In the early 90’s when we first started working with client organisations, a psychometric questionnaire to someone in a leadership position inevitably yielded the information that they were structured in their approach, control oriented and led from the front. Fast forward ten years, and in the same organisation leaders were now typically flexible, spontaneous, and leading through networks—the age of technology starting to impact. Roll forward another twenty years and you will not be surprised to see the modern organisation, it seems, is working in a chaotic, unpredictable, “post-conventional” environment and leaders’ personalities must reflect that.

Must they?

If you thought being ‘post conventional’ meant wearing pyjama bottoms to a virtual meeting, read on. Let’s go back to those dreamy days when we were in a relatively stable, predictable environment, in which the structured, control oriented leader would thrive – until things started to become chaotic. Unable to adapt, they pushed even harder for reliability and, overtaken by the competition, scuppered the organisation. But similarly, an organisation in a chaotic environment will attract leaders who love chaos – so much so that when things settle down, they change everything for the sake of it and throw out the invaluable organisational wisdom leaving little left to hang on to.

We recently worked with an organisation that had changed itself from a traditional downstream oil refining company to a fast-moving business developing new fuels from renewable sources. We were called in, though, not because they couldn’t deal with the chaos, but because they couldn’t stabilise things when they needed to. They recognised that to really demonstrate post-conventional leadership, you need two qualities at the same time: adaptability (to make the leap into the unknown) and also reliability (to ensure the new approaches you’ve developed deliver over time) whilst facilitating people to know and play to their strengths and do their best work.

But how on earth does one person do it all?

The secret is they can’t. No one person can. It’s like trying to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time.  From a 90’s leader operating in a hierarchy of command and control we’ve moved to twenty-first-century leadership: contemporaneously demonstrating the skills of leadership, management, and followership; being an authentic facilitator of people’s potential, with the presence and confidence to facilitate the hivemind of the team to get the answers you are honest enough to admit you don’t have.

How valuable might this ‘Future Proof’ leadership be in this post-conventional world—not least of all to individual and collective wellbeing in these times of chaos and complexity? 

Like a rocket breaking through the earth’s atmosphere, it requires breaking through the belief that you must have control and have the answers. In fact, it demands you have the confidence not to.

Want to learn more? Here’s how.

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