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Gustin Partners | July 19, 2013 |

Leading in an Age of Perpetual Change

By Thornton May
Futurist, Senior Advisor with GP, Executive Director & Dean - IT Leadership Academy

Many participants in our global economy frequently conflate the terms “leadership” and “management.” We know that leadership and management are fundamentally different things. We know that if asked to, we could parse the Global 2000 into four buckets:

Organizations that are well managed
Organizations that are well led
Organizations that are both
Organizations that are neither

Most would agree that the bucket with the least number of enterprises in it would be the “Well led” AND “Well Managed” bucket.  No surprise there.

Over-Managed & Under-Led
Research conducted at several universities and a variety of think tanks suggests that there are significantly more organizations that are “well managed” than “well led.” I think this means that many organizations are – with great efficiency – going nowhere.

It is important to note and probably a significant causal variable contributing to the situation at hand that the vast majority of business schools in operation today were founded as schools of management [i.e., a curriculum focused on how to do things]; not schools of leadership [i.e., a curriculum focused on determining what things to do]. This is a concern as all auguries indicate that we have entered a “What are we going to do?” kind of era.

An Anachronistic Skill & Mind Set

In 2004, then U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld created a stir when he opined, "As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They're not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time."

The question for organizations with high performance aspirations is – are you going to war with the army [i.e., the executives] you want? Do they have the skills and attitude you need to win? What are you going to do to make sure you have the talent pool you need to be successful in the environment going forward?

Leadership is all about CHOOSING Change, NOT Managing Change

Leadership involves choosing the change you want to happen and then creating an environment which allows that change to happen while management involves optimizing the use of resources at the various points of the journey toward the chosen change. I consider leadership to be a higher level skill set than management because it deals with the intangibles of dealing with uncertainty, courage and meaning making. Both skills – leadership and management -are important and essential to high performance.

Getting the Change Narrative Right

As an anthropologist I am naturally drawn to stories. When one examines the “stories” being told about change today one continually collides with a dysfunctional MACRO master narrative. This is the MACRO change story championed by BIG STAGE, BIG BUCK, best-selling authors  who repeatedly, expensively and unhelpfully tell us that “the Industrial Age is over;” “a new world is coming;” and “the old ways of doing things no longer work.” This message lost its relevance about fifteen years ago.

My former boss, futurist Alvin Toffler was one of the first public intellectuals who surfaced the idea that change had changed. In his forty-three years young bestseller Future Shock [1970], Al detailed the condition in which many organizations find themselves in today - "too much change in too short a period of time."

Clark Kerr, the change-embracing president at UC-Berkeley during the tumultuous 60’s [1958-1967] foresaw a future in which the status quo would NEVER be good enough. As a pragmatic operating executive President Kerr realized that, "The status quo is the only solution that cannot be vetoed," meaning that the status quo cannot simply be decided against; action must be taken if it is to change.

THE Leadership Question

In the 21st century, the biggest requirement of CEOs is to prepare their organizations to thrive in an environment of perpetual change. This will require changing how the enterprise thinks about change. This will require an entirely new language for talking about change.


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