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Photo: iStock

Opinion | To become tomorrow’s leader, start reading the winds around you now

Build your own system to track emerging technologies and their possibilities

Good leadership in the 2020s is going to look very different from any time in the past. While some aspects, like building trust within the team or developing personal credibility and competence, will remain central, there is a new set of abilities that will mark the most impactful leaders this decade.

This new set is around understanding a fast-changing world and responding to it successfully and consistently, and it needs a stronger external orientation than ever before. It also needs stronger skills to lead teams that can build an effective response. If you are senior enough, it is both about developing this capacity personally as well as within the organization.

For most of us, our leadership styles evolved in an era where you could get away by being reasonably inward focused. What mattered was whether your team trusted you and whether your organization saw you as credible and competent. But for those aspiring for success in big roles this next decade, that will simply not be enough.

Success in any role with true choice will come if you are able to steer your team, your function or your organization in the direction of the future, and it starts by being able to read the winds around you. Or to be more precise, to be able to read the many different winds around you—their strength, their direction and the possibilities they bring. Then, you need to have a good process to respond to these winds. Where can you begin?

Track emerging tech

Keep a sharp eye on emerging technologies and business ideas. Mapping technology trends today is no easy task. Yet, the most successful leaders of tomorrow will need to build their own system to track emerging technologies and their possibilities.

This is going to be important whether you will be playing offence and thinking of new ways to disrupt your industry, or whether you are playing defence and thinking of how others may attack your business. As funds chase new ideas with potential, it has never been easier for David to defeat Goliath.

Tracking systems could mean extensive reading, connects with leading universities and with the entrepreneurial universe. Having a system that builds a sharp external eye is key.

Learn to lead effective team discussions

Strengthen your skills at leading a good team discussion. A popular management simulation game is the survival simulation. This game is typically set in a life-threatening moment such as after an air crash in a desert or after a tsunami. While there are many variations, the aim of these simulations is to compare individual decision-making success with that of the team.

First, each member is asked to make a series of decisions, such as what their best survival strategy will be. Next, the member returns to the team, and after discussions within the team, the same series of decisions is repeated, only this time as a team.

These decisions are then compared with expert decisions. Often (as much as 90%, according to Human Synergistics, the firm that sells these) a team outperforms the average member. The best teams outperform their best members. Key is the team’s ability to have high quality discussions.

There are many key takeaways from this. When presented with unfamiliar situations, teams outperform individuals when they have a good process of discussion. Yet not many leaders are trained to lead good group discussions where individuals have the opportunity to share knowledge and then build on it.

Yet as teams become the primary unit for innovation, learning how to lead effective team discussions is a useful capability.

Build X teams

Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s professor Deborah Ancona studies the defining characteristics of innovation teams and finds that the most effective ones are externally focused. These X (external focus) teams build connections with others outside and inside the organizations right from the start. This is because connections with those on the outside allow the team to understand emerging trends, and connections with those inside ensures resources and influence for new ideas. These teams are then able to be quick and agile at understanding and responding to change outside.

Tomorrow’s successful leader will need an unlimited hunger for learning, the capacity to provoke discussion and debate effectively, and the agility for action.

Shalini Lal is an organizational development and innovation consultant with more than 20 years of experience.

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