Leaders Make the Future by Sue Lebeck

images (2)(Originally posted at Sue Lebecks’s blog on www.innovatingsmart.org, May 24, 2011)

Great title, yes?  It’s not mine!  This title and the inspiring book behind it belong to Bob Johansen, Distinguished Fellow at the Institute for the Future.  The full title, published in 2009, is Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World Thought you’d read all the leadership books you’ll ever need?   Think again.

As Bob expresses in his opening lines:

We are entering a threshold decade…  [a VUCA world of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity.] Self-interest will not be enough: leaders will need to broaden their concept of self to include the larger systems of which they are a part… Traditional business leadership mandates won’t be enough.  Leaders must… embrace the shared assets and opportunities around them… This will be a very tough decade to be a leader, but it will also be a very exciting and meaningful time to lead, with the right set of skills and appropriate expectations.”

So, what are those new leadership skills for an uncertain world?

Today’s SMART innovation story, which is a visual revisit of the inspiring tale of Serious Materials (check out the just-completed video) includes evidence of several of these new essential leadership skills.  For example, the maker instinct is alive and well in Kevin Surace’s story.  Redirecting his Silicon Valley high tech experience and skills in the direction of clean tech, Kevin has gotten serious about becoming a Maker, developing products to help re-create the built environment.  The skill of clarity enabled him to see beyond the common and critical problems of fuels and transportation to focus on this much larger problem of buildings and materials.  An immersive learning ability has made him a quick study for the possibilities present, and an apparent adeptness for rapid prototyping and experimentation has enabled him and his team to realize many of those possibilities already.

In addition to these four potent skills, Bob’s book identifies the need for six other critical skills, and articulates them in fresh and clear language.   Key among these is dilemma flipping, the “ability to turn dilemmas — which, unlike problems, cannot be solved — into advantages and opportunities”.  The Institute for the Future’s Ten-Year Forecast (found on the inside cover of the book) reveals dilemmas everywhere.  Dilemmas lurk amidst competing social diasporas,  terrorism-redefined warfare, and the uber-expectations of baby-boomers (especially when juxtasuposed with the challenges posed by sustainability goals).   Dealing with these dilemmas will require the ability to “remake” a situation — “reimagining and making again.”

Close behind dilemma flipping, also fresh and important is the skill of bio-empathy —  the “ability to see things from nature’s point of view”.   “Bio-empathy is about seeing human activity as nested within envrionmental stability and vice versa.”  This necessary modern skill is applied, nurtured and propagated as a design and engineering lens through the further leadership of Janine Benyus and the Biomimicry Guild and Institute she has built.

Constructive depolarizing and quiet transparency round out a 21st century leader’s artfulness kit — moving minds and building trust along the way.  Finally, smart mob organizing and commons creating are among today’s power tools, helping leaders to engender their leadership principles at scale.

Leaders make the future indeed.  How are you a leader?  What is the future you are making?  We would love to hear your story.


Sue Lebeck is an innovation management specialist working to advance smart, sustainability-driven systems. A researcher, product management and development specialist and innovation manager, Sue brings her diverse background in software, psychology, media and collaboration to the work of sustainability innovation.

Through the GotSMART? suite of services, Sue offers internal research and communications services to her clients’ leadership and marketing functions; assists initiative leaders in mapping their sustainability-driven stakeholder needs to technology requirements; and facilitates the implementation process.  With GotSMART? smart leaders get the extra support they need.