“Change is the law of life” – so said John F Kennedy and, “those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”  The ability to change – or what can be referred to as ‘adaptive intelligence’ is I believe the most important of all leadership attributes. Leading in this connected and complex world presents new challenges for those in leadership – along with many of the other challenges that have already been well documented. The pace of change has never been what it is today.  Although change has always been part of the DNA no matter what era you choose to focus on, it is the exponential rate at which it is accelerating that makes this era unique. In essence this means that leaders and organisations need to not only recognise this new reality but also intentionally develop coping mechanisms and skill-sets that will help ensure that they don’t ‘miss the future’.

Here are four things that you as a leader can do to ‘future-proof’ yourself and your organisation:

  1. Understand change is first and foremost an attitude. Thinking about the context intelligently and asking the right questions are the forerunners to taking good action. Cultivating the right attitude towards change is necessary in order to follow that through when it comes to actually making the change.
  2. Get the balance right as to where your attention is focused. Whilst you might need to begin to think like a futurist, an appreciation for the past and where you have come from is also important.  Driving involves looking not only in front of you at the terrain ahead but also occasionally looking in the rear-view mirror. Both are important for perspective and having a balanced perspective is critical in today’s context.  Of course the trick is not to become trapped by the past and especially by past success.
  3. Understand that the rules pertaining to information have changed. Information is to change what an engine is to a car. Where we get our information, how we get it and store it and how it is disseminated have all been revolutionised by advances in technology and computing. The Cloud, mobile devices and augmented reality all contribute to making this revolution either a threat or an opportunity. Whatever it is to be, one thing is for sure: things are different! So much of the leader’s engagement with this shift in reality comes down to mind-set before issues of skill-sets need to be focused on.
  4. Understand that adaptive challenges require new learning. Much of what confronts you as a leader today can be described as ‘adaptive challenges’. An adaptive challenge means ‘knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do’. The reality facing those in leadership is that you increasingly are encountering situations unlike those previously encountered. In such situations new learning is required. This is why it is so important that both individuals and organisations work intentionally at being learners. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that because your organisation runs a host of learning and development programmes that learning is assured! In many instances such activities are long overdue a revision as to their real impact and effectiveness. However, learning is simply not optional if you are to thrive into the future. We all learn differently and leaders need to take responsibility for not only your own learning but also that of your organisation. Many leaders I know make guest appearances at the opening of such programmes, say a few predictable words and that is about the sum total of their participation and investment in the learning process. Abe Lincoln’s words sound a warning.  In 1862 he said, “The certainties of the quiet past are inadequate for the stormy present.  As our situation is new so we must think anew and act anew.”

JFK was right: change is the law of life. It is a law that needs to be understood if leaders are to be sure of not ‘falling on the wrong side of it’ for if you do – the future will not be kind to you!

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