To Survive The Unexpected
Step2: The World as it Goes
Let’s take a deeper look at the uncertainty that next generation leaders will be confronting and make some hypotheses about what that means for leading successfully in that new context. Five factors are the most relevant here: the power of digitalization; what the global grid allows; environmental crises; resilience of democracy as a system and the blurring of traditional and accepted lines of authority. And of course, the incredible warning we’re getting from the COVID-19 crisis.
Technology has undergone an unprecedented revolution in both scale and speed. That revolution is still going on with an unprecedented rate of innovation due essentially to the emergence of digital technologies, algorithms and their current and future applications. These developments are transforming all sectors of activity and giving rise to giants, whose economic, political and societal impact is difficult to measure, but that are clearly reshaping a future that no one can predict. It’s as the same time frightening and essential: the use of IA and facial recognition have been key is mastering the COVID-19 pandemic in China and Korea, two countries who seem to have done better than other. No doubt that after this crisis, remote teaming and use of communication technologies will become day to day life in management interactions.
No one can imagine what this technological infrastructure and the artificial intelligence that drives it might do next when we consider that Facebook has access to billions of potential consumers with a single click and recently announced the launch of a new currency on the market! How will Crispr CAS9 and the like allow us to genetically modify living organisms, including humans? Who will regulate this? What will happen to traditional merchant sectors when Amazon, who originally just sold books on line, and PayPal, the inventor of an online payment system, become key players in the aerospace sector (SpaceX, Blue Origin), the automotive industry (Tesla) and artificial intelligence? What will happen to standards of privacy when non-merchant players, such as Facebook or LinkedIn, suddenly become political weapons (cf the Cambridge Analytica scandal) or radically reconfigure the recruitment market. Exempt as they are from anti-trust laws because they don’t sell anything to their clients (access is free), can they be regulated at all?
No one ever predicted the magnitude of this hurricane. And today it’s only been two decades!
In this context companies face a strategic challenge that is even more complex because the field is swamped under a thick fog. In this rapidly digitalizing world, leaders are groping for direction and reformulating their strategies as they try to free themselves from cognitive biases inherited from the past. Not an easy task.
The Global Grid
Whether peaceful or violent, globalization is here to stay. It would be absurd to even think about challenging its underlying structure, the Global Grid. Cables, satellites, antennas and relays are here to stay, as are global transport facilities. Global interactions will continue and increase.
Globalization has brought about a significant reduction in world poverty along with increasing possibilities for consumption and higher welfare benefits. New economic powers have emerged. But globalization is also responsible for violent culture shocks by bringing into direct contact human groups who have different, even contradictory, visions of the world, different value systems and different societal practices (exercise of power, gender equality, recognition of minorities, rituals, expectations etc.).
Traditionally distant or separated, these groups are now in direct contact, or geographically mixed, leading to opportunities for some but also to the frustration or potential violence that we all see in the news every day.
The media and social networks are forging world public opinion and have played a decisive role in the sometimes-violent population movements that the world has experienced over the past decade. They have made organized and spontaneous protest movements, boycotts, witch-hunts and political manipulation part of our new daily reality.
What impact will all of this have on day-to-day working environments? In terms of leadership, the leader of today and tomorrow can no longer rely on a comfortable and accepted vertical hierarchy of power. They must learn to deal with forms of horizontal associations that are difficult to anticipate, and that constitute real internal counter-powers.
Global warming, pollution, biodiversity and health problems have increased fear and paranoia that the press and social networks report and amplify. In addition, generational disruptions reinforce underlying anxiety about the future of societies. Unfortunately, a moment when everyone is conscious of these global issues, multilateralism has weakened, and no global decision-making mechanisms exist to tackle them in a binding and meaningful way. The COVID pandemic is demonstrating how countries could in some cases turn in on themselves and abandon all international solidarity.
Individual or local measures will have no significant overall effect other than assuaging the guilt feelings of social and local political actors. After all, no one questions that the economic, migratory, economic, health and strategic consequences of environmental change are catastrophic. Many modern states, but not all of them, have responded to this threat by proposing a set of initiatives aimed at raising public awareness. But they are non-binding.
The ability of companies to absorb and monitor this transition is a major argument in favor of agility, while the impact of migrations on culturally and economically destabilized societies makes managing cultural differences and ensuring sustainable social harmony an increasingly sensitive issue.
Many leaders, even today, refuse to acknowledge that they have a “political” role to play that goes beyond their economic mission. But since their personal success is often linked more to their P&L than to their contributions to a better world, they generally arbitrate in favor of numbers. In any case, few leaders have been trained in these global, political issues and they often choose the easy way out and delegate to subordinate functions a political and social responsibility that is above all theirs. This will have to change.
The Whimper of Democracy
The Western democratic model -historically based on its Judeo-Christian, Roman and Hellenistic roots, Renaissance humanism, the Declaration of Human Rights and multilateralism- is challenged today, most of all by China. This country of 1.6 billion people has demonstrated that, contrary to traditional thought, a politically authoritarian government and economically liberal policies can successfully coexist without automatically evolving towards democracy. Things are similar in large parts of the world: Russia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, part of Asia and Africa and they challenge the liberal Anglo-Saxon idea that democracy is the consequence of free markets. Does this mean we in Western democracies should expect to return to vertical authority, based on overdeveloped means of control now made possible thanks to the collection of group and personal data? Or can the Western version of democracy survive the disruptions that are at work today?
The same questions challenge large corporations. Should we expect to see tightening technology-based vertical means of command and control in companies that, in any case, have never really been democracies? Or should we expect to see more and more minority “cells” and individuals clamoring for autonomy, recognition and consideration they claim they have never had? These two trends seem to be developing at the same time.
We believe that tomorrow’s leaders will be those who can broaden the range of skills, behaviours and values that underpin their role. The variety of situations they will have to face requires a wide variety in their ability to respond.
The Blurring of Authority
The “institutions” that traditionally embodied authority and regulated violence and social emotions have all been questioned, challenged and finally largely undermined one after the other: family, school, local governing bodies, States, trade unions, religions, etc. Today, for better or for worse, all the emotions previously channeled through these institutions circulate freely and unchecked on social networks.
Corporations, although not democratic, have nevertheless adapted their operating methods over the past thirty years through increased participation of the workforce and improved work environment, conditions and safety. Will this prevailing trend continue even as we see an opposite trend in China, Eastern Europe and even the United States, with power and control exercised in even more coercive ways thanks to new technologies? At the same time, companies are now confronting the same societal and moral debates that are at the heart of public conversations: sexual orientation, gender, race, environment, biodiversity, historical legacy, etc.
Without the traditional power structures to support them, leaders will need to find ways of building credibility and legitimacy based not on their hierarchical rank and power but on the genuine support and commitment of those they lead.
In STEP 3: the dilemma game, we’ll have a look at some of the main dilemma that any leader will face in a more and more complex world and environment.
Have a look at Step 1 Leadership definition
ICM Associates (Paris) is a member of the PAWLIK Consultants (Hamburg)
 GAFAM / BATX
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