Tuesday, September 05, 2017

The New Leadership Literacies: A Review


Leaders in every field either fear, anticipate, or attempt to create the future.  Change is inevitable and those with the right skills will be able to thrive within a changing reality.  In The New Leadership Literacies, Bob Johansen identifies the literacies--combinations of disciplines, practices, and worldviews--that will be needed to lead in a VUCA world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.

Johansen is a futurist with both a Master of Divinity degree and a PhD in sociology.  He writes, “While I don’t claim to be an expert in the present I have been pretty good at listening for and foreseeing the future.” Johansen’s goal is that by “looking out ten years [one] can look backward from the future and provoke, not predict.”  He sees a future where everything is distributed with the potential for both positive and negative results.

The author’s approach suggests five leadership literacies:  Looking Back from the Future, Voluntary Fear Management, Leadership for Shape-Shifting Organizations, Being There When You Are Not There, and Creating and Sustaining Positive Energy.  The effective leader of the future must understand and use these competencies.

Johansen provides an approach to leadership that is engaging, humbling, and optimistic.  I must say that this is the most engaging book on systems thinking since Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline.  At the same time, Johansen leads the reader into a new world and introduces terms and ideas that force one to an internet search for further definitions and examples.  Although he sees the potential for the misuse of this new reality (and cites examples of how it is already being used by groups such as criminals and terrorists), he also understands the potential for the birth of a new era of empowerment and innovation.

The New Leadership Literacies will require more than one reading and should provoke intense discussions within leadership teams.  Whether you are an executive leader, educator, coach, or aspiring leader, you will find the book stimulating and challenging.


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