.”

And then, he provides his own definition…

DEFINITION: Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.

Being out in front, saying “let’s go this way, and do this thing” to a group of people that actually then go that way and do that thing… that is the outcome of successful leadership.

But, I think we would all acknowledge this… leadership requires some tweaks and re-design and new additions as times change.

Leaders Make the Future - Ten Leaderhsip SkillsAs I searched more on this theme, I was especially intrigued by Bob Johansen’s ten new leadership skills, from his book Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leaderhip Skills for an Uncertain World. I’m a fan of Johansen’s earlier book, Get There Early (this is the book that introduced me to the VUCA world.  — I’ve written a few times from this book; here’s a recent post). This newer book by Mr. Johansen certainly adds to my appreciation for his thinking.

Here are his ten leadership skills for this uncertain world, with brief comment/explanation from the book (and his organization, The Institute for the Future):

Leadership Skill Brief Description
#1 Maker Instinct Ability to exploit your inner drive to build and grow things, as well as connect with others in the making. Leaders need this basic skill to make and remake organizations.
#2 Clarity Ability to see through messes and contradictions to a future that others cannot yet see. Leaders must be clear about what they are making but flexible about how it gets made.
#3 Dilemma Flipping Ability to turn dilemmas – which, unlike problems, cannot be solved – into advantages and opportunities.
#4 Immersive Learning Ability Ability to immerse yourself in unfamiliar environments, to learn from them in a first-person way.
#5 Bio-Empathy Ability to see things from nature’s point of view; to understand, respect, and learn from nature’s patterns. Nature has its own clarity, if only we humans can understand and engage with it.
#6 Constructive Depolarizing Ability to calm tense situations where differences dominate and communication has broken down – and bring people from divergent cultures toward positive engagement.
#7 Quiet Transparency Ability to be open and authentic about what matters – without being overly self-promoting. If you advertise yourself, you will become a big target.
#8 Rapid Prototyping Ability to create quick early versions of innovations with the expectation that later success will require early failures. Leaders will need to learn from early setbacks and learn to fail in interesting ways.
#9 Smart-Mob Organizing Ability to create, engage with, and nurture purposeful business or social change networks through intelligent use of electronic media and in-person communication.
#10 Commons Creating Ability to seed, nurture, and grow shared assets that can benefit all players – and allow competition a higher level. This is the most important future leadership skill and it grows from all the others.

Quite a challenging list of skills. It takes more than a little insight, and plenty of skill development, to be a good, effective leader – maybe even more so as time goes on and Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity (VUCA) become ever-more real.

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