- As the nature of work changes, we must reinvent leadership
- Great design, which can change behaviors, offers lessons
- Leadership archetypes based on design show how to develop a clear vision, take calculated risks and put people first
Whether you’re managing a small team or running a global organization, how you lead matters, and how you develop as a leader in today’s fast-evolving world of work matters even more.
For the first time in history, five generations now coexist in the workplace as people live and work longer in life, bringing a whole new dimension to successfully leading diverse teams. Technology is changing the way we live, work, learn, communicate and connect at a dizzying pace, creating jobs, redefining profiles and producing new dynamics in work cultures and practices.
At the same time, consumers are calling for more transparent, equitable and ethical leadership. The fight for talent is increasingly being won by organizations that offer flexible work, provide more personalized career journeys and deliver on a higher purpose, not just profit.
How will these trends and transformations shape leaders in 2020?
With centuries of research and literature about leadership, this is not the time for reinvention, but instead a time for leadership with greater intention. My inspiration for leadership comes from the world of design.
Great design – products, services, experiences – is intentional, purposeful, impact-oriented, relational, influential, inspirational and at times, radical. Design is an agent of change. Design is a means to an end, as well as an end in itself. It touches minds and hearts, and changes behaviours too.
The essence and value of design for leaders is captured beautifully by Tim Brown in his book Change by Design. He brings to light the power and potential of design thinking – a collaborative, human-centred approach to problem-solving – as a catalyst for more creative, inclusive and effective solutions to business and societal problems at scale.
Inspired by design, here are four leadership archetypes that will be essential for future-ready leaders to embody:
This leader has great vision and navigates and curates complex systems. They build contextual intelligence, understands interdependencies, embraces complexity and connects the dots. This requires a long-term and informed approach to decision-making. “The Architect” collaborates with different stakeholders and shapes environments and structures that empower and engage people.
For example, Toshiko Mori transforms communities through her architecture. Her most recent project was an elementary school designed in the remote west Senegalese village of Fass. As she explained in an interview: “We wanted to de-institutionalize school and not make it imposing, scary or foreign.” After seven years of collaboration with local religious and community leaders, the school opened last year. The president of the non-profit dedicated to creating schools in Sengal said Toshiko’s strength is that “she sees architecture as a big vision — its impact on humanity — not just building buildings.”
Like any great design entrepreneur, this type of leader fails and learns fast. They are playful, creative and open-minded. They know how to take calculated risks and lead at the edge, while showing vulnerability. They recognize their weaknesses and seek advice and mentorship from others. This leadership promotes an agile work culture.
For example, Evan Sharp, former architect and product designer, started Pinterest as a side project with two friends. His mantra from design – “We try it. It breaks. You try it again.” – has helped him learn how to lead, taking his employees and company to incredible heights.
Like any great sustainable designer, this type of leader leads with purpose and impact. They believe in shared and sustained value creation and works to connect the organization and people to a purpose with a long-term mandate of creating social value. This type of leader takes responsibility for understanding the outcomes they are designing for.
For example, Hilary Cottam, Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum, was named UK Designer of the Year in 2005 for applying the design approach to social issues and awarded an OBE in 2019 for services to the welfare state. She is currently developing a collaborative practice: Social Revolution 5.0 , which according to its manifesto is working to develop social support systems that help people thrive in a world affected by the Fourth Industrial Revolution and climate change.
Like all great designers, this leader puts people first. They seek to unlock the potential of others, leads with empathy and energizes and develops the next generation. This type of leader is mindful and inclusive, embraces the power of diversity, collaborates and facilitates, and creates psychological safety. This leader is authentic, inspires and engages by asking great questions and using storytelling, creates an emotional commitment and leads by example.
For example, Indra Nooyi, Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCo (2006-2018), turned design thinking into strategy to reimagine the user experience, infuse design into the entire system, and instil purpose and a culture of recognition and diversity into the heart of the company. During an interview with CNBC about Nooyi’s leadership qualities, the journalist praised her for “creating a vision, finding courage in your convictions and unleashing the power of your people.”
As we draw closer to the 50th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum this year, with the theme “Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World,” it’s a poignant moment to reflect on what kind of leader we want to be and what kind of leaders should hold the licence to lead. Let’s make 2020 the year of leadership by design.
This article is related to the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, 21-24 January 2020.