Leadership X.0
01 October 2019

In VUCA contexts, leadership cannot do without effective coaching. Coaching will help the leader orchestrate the key elements of Leadership X.0, that is, go beyond learning by fostering the creation of capabilities, developing rhizomatic thinking and building a narrative within an infinite game

“Our thought creates problems that that same kind of thought cannot solve”

“Learning to create is essential, necessary, vital & fundamental”

Talking about leadership without talking about coaching means neglecting an essential element of modern leadership. The modern leader is not the one who directs his own organization by giving instructions that the subordinates must execute in an operational manner. The modern leader is, instead, the one who inspires and motivates his own organization, which together with it elaborates a vision and manages to pursue it by reaching, and making his team reach, the maximum potential. In other words, the modern leader is the one who knows how to be the coach of his own organization.

The role of the coach is to make people learn, rather than to educate people. The coach allows the individual or organization to initiate and carry out a continuous learning process that unlocks the potential of individuals and maximizes the performance of the organization.

But what happens when the organization’s reference environment is volatile, complex, uncertain and ambiguous (VUCA)? How does coaching change so that individuals and organizations can thrive in VUCA contexts? Coaching is also called to become future proof. The future proof coach is who knows how to support individuals and organizations to go beyond learning and, in particular, to use resources, skills and abilities to develop capabilities and rhizomatic thinking. In challenging and stressful contexts like the ones we are, and we will be, coping with, the coach will have to support the leader to break free from interference, in order to reach a state of generative flow.

Through coaching, modern leadership has overcome the traditional leadership model, based on the provision of instructions to be carried out accurately, to adopt a model based on the inspiration and the motivation of an organization with the purpose to develop a common vision and pursue it in a cohesive fashion. The emergence of VUCA contexts poses new challenges for leaders and coaches. With the emergence of VUCA contexts, coaching becomes a fundamental element to integrate with leadership, almost to the point of merging with it.

In dynamic contexts, and even more so in VUCA contexts, leadership risks focusing on performance, losing the connection with the core nature of leadership, which is not performance but evolutionary fitness, that is, the development of effective capabilities with which to create, extend or modify resources in order to thrive in a VUCA context. Coaching has to become future proof, and guarantee that individuals or organizations, once certain capabilities will have been acquired, will be able to develop others autonomously, depending on the needs that the development of the VUCA context may determine.

When the leader is little connected with himself, and stressed by the VUCA contexts, he risks focusing on the opportunities and threats of the moment, without the “open perspective” required to creatively identify and probe alternative scenarios.

The VUCA context makes the leader vulnerable. The coach, therefore, with the available techniques, can help the leader to connect with himself so to enter a generative state through which to develop a universe of possibilities and identify what is the right thing to do, rather than doing wrong things well.

When the leader focuses on threats and opportunities and on the performance of his organization, he adopts a finite game perspective, namely a term game in which the objective can be to capture an opportunity, avert a threat or prevail over a competitor. All this triggers a state of mind whereby the leader ends up closing his thought perspective, focusing on specific situations and problems. On the contrary, in VUCA contexts, the leader must adopt an open thought perspective that allows him to generate a universe of possibilities, identify various scenarios to evaluate, innovate by making rhizomatic connections, identify narratives options and finally choose a narrative to develop according to an infinite game perspective.

In all these phases, coaching must be integrated with leadership. In this way, it will play a crucial role in every phase of leadership development. More specifically, coaching must support leadership so that it can

  1. adopt an open thought perspective, which allows the leader to expand the perimeter of his thought, analysis and action potential to consider elements that can directly and indirectly be relevant to navigate the VUCA context in which he operates. This attitude marks the opening of the space of the leader.
  2. adopt an infinite game perspective, whereby, instead of considering a time-limited horizon of thought and action, known players and immutable rules of the game, the leader chooses an unlimited time horizon, in which the players and the rules of the game are subject to change depending on how the VUCA context develops. This attitude marks the opening of the time horizon of the leader.
  3. generate a universe of possibilities, which is conceivable only after the leader will have opened his thought and adopted an infinite game perspective. The creation of a universe of possibilities will require the development of innovative skills (the capabilities) that will consist of effectuating innovative combinations among the elements accessible through the open perspective. The generative element emerges from the contamination between ideas, concepts, resources, skills, and disparate experiences as per a rhizomatic thought pattern a-la Deleuze and Guattari.

The phases of leadership fuel a process of creative destruction, which is the core engine of a leadership that never becomes obsolete. To become future proof, the coach must orchestrate the key elements of Leadership X.0 and go beyond learning, using resources, skills and abilities to develop rhizomatic capabilities and thinking.

In order for this process to be sustained over time and offer new combinations, it is critical that the leader, with the help of the coach, is in connection with himself (inner connection) and, when specific circumstances undermine this connection and make him focus on specific problems, preserve this connection or restore it if it is lost. This is one of the key features that we believe characterizes a future-proof coach. A VUCA world imposes a return to the deep dimension of the human.

We imagine that coaching will become soon one of the key skills taught in the school system, so that future generations will develop the necessary tools to successfully navigate complex and uncertain social, business, and work contexts.