The 21st-Century Challenges Leaders Face: We Need a New Global Vision (Part 2)By: Nick Twyman
As you may have already seen in my recent blog, leaders around the world are facing a long list of pressing global issues. We may have a view of what we want to be different and what we want to move away from, but to harness our energy, we will need to build a powerful and compelling shared vision for what’s next. This means now more than ever, it is time for us to craft a new vision for the world we want to build. To illustrate this, here are some of the broader societal questions that come to mind.
What will be our generation's legacy? What do we want it to be?
Turning our attention to the next 20 to 50 years, we need to make an honest appraisal of what our legacy will be should we not make some significant changes. It will also enable us to paint a clear picture of what we want to move away from and avoid. Away-from motivation though is not enough. We know this just by looking at how unsuccessful doom mongering has been at generating mass positive action. We need to do more. Envisioning what the world could look like if we do change will help us paint a positive vision of the future, which collectively would inspire us to engage and commit to actively work together to deliver it. This will help address our ability to motivate and mobilize others to drive change. Having something compelling to move toward gives us purpose, real meaning, and a sense of direction. Toward and away-from motivation in combination will be much more powerful in generating the motivation needed to change.
We should acknowledge the progress humanity has achieved. The world in some respects is the safest it has ever been; there are fewer people dying of poverty, disease, and war than ever in our history. In raising this, it is not my intention to whitewash or greenwash the current dilemmas we face but to encourage us all to build on the innovations of the past and work to accelerate and scale our responses together to address our most pressing problems.
For our legacy to be one of which we can be proud, there are pressing challenges leaders must invest more collective energy in and immerse themselves fully in to gain a much deeper and richer understanding. These include:
Do we want to continue to widen the gap between the haves and the have nots?
The growth in the disparity between those who own and have control over assets and those who do not has continued to widen. The systems of wealth creation perpetuate this divisive dynamic, which in turn leads to building levels of resentment and disenfranchisement in those who fall into the have-not category. The social unrest we are witnessing is not only motivated by racism, it is also in part a reaction to the growing sense of injustice, unfairness, and helplessness that a growing number of our communities are feeling regardless of race or creed. Leaders need to urgently look at our relentless pursuit of globalization and question the principles on which wealth is distributed. What will be the new ways of creating wealth and upward mobility? Economic models of the past will not sustain us in the future. We will need to embrace new economic and social models if we want to provide access for all to a living wage, healthcare, and education. No business can really thrive long term in a dysfunctional societal system.
Are we doing all we can to save our planet?
The science on this topic has gained traction, and the evidence that humankind is likely continuing to do irreversible damage to our planet is becoming more widely accepted. Our use of ecologically and environmentally hostile materials and unsustainable, irreplaceable, and nonrecyclable resources continues despite clear scientific evidence and some efforts by policy makers to reduce levels. The destruction of our natural environment, the degradation of our atmosphere, and the pollution of our oceans continues unabated. The consequences of not taking effective collective and swift action now will be catastrophic and far-reaching. All businesses are reliant on this delicately balanced, complex support system.
Should we place more emphasis on building resilient and caring communities?
There is (as I have hopefully in a balanced way said repeatedly) cause for hope and optimism, because fundamentally human beings are social animals, and as we have seen through this pandemic, we are capable of selflessness and compassion. However, in most societies we are witnessing how many suffer with poor access to healthcare and the lack of effective safety nets for those less economically privileged. Our methods and systems of farming, food production and distribution, secure supplies, safe clean water, and clean energy have all been exposed for their systemic weaknesses. These systems are fundamental to all organizations, and if they don’t function well, businesses will not have access to and be able to trade with healthy customers and get the work done with healthy employees.
Going forward, what role should governments and institutions play?
We have seen through the experience of the pandemic a wide range of responses from national governments. Some have been judged as more effective than others. What we learn as we emerge to the other side should provide a sharp wake-up call for us all. Political leaders have been exposed in many cases as ill-equipped both as leaders and in terms of the institutions of government on which they depend, along with the instruments of government and range of interventions available to them, to respond effectively and be trusted by their electorate. Many of our governments and associated institutions, with a few notable exceptions such as the United Nations, have been set up to serve and protect national interests, which may have been appropriate in the past. However, the challenges we face today require collective multinational, multilateral cooperation. It may well be time to take a cold, hard look at the systems and structure of governments from a more elevated perspective to see how they will need to change and adapt to be fit for purpose given the nature of the 21st-century challenges we face.
Business leaders have long accepted the need for continual change, restructuring, reskilling, and realigning their organizations to meet the changing demands of the customers and markets they serve. Their skills and experience when shared could help accelerate the pace and effectiveness of our collective efforts. A hypothesis worthy of further exploration is that when regional national and local governments, institutions, and large-scale commercial organizations come together, their chances of developing more coherent, cohesive, and effective solutions increase exponentially. We already have data on the positive impact groups have when they are diverse and inclusive in their composition and share a clear higher purpose and intention to do meaningful work. The performance of commercial organizations with more diverse boards, for example, presents solid evidence that validates this perspective.
This second blog in the series hopefully sets out the context in which 21st-century leaders are operating and takes a broad look at some of the most critical challenges we all face. In the next blog in the series, we explore the qualities that leaders will need to navigate successfully—The Winning Formula® profile for the 21st-century leader.
Nick Twyman is a partner in the London office. His areas of expertise include executive coaching and senior team effectiveness. His practice has been focused on enabling senior executives and their teams to align on strategy and execution and on building more effective ways of working together and playing to each other’s strengths.
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