To say that 2020 is a year of disruption and change is to understate the obvious. Changes anticipated to take years occurred in months and, in some cases, weeks and even days. Conditions for accelerating change have been building for years. Advancements in information technology, automation, human interconnectivity, Artificial Intelligence, and the network effects among them, have created a new reality where change is much more rapid, continual, and ubiquitous.
This three-dimensional (3-D) change is defining our emerging future. As a consequence, effective leadership will be defined by the ability to navigate this new reality. The problem is our models for leadership have not been built for this kind of 3-D change. Human minds evolved for thinking linearly and locally in the face of challenge, not exponentially and systemically.
A new form of leadership has emerged, better equipped to navigate this unprecedented kind of change. This new vision of leadership is known as Sapient Leadership. A Sapient Leader is characterized by being wise, sagacious, and discerning in navigating change while also being humane in the face of change that can often feel alien.
The four pillars that comprise Sapient Leadership are listed and described below:
1. Leader humility, authenticity, and openness instills trust and psychological safety.
In times of uncertainty, leaders often posture themselves, maximizing perception of power and control. Instead, Sapient Leadership highlights the need to build trust through openness, saying, “what this crisis has shown us is that the leadership style of ‘I know it all’ is not a good leadership style for this moment.
2. Trust and psychological safety empower individuals and teams.
3-D change amplifies our innate and evolved human tendencies to skew towards threat perception, anxiety, and divisiveness when experiencing stress and encountering ambiguity. Researchers have found that the most important factor associated with the highest performing teams was psychological safety. When team members feel safe to be vulnerable in front of one and to take risks, they perform at their best.
3. Continuously learning teams enable effective navigation of 3-D change.
In a world of 3-D change, no one person or organization can master all knowledge across all domains, no single person or organization can master enough skills in breadth, depth, or pace, to keep up. Instead, learning must be inspired by leadership, reinforced by culture, occur across a variety of domains, coordinated through the whole, and shared openly and actionably to create the broader picture.
4. Shared purpose and values enhance focus, cohesion, and resilience during 3-D change.
In times of 3-D change, which by its nature amplifies uncertainty and ambiguity, shared purpose and values increase organizational focus, enhance team cohesion, and amplify personal and collective resilience.
The Future of Leadership
Along with the myriad challenges it has brought, the singular realization of 2020 is that 3-D change is the new normal. Navigating perpetual, pervasive, and exponential change has become the quintessential test of effective leadership. Sapient Leadership enables the creation of perpetual, pervasive, and exponential capacity building necessary for handling 3-D change effectively.