Embracing The Known Unknowns - Future Leadership For An Uncertain World

Do you remember where you were on New Year’s Eve,1999? Wherever you were on that night, imagine if someone asked you what leadership would look like today?

what would you have said?

It was impossible to predict then, that in 2021 our business leaders would be contending with the tail end of a decade of austerity, the exiting of the UK from the Economic Union, the beginnings of the fourth industrial revolution with Industry 4.0, all whilst negotiating their business and their people through a global pandemic.

Back then, Google was a one-year-old business, and the Y2K bug was the ominous threat for the year 2000. Social media didn’t exist, Facebook was still 5 years away. The Blackberry phone was just released, and a new product called Bluetooth technology had just launched. But even then, in November 1999 at the Confederation of British Industry Conference in Birmingham, Professor Gary Hamel, Harvard research fellow, addressed the room with a warning that the new information age threatened every business in the room, and that businesses would need to reinvent their leadership to adapt to what lay ahead.

And adapt we have. It’s hard to recollect the extent of the changes businesses and leaders have experienced since then. Consider these striking changes from some of the largest global businesses over that time. Netflix used to be a business that sent DVDs by mail. Amazon used to just sell books. Siemens shifted from energy and industrial manufacturing into digitalisation. Fuji Film was a traditional photography business and is now a major global medical imaging company. There are plenty more examples of fundamental changes in business like this.

Behind each of these business transformations is robust leadership. Leadership that has not just weathered the storm of two decades of change, but thrived in it.

So here we are in 2021, future-gazing toward the next ten or twenty years. Arguably, we are experiencing more turbulent times than those experienced in recent decades. We roll our eyes every time someone uses the word ‘unprecedented’ lately, but that’s because the extraordinariness of our current experience has outpaced our vocabulary to describe it.

Undoubtedly, these current challenges will impact business leaders for the foreseeable future, principally the flow on and fallout from the pandemic. Reinvigorating businesses, particularly those in hard-hit sectors continues to be a major challenge. So too is the fundamental shift to home working. What will the workplace of the future look like and how do leaders go about building a culture to fit these changes? In addition, the expansion of Industry 4.0 will increasingly impact businesses into the future in ways probably yet to be seen.

The challenges for leaders through these situations include:

  • Psychological changes of the pandemic and the subsequent flow-on of a new ‘work from home’ mandate and the need to create a culture for a new, possibly hybrid workplace.
  • Physical changes, including new materials such as graphene, 3D printing, a new wave of robotics, and driverless technology.
  • Digital changes, including the sensors that underpin the Internet of Things, blockchain, artificial intelligence, and pervasive platforms.
  • Biological changes, including rapid reductions in the cost of gene sequencing and manipulation technologies such as CRISPR.
  • Potential climate change impacts including materials sourcing and costs to supply chains as well as broader social impacts.
  • Social shifts and changes in consumer consumption habits, including the desire for ‘instant purchase, immediate delivery, and exceptional service levels.

It’s vital for leaders to prepare for the future, to develop their skillset, behaviours, and mindset so that they continue to grow a productive, profitable business with a motivated, engaged workforce. So how can leaders begin to prepare?

assessing next-generation leadership. are you ready to create the future?

Your instinctive response may be that you wouldn’t be in leadership if you weren’t looking to create a strong future for your organisation. But desire and aptitude aren’t necessarily the same thing, and leaders may need to develop and moderate their personal leadership style if they are to successfully deliver new business models and differentiated experiences via a next-generation organisation.

what is a next-generation organisation?

 Quite simply, it’s a business whose leaders understand that they need to embrace intelligence, collaboration, and adaptability to deliver strategic innovation which will solve genuine problems, add real value to customers, and drive growth. Along the way, leaders must be prepared to sweep aside traditional boundaries, in their place promoting innovative methodologies including collaboration, empowerment, and flatter, more interwoven and interactive structures.

Next-generation organisations are a far cry from more traditional hierarchical structures and leading these organisations puts a premium on skills such as communication strategy, engagement, and risk. Most importantly, the transformation to a next-generation organisation starts with an understanding of where you are now in order to build a defined strategic pathway towards change.

Are you and your people ready to create the future? Do your people have the skills, behaviours, and capability to address the challenges and embrace the opportunities available through innovation?

The first step to prepare for the future is to do an assessment of your leadership capability, both your own and that of your team, to set a benchmark for where you are and where you want to be.

setting the course – changing leadership behaviours and mindsets

Successful change arises from the interdependence of behaviour and mindset.

It is possible to look to change behaviours alone, but unless an individual understands the reasoning behind the behavioural change and assimilates it into their mindset, then the chances of a lapse are high. Conversely, if your focus is simply on changing mindsets then your people may not have the tools to engage in the behavioural changes that the new mindset requires.

Mindsets are our set of thoughts and beliefs that shape how a person views the world and generally fall into two camps -fixed or changeable. The more fixed mindset will be less likely to change their way of viewing situations and challenges. Growth mindsets, on the other hand, have beliefs that adjust according to information. It’s obvious which kind of mindset a leader of the future will need.

Behaviours are the articulation of those thoughts and beliefs, how we express those things we believe in. The good news is leaders and their teams can be coached and developed for both.

it’s not me, it’s you. when resistance strikes

Even if a leader has a textbook growth mindset, dealing with change is often not a linear process, and everyone’s path to processing and managing change is different. Leaders and teams struggle at times to deal with the complex and ambiguous nature of the circumstantial change from out-of-control events (like a pandemic) as well as the planned transformation processes (like a digital transformation).

The key to dealing with resistance to change is in company culture. Culture and managing change are intertwined, so creating a culture where change is an expected and accepted part of your company life is a great start to the process. Then, embedding this culture so change is part of your every day, will bring it to life.

preparing for the future – core skills future leaders need

There are plenty of attributes that future leaders should have if you do a quick Google search. However, we have compiled a list of what we think are the key skills in order to future-proof leadership capability:

strategic It’s obvious, but strategic skills are critical for tomorrow’s leadership. And by strategy, we don’t mean business masterminds with a war games map on the board room table. Rather, strategic capability is about the cognitive capability to take a problem, break it into parts, analyse it, create scenario plans, test, and iterate. Ideally, an ability to do this collaboratively rather than hierarchically takes this skill out of the last century and places it into the future.

collaborative Collaboration in business is clearly not a new thing. Anyone who has watched an episode of Mad Men will know that even back in the 1960s Don Draper’s business world was collaborative in cracking the business challenges. But what he missed, and what places these skills in our list of future strengths, is diversity and inclusivity within the collaboration. Leaders who can create a broad culture of cross-business collaboration, rather than group think by mini-me’s, will set themselves up well for the future.

purpose driven Purpose can sometimes be a divisive topic. There are as many management theorists who profess the benefits of purpose-driven organisations as those that lambast it as a cynical exercise. But when talking about purpose in the context of leadership and culture, purpose is the alignment of your mission, vision, and objectives with your values and behaviours. It’s being clear about the ‘why’, in ‘why your business exists’. Leaders of the future need to be able to define and communicate a clear purpose and drive a culture that aligns that purpose with the day-to-day behaviours of the business.

embraces technology This one is really not negotiable. Future leaders must embrace technology. But this doesn’t mean you need to be the most digitally savvy person in the room with a social account on every channel and all the latest gadgets. But you do need a team around you who do, and you need to embed a digital culture, ensuring your organisation is open to emerging technology, aware of what’s coming down the track, and on the front foot of how next technologies will impact your customers and your business.

future-facing Again, this should be obvious, but leaders of the future need to be open-minded to the changes in the world, technology, business,s, and people. A leadership style stuck in the ‘we tried this, and it didn’t work’ or, ‘here are all the reasons why not’, isn’t going to set your business or your people up for future growth and high performance.

resilient Resiliency is probably the most useful skill of all for future leaders. Just like our view of the world in 1999, we really have no idea about what the future holds. And while in some areas like technology, we have a rough idea of where we are heading, none of us can truly predict the course. There are too many known unknowns. Some say resiliency is a character trait and not something you can train for, but that is simply not true. There is a range of coaching and development tools and processes to help leaders develop the skills that will allow them to cope with any scenario.

future proof your leaders with three steps

Future-proofing businesses, staving off disruptors, and delivering agile innovation requires a new type of leadership. Time and time again, research reveals that the key challenges facing today’s leaders include diversity, remote working, accelerated speed to market, flatter structures, automation, and technology.

This masterclass has been designed to provide an overview of the challenges facing tomorrow’s leaders and to explore some of the tools and techniques which leaders can use in order to future-fit their leadership approach. Additionally, this course will also be useful for existing team leaders who are looking to build their leadership skills to enhance group results and for individuals who seek to understand the skills they need in order to become future-fit leaders.


This one-day course explores 3 core areas:

  1. Defining the key challenges that industries and organisations face today to better understand external and internal influences, acting as a basis for change.
  2. Introducing the Leadership Challenge – a global programme to help individuals appreciate how their leadership approach can influence others.
  3. Developing strategies for building a future-proof culture, including diversity and inclusion initiatives, and the challenges that they can bring.

The course focuses on developing personal resilience, adaptability, and a growth mindset. Learn to manage setbacks, develop skills and techniques to become comfortable and in control in challenging situations. Learn to make decisions and implement solutions in a fast-paced environment, against time constraints and external and internal pressures. Spend time on a deep dive into your strengths and acknowledging when you’re not the best person for the job. Develop your critical thinking skills and intuition, to make sound judgments and better business decisions. 

  • managing today vs. leading the future

Learn how to cultivate a future-proof business approach whilst keeping your people on track to deliver today. Learn to spot and define your challenges at industry/sector and then organisational level. You’ll enhance your ability to scan the marketplace, identify trends and gain an in-depth understanding of external and internal influences on your business and your people. Learn how to be proactive, not reactive, by using your knowledge and experience to get ahead of the game and create change before it’s forced upon you. This course will help you to deliver existing skill sets and build new capabilities to ensure long-term viability, sustainability, and growth for your business.

  • the inclusive leader                                                                                                                                                   

This course develops your ability to solve complex problems by embracing diversity and build an inclusive work environment. Learn how to listen to and leverage the views, opinions, working styles, and backgrounds of your team to benefit your business outcomes. You’ll learn to recognise the important commercial advantages of having cognitive diversity in your team and understand what inclusivity really means on the ground and how to achieve it. You’ll develop the ability to recognise and challenge your own unconscious biases, and those of others. In an ever-changing marketplace, this critical skill will help you to foster genuine creativity and innovation. On completion of this course, you’ll be able to lead an inclusive team that innovates and gets results.

  • collaboration masterclass

The true strength for any next-generation leader will come from identifying the contribution and impact that they and those around them bring to the table. Internally, in your company through recruiting and developing the right talent as well as externally, helping you to leverage a collaborative mindset, cooperate with competitors, work across cultures, and navigate complex markets. This module will help you to move beyond standard networking and enhance your ability to build meaningful professional relationships. Learn how to recognise and challenge all the traditional barriers to collaboration, to arrive at a collaborative leadership style that supports innovation. You’ll develop an acute sense of self-awareness so that you can adapt your own leadership style. Your ability to collaborate will mean you can build a diverse and inclusive environment that taps into the intrinsic motivation of their people.

  • the conscious leader: people, planet, profit, purpose

Take your people with you as you strive for ethical business outcomes and make a positive impact on the world around you. You’ll learn how to implement an ethical culture and business strategy with ESG (Economic Social Governance) grounding. You’ll enhance your capacity for engaging your people in positive long-term behaviours, and understand the power of ethical leadership on the satisfaction and loyalty of customers, shareholders, employees, and the public. Develop an understanding of how your business impacts the planet, and how as an ethical leader you can deliver on both profit and purpose. Trust and authenticity are core components of this course: you’ll examine its importance within and outside your organisation, and consider the risks when trust is lost and your customers – and people – turn elsewhere.

  • the tech-savvy leader

There’s no escaping the advance of technology. It’s a powerful enabler for disruption in the marketplace. But information doesn’t always equal understanding. This module will give you the knowledge and tools to be technologically inquisitive; to understand the capabilities and boundaries of the tech that’s out there; and to collect and use meaningful data to benefit your customers, suppliers, critics, advocates, competitors, regulators. You’ll develop robust intelligence around technology by focusing on the skills, behaviours, and capabilities required to genuinely understand the world better. You’ll also build the ability to delve beneath the data to understand real wants, drivers, and needs in order to be able to unearth problems, opportunities, or ideas that will transform the business, your people, and your customers.

It’s time to embrace the known unknowns, by investing in your future leadership capability. Get in touch with us to discuss your coaching and development needs for your leaders, team, or individuals. human@cultureconsultancy.com or call  020 8088 2228