The picture in the leader’s rearview mirror is crystal clear. It’s easy to see where we’ve been and have greater understanding of yesterday’s issues. Looking back on the last several years of events and trends in organizational leadership, it is fair to say that today’s successful leaders have earned their stripes. The breadth and complexity of issues that leaders have navigated has been truly daunting at times. If you are leading what is presently a healthy organization, chances are that you have, or are developing mastery of leading in the midst of four great challenges:
Four Great Leadership Challenges
1. Dealing with horrible economic conditions. The Great Recession has has a profound impact on your organization regardless of its size or sector. The global financial picture has touched everyone and impacted your decisions related to strategy, personnel, R&D, operations, … Leaders who have navigated these challenges have learned a whole new “calculus” for strategic planning and decision making.
2. Dealing with an increasingly diverse workforce and customer base. We don’t live in a Leave It To Beaver-world any longer. We do not all look the same, think the same, or value the same things. In the past ten years, the most profound changes in diversity are tied to ethnicity, religion, and sexuality. These elements have changed the nature of our workforce at its very core. These changes are equally prevalent in those whom our organizations serve. I know of few leaders who have mastered leadership in this area, but we are learning. (By the way, a common thread among leaders doing well in this dimension is that they know how to show love and respect for every individual based on their God-given value, regardless of how they are “different.”)
3. Dealing with rapid changes in technology. For some of us, this is a fun challenge. I’m one of the leaders who embraces and enjoys changes in how we lead that are based on changing technology. Many leaders struggle with this, though. Either way, there’s no denying that technology has changed how we communicate; our ability to gather, store, and analyze data; the ability to have a global workforce and customer base; potential to solve previously unsolvable problems (think medicine);…and more. Each of these changes how we lead. There are also downsides to rapid changes in technology. Today’s decisions and plans can become obsolete tomorrow. People often relate better to screens today than to other people. (Ten of the 14 people in the room where I am right now are looking at computer screens rather than at other people.)
4. Perhaps the most profound and subtle challenge is the shift away from self-reliance and toward dependence on others. (This is largely a Western phenomenon. My readers are mostly American, but I would like to hear from those of you in Asia, Europe, and Africa for your view on this point.) When I say “self-reliance” I am not expressing a humanist leaning. I am not placing the ability of man to solve his problems above our dependence on God. I am referring to one of the traits of American culture that helped to make this nation so great: that problems are best solved, first by individual effort, then reaching out to family, church, and the larger community. Historically, our culture has placed great value on this micro-to-macro approach. In the past several decades, this has slowly shifted to a macro-only approach. The resulting effect is a growing dependency culture (or an entitlement mindset). This has pervaded organizational life and leadership, too.
What Lies Ahead?
What about tomorrow? What great leadership challenges are bubbling at the surface that will become the great challenges of the next decade or two? I would like to hear from you about that. Think carefully about what you are seeing in the news. Listen to the concerns and fears people have today. Look for the cultural “freight trains” that are running down the tracks. Post a comment or send me your ideas.
I’ll tip my hand a bit and tell you that my radar is tuned to two particular issues that will have a profound impact on leading organizations in the near future. Leaders who are watching the development of these issues will be better prepared to lead through these challenges. (Read Part II of this series to find out more.)
Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.
Photo “crossroads” by fsse8info. Available at Flickr.com.