By Segun Dipe
Sometimes it takes crisis to reveal gaps and discontinuities. The coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, currently ravaging the world has revealed how leadership can be challenged by the unexpected and the need to innovate “ahead of the curve.”
The crisis also heightens the need for followers to re-evaluate prevailing models of leadership that have sometimes been found wanting with a view to having some expectations from future leaders.
Coronavirus is an extreme wakeup call, but it is emblematic of an era whose very essence is disruption. Even before the pandemic visited Nigeria, we were already caught napping by an imperfect storm of geo-political uncertainty.
Our leadership playbooks remain largely frozen in time. It was originally designed for the authority and control needed to keep bureaucracies functioning efficiently. We have suddenly found ourselves in the midst of a political revolution that requires agility, rapid innovation and fluid, networked organisational designs. The commandant approach must give way to the orchestrator approach, the machine approach to the network approach.
While we are navigating in uncertainty now, a new approach to leadership in the country has become imperative. Not doing anything about it carries risks: the existential threat of disease at an extreme, as well as the more obvious costs of tired strategies, technology illiteracy and stasis.
The kind of leadership proficiencies we need in an era of disruption cannot simply be read from books, gleaned from PowerPoint presentations or acquired in brief programmes. They require new forms of pedagogy that are personal, experiential, and intimate. Learning leadership is not simply a matter of knowing which items to check off on a list of tasks or acquiring some tactical skills related to communication or agenda setting.
The bottom line is that today’s leaders, armed with yesterday’s tools, are frequently ill-equipped to deal with the challenges we face both today and tomorrow. Leadership, it appears, is due for a review, made more urgent by the scale of our current woes.
But what are the new standards by which we should judge leadership in Nigeria? What is the model of leadership that fits with this age of disruption?
Drawing from three decades of experience as a trusted advisor to leaders of both companies and governments, John Kai, Chairman, Institute for Large Scale Innovation, came up with a framework of “Six Intelligences,” which, according to him, are the building blocks of the new “smart” leadership, and which I anticipate we should adopt in Nigeria. They are the contextual, moral, socio-emotional, generative, technological and transformative intelligences.
In a sense, leaders are both the navigators and captains of an ongoing journey. They need ongoing mechanisms for achieving clarity both about their current situation as well as their desired outcomes (destinations, horizons of opportunity). This clarity of context is essential for taking relevant action. Fighter pilots, for example, are trained to think in terms of the OODA loop – Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. They are able to clearly identify a problem, establish options, select a course of action and execute, all in a blink of an eye. Cultivating (and listening to) divergent perspectives, exercising intuition in appropriate measure, perceiving weak signals, and conducting mental rehearsals for unimaginable outcomes are all approaches to cultivating contextual intelligence.
All journeys express a purpose that is shaped by a particular set of values. Strategy (what we must do) is how we will realize our mission (what we seek to achieve) which in turn reflects our purpose (why we’re in the leadership position) which is based on our values (our enduring beliefs). Unfortunately, it is common for leaders to begin and end with strategy processes, and in terms of a value-free format that focuses on maximizing shareholder value above all.
Social and emotional intelligence.
Social and emotional intelligence expresses our values in terms of how we interact with and influence others. We connect through our empathy and compassion – our ability to put ourselves into the shoes of another. This in turn allows us to inspire and motivate as a trusted role model. Leaders must also cultivate the diagnostic ability to read beneath the surface to the emotional makeup of others. This enables smart decisions about how to collaborate, who to work with and how to develop one’s self.
The ability to birth new ideas and realize value from them is the engine that provides the “how” of journeying to a desired future. Generative intelligence begs a fundamental leadership question: “How well do I mobilize my creativity and that of others to realize value? To what extent am I able to orchestrate the talents of diverse contributors?” It is time for innovation to come to innovation. Legacy approaches rooted in incrementalism and limited product development models will not be able to keep pace with the demands of disrupted times.
Leaders must be able to understand, make use of and amplify the power of rapidly emerging technologies and their impact. This is a new set of literacies that apply not only to business models but to organizations and how they function.
Navigating to a desired future of necessity requires transformation, not simply incremental or isolated exercises in change management. An ability to create and drive a meaningful roadmap will motivate people to take action and align their efforts. Such a roadmap comes alive with clear, credible communication, compelling narratives and evangelism by credible leaders that drives a sense of urgency.
Our eyes are on our leaders at this point to understand the context, embrace the realities of the situation, be willing to think the unthinkable, and anticipate extreme scenarios. They must also reflect a moral code, tap into the social and emotional, communicate in a way that is credible, trustworthy and motivating as well as generate solutions for the time we are.
These are the standards to which we must hold our leaders in a time of crisis. As we can deduce from the current reality, there is actually no superpower anywhere. More than anything else, the situation has made bare mediocre, while throwing up emerging leaders. We need our current leaders to step up, even as we look forward to unwrapping a new generation of leaders who would rise up to the new challenges ahead.
•Dipe writes as political analyst from Ado Ekiti.