• Hazem

The Future Proof of Leadership

Aktualisiert: 28. Dez. 2017

Leadership is measured by the level of effectiveness of the leader. However, effectiveness is not just the fact of doing things right. Effectiveness is the result of doing the right things right – it is given by effectiveness combined with ethics. This article outlines four assumptions based on predictions of future socio-economical trends to demonstrate the substantial requirement for a leadership combined with an insurance of ethical effectiveness to face future global challenges.

If you look at successful persons around you - those influencing economical and political lifes, coming on TV or referenced in social media; How many of those are acting like leaders? Not as many as it should be. Why is our business and political life relatively successful then? How it is still somehow working and for how long? Don’t we need leaders to run our businesses? Do we just need managers? Do we just need those, who are consequently target-oriented, strictly following the rules of efficiency and smart enough to make tactically appropriate decisions to always maximize the outcome of their actions?

The fact that businesses and politics are still somehow successful just by means of operational management instruments seems to be caused by the predictability of the requirements and the reward system in the past. The expectation of the supervisors of those managers can be predicted. And managers deliver based on expectations, which their supervisors have put on them. This cascade ends probably with what the supervisor would like to achieve for a self-fulfillment.

This sounds too much negative. The other side of the coin, let us think beyond, from the positive side, when we imagine the world of the day after tomorrow; The future. It has been continuously discussed that the world economy is going through substantial changes, no one can stop this to happen. Digitalization is the driving force for new business opportunities and for lifestyle. The latter becomes the real objective of customers. Human beings have always been focusing on their prosperity. They will continue doing so, while swapping back and forth between the individual’s interest and ethical responsibilities for the society towards the individually balanced satisfaction. It is pretty complex to describe what those new technologies allow us today and what they might allow us tomorrow and more important is, if it is the goal of human beings to increase this complexity.

What are the effects of those shifts?

1st assumption (autonomy): individuals will extremely extend their impact on businesses and social life. Information technology and social media will enable them to access unfiltered information and globally connect and offer whatever they want, wherever they want and whenever they want. They will be able to let their value system and lifestyle motivate their businesses. Does this challenge leadership?

2nd assumption (diversity): needless to say, a worldwide available product or service will not be the exception, but the basic rule. This will not limit human diversity, since this diversity is an inherent characteristic of individuals. Rather, it will challenge global products and services to meet an increased diversity in number and range. Is this another challenge for leadership?

The first question we want to deal with is, whether manager’s capabilities will be able to cope with those shifts and if not, what leader’s capabilities do we need to do so?

Let us first look at what distinguishes leaders from managers.

From managers to leaders.

A while ago I have read an excellent contribution from Sara Canaday, which points out the attributes of both „species“. It is simple and true, so that we could take it as a reference in our further discussion.

Managers                   ---------->           Leaders

Action-Oriented            ----------->           Visionary

Knowledgeable             ----------->           Insightful

Tactical                        ----------->           Strategic

Instructional                 ----------->           Inspirational

Informed                      ----------->           Influential

My simple definition is:

  • Management is a product of schooling.

  • Leadership is a lifelong attempt to acquire it.

Now, in the sense of answering our first question, what capabilities do we need to face the socio-economical shifts?

The Visionary

When humans will strengthen their soft characteristics and be driven by their values and diversity, leaders in business and society will need to acquire the ability to see the overall ideal and to perceive the path to reach it. This will make the difference and open perspectives for humans to act. This is how they will win people’s cooperation and promote visions. This level of vision is, however, unrealistic, unless we belief in it. Does simple management require belief in vision to be successful? Gandhi believed in the power of peace; That time others did not. He developed his vision to liberate and create better conditions for his folks using peaceful methods and succeeded to support the independence of India.

The Insightful

“Insight is the power of acute observation, deduction, penetration, discernment and perception.” (Wikipedia). It is not about seeking and collecting knowledge from the up-, down- or sideward the hierarchy to apply it for the current tasks or supervisor expectations. Leaders will need to see underneath the surface pulling the own experience and using the perception of the world surrounding them to move the human being forward. It is also the ability to accept, not only always to understand.

The Strategic

It will not be sufficient to be an architect, who perceives and elaborates the perfect path to move forward. Strategic thinking it is not about doing things from the perspective of today’s situation. It is about coming from the target to achieve. Humans will not care too much about the current situation. They will rather perceive and drive towards their targets. Leaders will need the tactical path to move forwards towards the target. But tactics without strategy will end up in a never ending trial-and-error. Tactics is often a negatively afficted approach, but combined with strategy, it is always part of the equation.

The Inspirational

"Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality." (Martin Luther King, Jr.). Leaders will need to be inspirational. They will need to be able to focus on valuing every person, recognizing and considering each and everyone‘s specific characteristics and promoting everyone’s strengths to achieve the vision. The path is not given by the leader but shaped by the individual himself.

The Influential

“You can be appointed as a commander or a manager, but you are not a leader until your appointment is ratified in the hearts and minds of those who you lead. (Knowledge@Wharton High School comment to John Adair’s book “The Leadership of Muhammad”). Influence will probably become the most difficult leadership characteristic to achieve. Human’s expectation driven by strengthening the own value system will move to a higher level than the one managed by business and political leaders in the past. Future leaders might need to come back to refer to spiritual leaders. Spiritual leadership requires an extreme high level of discipline and integrity. Adair refers in his book to Muhammad as an exceptional influencing personality in human history. Mohammad was at once a business leader, a political authority, a community activist, a social entrepreneur, a divine source and a humane role model. He followed the simple basic rule of goodness, in which his communicative values of liberty, justice, modesty, and politeness were matched with practical deeds. Mohammad claimed himself, in each of his roles to be just like a good shepherd, who guides his sheep, unites them and works for the welfare of each individual of them. His leadership has been famous to be combining authority and power with mercy and gentleness. And he applied a genuine consultative approach to leadership and highlighted to having been following the suggestions of his companions, even in very critical decisions. But at the same time, he was uncompromising in his determination to protect the integrity of his mission. He left his hometown with his initial 70 followers to escape persecution and returned height years later with 10.000 followers, who have experienced him living his ideals.

Having said that, our second question that emerges is, how can we learn from spiritual leadership to face future challenges?

Let ‘s first continue with two more assumptions on future shifts.

3rd assumption (complexity): our future world cannot be less complex than it is today. If the world population would achieve the predicted 10 billion already in 2050 and if the global information technologies would continue to conquer products and services as well as everyday’s business, then an increasingly complex eco-system will raise.

4th assumption (impact): the range of impact of 10 billion of diverse people, acting within a complex ecosystem is truly hard to predict, to plan and to perceive. People would follow their leaders in general. Because of this, it would end up with a disaster, if the ones perceived as leaders would do things right, but not the right things.

Ethical effectiveness is the footprint of leadership.

Given the high complexity of future eco-systems and the large scale of impact, leaders have to ensure effectiveness in what they are doing.

Effectiveness is not the matter of doing things right. It is the matter of doing the right things right. It is the proof of an ultimate leadership.

Human beings transferred animals and plants from one continent to another, just to help the ecosystem and improve vegetation everywhere. Did they consider the impact on the ecological balance? A good example is the import of rabbits in Australia. Not only they went out of control, but they destroyed complete regions. The degree of damage is still noticeable. We are efficiently producing and using hundreds of tons of non-degradable plastic every day, while we throw one full truck of plastic every minute in the ocean, from which we can only retrieve 10 % with major efforts. Are we sure about the impact of the missing 90 %? Military leaders have perfectly organized wars. Did they care enough about millions of innocent victims?

Is the answer NO? Are we dealing with leaders, who did not yet reach the ultimate level of effective leadership?

Doing the right things right requires, first, a context and the ability to derive the right things and, second, the leadership skills, we have outlined before. We might call that context „Ethics“, in the sense of a high self-esteem, any leader should have. The challenge is less in the ability to assess the impact. It rather relates to the mindset and the esteem of that impact.

Martin Luther King’s sense for ethics was strongly based on his faith in Jesus' commandment of loving your neighbor as yourself, loving God above all, and loving your enemies, praying for them and blessing them (Wikipedia). With his passion and intelligence, he was able to assess the range of impact and to anchor his dream of equality and justice in hundred thousands of followers. The effectiveness of his achievements were based on his persistence in sticking to the law and non-violent protests.

Gandhi’s ethics are driven by his persuasion of freedom and promoted by the simplicity of his values. Himself said „I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and nonviolence are as old as the hills.“ (Kamath, M. V. (2007) referred on Wikipedia). It that matter he was able to assess his chances of success to lead the Indian independence movement against the British occupant forces and realize his ethical values. 

As Muhammad decided to come back to his hometown accompanied by 10.000 followers, he expected a new war to be initiated out of his decision. Muhammad’s formal and official target to himself and his followers was to cause absolutely no victims, neither on his nor on his enemy’s side. And he elaborated a realistic plan to achieve this target. Muhammad’s ethics were raising from God’s inspiration. He was inspired by his role models Adam, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, and other prophets. He was illiterate, but he handed a set of values in a full and comprehensive ethical code and was acting during around 20 years with an extraordinary intelligence and perseverance to achieve this mission. Thus, his success did not profit from simplicity, rather it was based on his confidence in the truth of his mission, the persistence he has derived from it, despite its complexity, and from living his ideals. Today 1500 years later, the ethical effectiveness of Mohammad’s leadership is represented in 1,5 billion of people, who aim at following his way of life driven by the vision of a global ethical balance.

The world will ultimately need effective leaders to face the future challenges and ensure the continuity of what has been achieved by human beings. Leadership effectiveness cannot be achieved by managers, nor by those who are just excellent in doing things right, without the sense of ethics and the focus on doing the right things. This is not a technical challenge. The world will raise the bright minds to cope with the complexity and the large scale of impact.

The real challenge is to raise leaders to achieve a quick shift of today’s leadership towards a future-proven leadership.


Dr. Hazem Hamoudia.

This paper has been originally published on LinkedIn.

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