Despite what the media is telling us, it is a mistake to think that sustainability, hybrid working, mental wellness and so on are our top priorities. We are unlikely to move the needle in any of these important spheres if we do not have capable leaders.
The crisis we face is that very few leaders are equipped to handle these issues and the broader challenge of engaging effectively in an increasingly chaotic world. The business schools and academies tasked with developing the next generation of leaders are still largely using a legacy cookie cutter designed for more innocent times.
Mastering administration was important when business success was based on a well-run factory. But it is the antithesis of what is needed in a highly unpredictable battlefield, where the organisation is focused on surviving today, rather than meeting its quarterly forecasts.
I assert that we need to revisit leadership and thus propose the idea of intelligent leadership.
By intelligent, I am not referring to the ability to solve cryptic crosswords or out logic your adversaries. Intelligent organisms are focused on survival and energy management. This requires the ability to sense one’s environment, assess it for threats and opportunities and to then commit to energy expenditure accordingly. In short, intelligence requires emotional intelligence (sense), intellectual intelligence (decide) and physical intelligence (act).
On the ball?
By leader, I am not referring to someone who sits from time to time with a handful of peers in a well-appointed room to make decisions on behalf of everyone in the organisation. Imagine a football team captain who spends their time endeavouring to keep up with the ball primarily to be in a position to tell their team members what they should do when they have the ball. This is exhausting, unsustainable and unintelligent. In top tier football, the person closest to the ball is the captain and so leadership is contextual.
Leadership is not a role
In broader terms, the hierarchical command and control model of the traditional business world leads to sclerotic business decisions, missed opportunities and fumbled management of threats. Thus again, leadership needs to be decentralised and contextual. It could be argued that anyone who influences anyone else is a leader. Thus in an increasingly chaotic world, ubiquitous leadership trumps the industrial era centralised model.
AI + People
Increasingly novel situations are a natural consequence of the hyper-uncertain world we are entering. A focus on process engineering and costs efficiency isn’t going to cut it. Innovation is the only response. People are key to this. More specifically people augmented with new technology are key. Intelligent leaders understand how to blend natural and artificial intelligence to create value and make a positive impact.
Intelligent leaders build intelligent organisations, or more specifically intelligent organisms. Transformation is less about sprinkling your failing business model with tech pixie dust and more about developing a situationally aware organism that is smart enough to recognise opportunities and threats and to then act accordingly.
Implementing intelligent leadership will increase the likelihood of making a positive impact on the aforementioned issues, sustainability and so on. Unintelligent leadership will squander energy pursuing the wrong goals through inattention to the reality of the theatre in which they operate. Their cardinal mistake will be in underutilising the cognitive potential of their people.
Leadership needs a reset.