Of course in today’s cynical, hard-pressed business environment, swallowing the prediction that relationships will be the economic return of tomorrow is a little like asking you to believe that bullets will one day bounce off vests made from the mixture of a spider’s thread and goats milk – right?
Wrong…very wrong!
Setting aside the bullet-proof vests notion as distracting trivia for now, let’s focus on the former assertion: that relationship will dominate the way in which we see and do business, the way we lead and manage companies into the future. Relationships will be a key economic measure and currency of the future.
One of the results emerging from the paradoxical worldview spawned by explorations into the subatomic world is that there exists a far greater “connectedness” in this world of ours than ever imagined possible. Previous distinctions and categories have crumbled under the evidence borne out through the quantum view of reality where relationship is the key determiner of everything.
The enticing invitation that the quantum worldview extends is that of beginning to see, understand and think about our organizations in such a way. The challenge for today’s leaders is to, as Margaret Wheatley, in Leadership and the New Science put it, “create organizations of process and relationships (organizations) which work more effectively in this relational universe”. Wheatley further states, “I have changed what I pay attention to in an organization. Now I look carefully at a workplace’s capacity for healthy relationships. Not its organizational form in terms of tasks, functions, span of control, and hierarchies, but things more fundamental to strong relations – We need to become savvy about how to foster relationships, how to nurture growth and development” (p39/40). She goes on to list the type of questions that should be asked within organizations in order to foster such development. This theme is expanded even further in her latest offering, turning to one another: simple conversations to restore hope in the future. (BK Publishers)

For most CEO’s this is virgin territory, one which requires discovering and /or creating a new set of reference points altogether. It involves learning a whole new language. Acquiring these navigation points and skills, difficult as they certainly are, will determine whether or not companies heading for tomorrow will thrive or forever be “lost at sea”.

Aside from this internal paradigm shift that astute CEO’s will be required to negotiate, is the other inescapable reality, that of the connectedness of the larger network in which business gets done. Levi Strauss CEO Robert Haas has described today’s world of business as being at the center of a, “seamless web of mutual responsibility and collaboration, a seamless partnership, with interrelationships and mutual commitments”.

The problem with this is that it is somewhat fuzzy and difficult to define, measure and control. There exists a sense of uncertainty about it all. A breakdown in the straightforward “cause and effect” type thinking and rationale that has previously governed business practice and impacted on strategic thinking and planning: If it is broken or not working we’ll simply fix it or replace it.

In this new understanding leaders can no longer be expected to know everything, control plans and processes and have all the answers. The emerging kind of leadership is one which suggests, envisages and points towards the new landscape and destinations. It is one which frames the relevant questions and in the course of the journey, tells the stories (communicates). In the future the label of, “storyteller” will become a comfortable tag for leadership. It is the type of leadership that flows from personal authenticity and is broadly distributed. It invites participation, engages in collective listening and exhibits the courage to create, to do what is required. It looks very different and indeed, is very different. Is it easy, a “soft-sell”? Certainly not! Can it be aped or mimicked? Yes, it can but only to a very limited degree. The environment in which it operates will soon expose such sham and pretence in the same way that personality can only cover for depth of character for a limited period only. Future leaders will grow and be called to lead out of the soil of an authentic life and character.

Kevin Kelly, executive editor of Wired magazine, and member of the Global Business Network, writes in Rethinking the Future that, “The network economy is reshaping and revolutionizing every sector of business” (p258). In this network economy, relationship forms the core organizing principle. It represents a fundamental shift in the way we think about the world and in how we understand relationship. To grasp this and begin translating it into tangible corporate practice is to plot true north in navigating the future.

So, how does one do this? How does the CEO take what has been described earlier as “fuzzy” and “difficult to define” and attempt to put handles on it or make sense of it in the midst of the treacherous currents in which leaders swim?

The next newsletter will endeavor to provide some practical suggestions, but for now perhaps it is best left for your reflection and contemplation.

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