In 2018, DDI, The Conference Board, and EY conducted their 8thGlobal Leadership Study. More than 28,000 leaders at all organizational levels, in dozens of sectors, and from across the world were surveyed, including 1,500 C-Suite executives. The results were both stunning and telling. Of those highest-ranking leaders, 84% described the environment in which their organizations operate and compete as “increasingly disruptive.” The 84 percent figure is striking enough, but what’s truly breathtaking is this: for over a decade and in more than a dozen similar leadership surveys, that percentage has been in the same extraordinary zone and on the rise. Indeed in a 2017 PwC CEO study, 82% confessed that the landscape was not simply disruptive, but more accurately unpredictable. The upshot is this: The road ahead for leaders not only doesn’t look like the leadership paths of the past, it requires a new view of leadership.

The good news is there’s an outline to what the future of leading looks like. 3 things in particular stand out:

  1. Leadership is a team sport. The first lesson is this: those 1,500 C-Suite leaders simply cannot succeed without the rest of the 28,000 leaders spread across all other parts of the organization. Leadership in the 21stcentury isn’t just a team sport, in this new and volatile environment, leadership must bloom into its truest definition - as a capacity, not a title, a capacity every human being possesses.
  2. Culture is the true difference maker. When it comes to leadership in the current hard to predict atmosphere, to be truly effective leadership cannot be left to simple roles, job descriptions, and hierarchies. It must become the mindset of doing that permeates the culture. Every single person in each and every organization must be taught, encouraged, rewarded, and given room to step up. Title and rank must serve shared purpose, not the other way around. And the evidence is clear that leadership as a cultural mindset thrives best on a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives, especially in fulfilling another ubiquitous need: the need to be adaptable and capable of innovating perpetually.
  3. To succeed, you’ve got to dump the old lens. Even with near universal agreement about the amplified importance of leadership, those in top leadership positions are concerned about a lack of leaders in and across their organizations. While they may in some respects be rightfully concerned, to a large degree it may just be that they’re using the wrong lens for assessing leadership depth. Many leaders operate under well-worn definitions of what it means to lead and what a leader looks like. This is in fact their greatest limitation. In truth, it’s an error we all make. Our natural tendency, born of decades of seeing leaders as singular, heroic, and all capable, is to equate leadership with the leader. That never was an accurate lens, but its faults are now glaring and risky.

Seeing leadership as a team sport and a cultural imperative is an important starting point for shifting our view of leadership in total. But most vital of all is to recognize leadership for what it is: a capacity. No position, no power, no title - all things we closely associate with leaders - will ever change the fact that without the practiced capacity to lead, those other things are inevitably valueless. It’s a cold hard truth that every imaginable kind of team or organization is facing these days, as the world spins ever faster and ever wobblier on its axis. The good news is, there are a lot of people available to meet the challenge.

Published on: May 23, 2019
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