The Book Corner - Review

Leaders Make the Future by Bob Johansen

Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World

By Bob Johansen
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2009

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4 stars: Thought-provoking and intellectually stimulating materialBob Johansen, a PhD in comparative religion, is the former president and a current board member of the Institute for the Future (IFTF), an independent think tank that has produced forecasts, scenarios, and studies about the future for over 40 years.

Johansen argues convincingly that in a world of increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (what he calls the VUCA world), leaders must learn new skills in order to create a better future. His identification of the “Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World,” however, is less convincing as I believe an equal case could be made for other important leadership attributes.

Here is a brief summary of Johansen’s list:

  1. Maker Instinct: Leaders should approach their responsibilities with a commitment to build and grow their ideas and connect this energy with others.
  2. Clarity: Leaders should be clear about what they are creating, but be flexible about how it is accomplished.
  3. Dilemma Flipping: Leaders should turn problems that cannot be solved into opportunities.
  4. Immersive Learning: Leaders must be learners, especially by doing.
  5. Bio-empathy: Leaders understand, respect, and learn from nature
  6. Constructive Depolarization: Leaders must be able to calm tense situations and bring people from different backgrounds together for constructive engagement.
  7. Quiet Transparency: Leaders should be open and authentic about what matters without engaging in self-promotion.
  8. Rapid Prototyping: Leaders should work quickly to create early versions of innovations.
  9. Smart Mob Organizing: Leaders must create, engage, and maintain social networks.
  10. Commons Creating: Leaders should stimulate, grow, and nurture shared assets that benefit others.

The early section of the book was engaging and exciting. For me, however, it soon became heavy going. Johansen explains the “what” and the “why” in much more detail than the “how,” that is, how leaders or their firms can acquire, and should apply, these attributes.

And while the extensive use of IFTF projections is impressive, it leads to the concern that the 10 “new” skills are merely a reflection of what Johnansen and his colleagues have been working on. It would have been more compelling if he provided data to support the selection of these specific qualities.

If you accept the assertion that these are THE 10 keys to the future, however, you will enjoy the set of questions at the end of the book, which allow you to evaluate your level of competence with the new leadership skills.

Leaders Make the Future is thoughtful and worthwhile, but not the best work to come out of the Institute for the Future.

Full Disclosure: Graziadio Business Report Managing Editor Danielle L. Scott worked with the publisher Berrett-Koehler on Leaders Make the Future as a manuscript reviewer/editor.

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