World Economic Forum:: New Models of Leadership–John Maeda

John Maeda is President of the Rhode Island School of Design and is a Member of the Global Agenda Council on New Models of Leadership.

As far as I can recall, I first came across the name of John Maeda from this beautifully succinct quote:

“Openness simplifies complexity”

A decent introduction to anyone, I think you’ll agree. Particularly when you have spent years trying to convey the need for and merits of TRANSPARENCY; the costs associated with AMBIGUITY and risks created by excessive COMPLEXITY.

John Maeda is President of the Rhode Island School of Design and is a Member of the Global Agenda Council on New Models of Leadership.

Discussions this year from the Global Agenda Council on New Models of Leadership culminated in a white paper, which describes a set of competencies for leaders in the 21st century. A central thesis of our work is the need for leaders to be agile in what are increasingly volatile and complex times.

The neatly ordered organizational hierarchy we were all accustomed to has become disrupted by the flattening effect of social media…

The link to the full white paper is above but I was particularly interested in the following extracts as they reinforce a vital message that has been, too often, pushed down the agenda by those who see such change as a threat. However, if leaders struggle to see that a move toward a Systems Thinking approach is in the best interests of the organisation, their co-workers, society and the planet perhaps the agenda isn’t  shared or as well understood as it ought to be!?

…the world today is far more interconnected and dynamic, as well as increasingly complex and globalized. These changing parameters require new thinking about how leaders operate in complex and flexible ecosystems, beyond traditional models such as matrixes or hierarchical structures.

Consequently, some of the parameters that this Council set out to explore included: (1) emotional intelligence, values and behaviours; (2) organizational change; (3) people management that sparks creativity and innovation; (4) new technologies and social media; (5) inspirational models

…the above parameters were discussed and refined and members agreed on a series of factors that would affect the leadership context in the coming decades:

  • The demographic shift, and in particular the increasing importance of Gen Y, who seem to want a different way of being and working that is increasingly clashing with old models of hierarchy and authority. Leaders are perceived as curators of knowledge and information, projecting authority and command by virtue of their expertise and not their position. The importance of Gen Y is also placing greater important on the role of followers as opposed to leaders.
  • The capacity of social media and technology to join up the world at speed and with an extraordinary transparency of ideas and data. This has implications on traditional command-and-control leadership (as many rather than few have access to knowledge) while bringing a level of transparency that creates real opportunities for authenticity to be demonstrated and revealed. It will also shift the focus of leaders increasingly to the influencing and shaping of virtual communities and the building of alliances.
  • While the forces of globalization have created complex interdependencies and turbulence, they bring to the fore the capacity of leaders to manage diverse communities and indeed to create inner calm in times of great stress. Globalization is fostering the emergence of ecosystems where value is distributed rather than held within a single company. It is also pushing leaders into increasingly complex decision-making environments in which focus and attention as well as self-awareness and mindfulness will be key if they are to operate successfully.
  • At the same time, Big Issues are arising, such as poverty and climate change, which are seen to be global rather than political issues and which will require leaders to deeply understand multi-stakeholder agreement and action, and indeed have a deep sense of the challenge at hand and the necessary revolutionary transformation that is needed to succeed. Applying complex systems thinking to be able to recognize the interdependencies of our actions and relationships and to avoid producing unintended consequences will be key factors going forward.
  • In a world where resources are more scarce – and where leaders will be called upon to be aware of this and, indeed, to act upon it.

Further recommended reading from the white paper: Values in Decision-making

“Companies are not really machines, so much as complex, dynamic, growing systems. After all, companies are really just groups of people who have banded together to achieve some kind of purpose…"

Dave Gray, Author “The Connected Company”


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