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  • Writer's pictureDr. Ja-Nae Duane

Reimagining the Future-Ready Leader

a future-ready business leader in front of tech screens
Image generated by Revolution Factory using MidJourney

Leaders I work with are increasingly concerned with global uncertainty and what that means for their organization. The pandemic provided a real-time stress test of the global economic order and it was not pretty. The supply chain became a household name and CEOs at premier corporations found themselves scrambling to craft an ideal remote work strategy, mitigate supply chain disruptions, and develop comprehensive contingency plans for everything and anything.

In the post-pandemic environment, leaders are working to build teams and systems that can withstand the next black swan event. Yet even as the world shifts toward a post-pandemic normalcy, massive geopolitical conflicts threaten businesses in a myriad of ways. At the end of 2023, shipping and logistics firms suspended operations at the southern entrance of the Red Sea. The impact of this crisis will be felt for some time.

Given what we are all up against, it’s no surprise that many of my clients admit to “less than optimal” confidence, especially when facing tomorrow’s uncertain business complexities. Part of becoming future-ready involves shifting your thinking about what future-ready leadership is and what it demands of us.

Let’s take a look at how you can achieve future-readiness by forecasting your future impact, cultivating a future-ready leader mindset, and developing future-ready leaders in your organization.

Forecasting Your Future Impact

Neuroscience has demonstrated intriguing neural correlates of human imagination. Our brains’

default mode network (DMN), a set of brain regions, lights up when we imagine the future. The DMN appears to have two sections, one correlated with constructing a future scenario and one correlated with evaluating how good or bad that scenario would be. This can actually be quite intimidating for leaders that I work with. But what we have discovered is that working with executives in this way has not only benefited them personally but also enhanced organizations' preparedness for the future.

There is an ongoing debate between biologists and physicists. Most biologists believe that our perceptions represent objective reality while most physicists believe they do not. As the cognitive psychologist Donald Hoffman put it: “Current theories of perception often disagree about which true properties are reported, and about how the reports are generated, but they all assume to be true what physicists have discovered to be false—that objects in spacetime are fundamental.”

It is as if we are wearing a VR headset and playing a video game. We have to take it seriously, but we shouldn’t take it literally. This is Hoffman’s Fitness Beats Truth (FBT) theorem, which he is adamant to show only applies to our perceptions of states of the world. Other cognitive abilities, such as math and logic, appear to be reliable. This is why my Adaptive Scenario Planning is so effective.

When I get executives to envision best and worst case scenarios, what they are doing is conjuring up potential states within the adaptive fiction they inhabit. Using math and logic allows us to then analyze those states for interlinks, patterns, risks, advantages, opportunities, and value. We free ourselves from overwhelming constructs such as “the objective reality” of their industry and narrow our focus to their corporation’s fitness; its survival and reproduction.

The most effective leaders are able to go from thinking about the future to developing a mindset that is inherently future-ready.

Cultivating a Future-Ready Leader Mindset

The cornerstone of the future-ready leader is a well cultivated, adaptive, future-forward mindset. This mindset must inform all that we do. You must embrace moving from resilience to antifragility; not just preparing for change but leaning into change and getting stronger from it.

The future-ready leader also empowers their people to thrive and capitalize on rapid change rather than just defend against it. And it is imperative to always be thinking honestly about continuous improvement across the individual, team and cultural levels. This is how we thrive during black swan events.

All of this is underpinned by honesty. We must be honest with ourselves and honest with each other. And we must create a corporate culture that promotes and rewards it. An honest culture is one in which people are always comfortable to suggest (and admit to) areas for improvement through open and transparent communication.

Consistent communication around improvement fosters a growth mindset and keeps your teams open to enhancing current skills and processes while onboarding new ones.

Developing Future-Ready Leaders in Your Organization

A CEO I work with has a supply chain manager on his team who never went to college. After graduating high school, she took an entry level receptionist job at a global corporation. She was good on the phone, so management began pulling her to cover customer service reps during lunch breaks. She seamlessly shifted from the soft skill of communication to the hard skill of customer service.

It wasn’t long before she was suggesting minor software improvements, then implementing new systems, then building teams, then building factories. Now she runs supply chains for all of North America, has “unlimited vacation,” and never flies scheduled. She is the very embodiment of future-ready.

She showed up on the CEO’s radar before he joined the executive team (while he was working in sales). She was always contributing novel ideas in team meetings with sales, product design and M&S. When he became CEO, she was one of his first promotions.

He is a leader who deeply understands that the truly future-ready leader commits to nurturing other future-ready leaders across their organization by developing their ability to adapt to the unseen demands of an uncertain future.

Let’s explore a few strategies and best practices for nurturing future-ready leaders.

Enhance Adaptability Through Well-Being

Adaptability is a critical success factor during periods of transformation and systemic change. However, the times you need to adapt can be very stressful and incentivize falling back on past practices.

Your well-being is important. If you let yourself get burned out, you’ll be lost when the time to pivot and adapt comes. Our supply chain leader takes time to volunteer at her children’s school every week. She’ll step away from the bake sale to pull a report or put out a fire, but she makes it a point to prioritize time with family.

Her well-being is foundational to her success. It allows her to keep learning, keep developing relationships with her people, and keep adapting on demand. Her CEO has learned this lesson from her.

He was a typical workaholic who struggled with stress and tensions in other areas of his life, especially family. But once he accepted that focusing on his well-being is acceptable, he was able to focus on a holistic approach to life. He makes sure to prioritize time to take in his son’s baseball games and his daughter’s cheer competitions. He might step away to take a phone call or shoot an email (he is the CEO), but then he happily goes back to the sidelines.

Lead With a Proactive Approach

Before the pandemic, 75% of Americans ranked their boss as the most stressful part of their job. My CEO colleague’s supply chain leader recognizes the need for active managerial control and leader-driven accountability. But she also recognizes that you want your employees to perform, not just conform.

She welcomes suggestions, because she built her career by making good suggestions and committing to leadership strategies that leverage diversity, promote coaching, and train employees on how to proactively adapt to change. Her CEO also supports this approach and applies it as well. Similarly, the company’s top people do the same with their respective teams.

Future-ready leaders always lead by example and recognize that good employees will emulate them. You can’t generate all the good ideas. Inspire your people to start thinking about the future differently and generating them, too.

Prioritize Ongoing Skill and Competency Development

Leaders need to understand how technology can be leveraged for growth and efficiency. You don’t need to be a tech expert, but you do need to stay on top of emerging technologies and commit to developing emotional intelligence, ethical decision-making skills, and cultural readiness for rapid change.

Our supply chain mastermind picked up the future-ready mindset so fast in part because she had already mastered key soft and hard skills. She had the soft skills of leadership, communication, and problem-solving and the hard skills of customer service, sales, and accounting locked down. Her CEO was the top hot shot in sales so he recognized her affinity for it.

He introduced her to my Adaptive Scenario Planning. She used that to realize the massive benefits of shortening and distributing her supply chains. The CEO then practiced what he’d been preaching and used the same Adaptive Planning Scenario to launch new products through the streamlined supply chain system.

Take Steps to Become Future-Ready

You do not become future-ready overnight to be successfully prepared for what’s to come. Fortunately, it is not solely dependent on luck, either. The path to reimagining what being a leader of the future involves forecasting your future impact, cultivating a future-ready mindset, and striving to develop future-ready leaders within your organization.

That path is often dimly lit, so I have developed strategies and tactics that can bring clarity and focus for leaders that are unsure about the way forward.

Let's redefine what it means to be a leader of the future together. Contact me and my team for training and support to help you navigate the changing business landscape.

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