Three ideas for leaders to be more successful in the 21st century

ideas 19

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This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: François Ortalo-Magné, Dean, London Business School


A confusing, overwhelming, fragmented, unstructured deluge. This is how business leaders often described their context. Yet, as the top executives of their organisations, they understand the importance of remaining informed and vigilant about their fast-shifting landscape.

Building on insights from researchers at London Business School, I find that, in the current interconnected and fast-changing world, leaders are most effective when engaging with their teams and broader stakeholders, providing them with time to reflect and the safe space to playfully experiment and offer unique perspectives.

Here are three specific ideas for leaders to be more effective in the 21st century.

1. Develop contextual awareness and system leadership.

Tammy Erickson, Adjunct Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School, addresses the need for new approaches to organizational design and leadership in the current knowledge-based economy. Success has become closely linked to the ability of organizations to nurture innovative and collaborative behaviours, openness to new ideas and the ability to engage people around meaningful work. Research has also shown the “wisdom of crowds” —the idea that groups make better decisions than individuals.

As a result, leaders should increasingly harness the knowledge and energy of their teams and the entire organization. “It is also critically important that leaders make strategic decisions by carefully considering the demands and expectations of their stakeholders,” writes Ioannis Ioannou, London Business School Associate Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship. In other words, current times require both greater contextual awareness and system leadership skills from leaders.

2. Combine top-down clarity with bottom-up initiatives.

Freek Vermeulen’s work highlights the importance of combining top-down clarity with bottom-up initiatives. The first aspect of good leadership is the ability to develop, communicate and implement a clear strategic direction from the top. The second aspect of good leadership is the ability to enable bottom-up contributions to fit this top-down strategic direction. It is the responsibility of the leadership to create the conditions and culture to empower people to contribute to the overall objectives from wherever they sit in the organization.

3. Create a space for collective learning and experimentation.

Engaged and motivated employees are instrumental to the success of any organization. This can be promoted by making sure people feel they can express themselves in their work, experiment and learn new things as well as feel a sense of purpose in what they do. One concrete way to make this happen is through the creation of experimental safe zones to allow for playful interactions and social bonding. “Experimental safe zones create intrinsic motivations, which are much more powerful than extrinsic motivations because they unleash creativity,” writes Dan Cable, London Business School Professor of Organisational Behaviour.

With these questions and challenges in mind, the World Economic Forum has developed its Strategic Intelligence platform. Transformation Maps are the core of the platform, providing the ability to create a customized, interactive map, which applies expert-designated insights to the specific strategic priorities of users. The maps open up avenues for leaders to support their teams in working together—to understand the context for the development of their strategic priorities, and to communicate about complex issues in a visual way.

Leaders can leverage the maps to inform their own perspectives and those of their teams as well as create space for collective exploration and strategic conversations. The World Economic Forum’s maps are one interesting way to jumpstart some of the shifts addressed above, rethink the way our teams work and bring organizations into the 21st century.

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