Leadership X.0
20 May 2020

How innovation makes the reference context VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex e Ambiguous), trigger the collapse of the current leadership paradigms and requires the development of a future-proof approach to leadership

“We live in a bewildering world”

“Someone who predicts will be fragile to prediction errors.”

This article explains why a new leadership is required and suggests that the introduction of information and communication technologies have led to an unprecedented change, making the reference environment complex and uncertain. This made the traditional leadership paradigm obsolete, made traditional skills insufficient and undermined the effectiveness of traditional learning models.

If traditional learning and skills are no longer necessary, at least not under the same terms as they have originally been, which skills have become necessary? Is it possible to acquire them and, if so, how? Or is it necessary to go beyond the traditional skills and develop new type of skills?

In a world that is constantly evolving, the risk is to over-invest in agility, that is, the ability to transform one’s organization quickly and efficiently as the environment changes, and to under-invest in quality content, indispensable to develop the depth, variety and contamination of thought that are fundamental to inspire and inform effective decision-making.

The leader of the future adopts an “open” approach to leadership, which does not neglect any dimension of the human and which integrates philosophy, literature, politics, anthropology, neuroscience, psychoanalysis, so to reflect, to the extent possible, the human nature in its entirety.

Information and communication technologies have produced an epochal change in the nature of the reference environment in which each of us operates, by making it complex and uncertain. This has made the traditional Leadership paradigm, originally developed for non-complex and risky contexts, obsolete and has given rise to a wide debate on which Leadership is necessary to navigate complex and uncertain environments.

There are two key features of information and communication technologies that are relevant to our analysis: on the one hand, these technologies have been pervasive and have been adopted on a large scale by all economic sectors; on the other hand, for the first time, they have created unprecedented social, labor and economic connections, by establishing interdependencies between individuals, companies and institutions.

Over time these connections and interdependencies have become numerous and widespread to the point that the reference environment became complex, that is, a system of individuals, companies and institutions, in which it is virtually impossible to understand how the existing interdependencies have influenced the evolution of the system itself and its participants to determine the current situation and how the system is likely to evolve in the future.

The complexity, in turn, has determined the emergence of uncertainty: the possible scenarios resulting from a high number of interdependencies cannot be exhaustively identified, nor, with reference to the identifiable scenarios, the probability with which they might occur can be quantified.

In these context, traditional leadership becomes inadequate because it does not offer suitable decision-making tools to manage complexity and deal with uncertainty. The traditional leadership approach is based on the learning of the reference context, which instead, if complex, does not lend itself to being comprehensively learned, and on the evaluation of risks, which instead are not quantifiable, as the context is uncertain.

The reference context of the new leadership is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA). A Leadership is needed that can operate in unpredictable environments where any attempt to learn the environment is doomed to fail: the environment, in fact, will constantly change due to the interdependencies between companies, individuals and institutions.

In particular, because of the interdependences, the changes affecting an individual will have repercussions and trigger cascade consequences on the rest of the environment, determining its continuous alteration.

Learning a context with these characteristics will end up being a never-ending pursuit, inevitably doomed to failure. If traditional learning and skills are no longer necessary, at least not in the same terms as they traditionally were, which skills become necessary? Is it possible to acquire them and, if so, how? Or is it necessary to go beyond the skills and develop another type of skills?

We address these and other questions in our blog, which is structured around the following thematic areas:

  • Innovation: we discuss how the adoption of new products, services, technologies, organizational structures and business models create new opportunities and threats, following a process of creative destruction, and identify new implications for Leadership theory;
  • Complexity and uncertainty: we analyze, in detail, a VUCA environment as a premise for defining a new Leadership paradigm;
  • Skills, Mindset and Future-Proof Skills: we illustrate how skills, mindset and traditional skills have become insufficient to navigate VUCA environments and introduce a new type of competence, the capability, and characterize it by drawing the key distinction with respect to other types of skills and abilities.
  • Social Emotional Skills And Coaching: we discuss the importance for the new Leadership of social and emotional intelligence supported by coaching skills. Coaching is a decisive factor in successfully implementing leadership in complex and uncertain contexts;
  • Education: we highlight how traditional institutional training, carried out by the schooling and university systems, while remaining indispensable, becomes increasingly insufficient for a leader who operates in complex and uncertain environments. We look into how international experiences have tackled the problem and what prospects for intervention have considered in order to solve it;
  • Leadership Culture: we discuss the various factors that characterize the leadership culture. By leadership culture we mean the ability of the leader to recognize, use and nurture many interdependent factors and be open to reconsider them in the light of emerging trends;
  • Leadership X.0: we characterize our Leadership X.0 as the leadership that allows us to effectively navigate VUCA contexts;
  • New Challenges and Emerging Trends: we select and comment on emerging trends that shape new scenarios and new challenges for the leader.

In these thematic areas new original elements will emerge with respect to the content currently offered by the leadership literature.

Our approach to leadership is “open”, that is, open to influences from different, but complementary, disciplines. We will go beyond the technical aspects. We will let ourselves be contaminated by humanistic aspects, drawn for example from philosophy, literature, politics, anthropology, neuroscience, and psychoanalysis. We will be inspired as much as possible by the human nature in its entirety. The leader of the future is the one that does not neglect any human dimension. His leadership will therefore not be merely confined to the technical aspects.

Finally, our blog believes that intellectual rigor is essential to ensure that the contamination is not only fertile but also sound under a scientific standpoint.

The authors of Leadership X.0 deploy and build upon different backgrounds, which combine technical and humanistic elements. We find that this contamination is generative and hope that our blog will become a platform through which contaminating and being contaminated by those that will want to provide new ideas, contributions and perspectives.