The Case for Audacious Leadering…

It seems like we’ve had our sights set on “2020” forever, doesn’t it? While the reality, of course, is that what we do today, tomorrow and over these next 365 days matters as much as what we do next year… and there is a lot of work to get done.

Happy 2019!! In my world, 2018 was an awesome year of learning, as I gave keynote talks all over north America to energy execs at the Tennessee Valley Authority, dentists investing in digital practices, corporate treasurers, the largest trade show organizers, those working to build personalized healthcare, financial and lifestyle solutions and others committed to transforming their teams, industries and higher ed curriculum in order to stay salient.

Nearly each audience — including the very cool folks who build all our nation’s aircraft carriers! — were eager to know what to do as this fast moving future takes hold. To each, instead, I laid out new ways to think in talks often titled “The Case for Audacious Leadering” … a mighty combo informed by compassion and curiosity, incentivized to build community and contribution. I firmly believe those are the keys to thriving in the very fast-forming future ahead.

I’ll lay out the gist in a minute… but first, let’s start with a deep breath. Clear your brain of all the long Jan 1st to-do lists and resolutions, and let yourself simply take stock for a moment…. What is most concerning to you as you look ahead? What is most exciting?! What is it you really want to say… do…build? How prepared do you feel? What kind of support do you need? What can you offer others?

This is the kind of practice we all need to get way better at, because as many books, youtube videos, podcasts and essays are launched each day, there is no one external guide we can turn to. We are the authors of our future! And we have increasingly important decisions to make and contributions to offer… in real time. Like now. So as I say each year, it’s time to play bigger.

What does Audacious look like?

Remember Elon Musk’s offer to sell flamethrowers? Is that audacious?

Or how about the new Amazon HQ building in Seattle, The Spheres, which looks and feels so radically different from any corp building — downtown or otherwise!

Or this story about a pregnant mother traveling solo with a tired toddler who was having a meltdown she couldn’t control. She finally just let her own guard down, sat down and started weeping in overwhelm… and then was graciously encircled by six women she’d never met who pulled out of wherever they were sitting or standing to simply and organically — without a handbook — offer various forms of comfort: a snack, a round of Itsy Bitsy spider, a toy… until the situation all calmed down. The boy quietly came to sit in his mother’s lap, they all took a big deep breath, and then mom + son got on the plane peacefully. And the women in the circle? Well, they all went back to where they had been. No one asked for a promotion or needed a bonus or claimed responsibility. They simply did what they did because they saw a need, felt a sense of urgency + agency, trusted themselves, and fell naturally (if maybe a bit awkwardly) in step together.

I argue that the flamethrower was a fascinating stunt, while the other two examples — the incredibly bold and thoughtful The Spheres and this story about women at the airport — both demonstrate the kind of audacity we can learn a lot from as we navigate this fast moving future.

The Disruption Mandate

Audacity matters because we are standing at front edge of what many are describing un-hyperbolically as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (“4IR”). A time when new, exponential technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing, virtual and augmented reality, crypto-coordination and the distributed web, bio-engineering (and much more) will converge to radically change how we do damn near everything. And in turn, change how we structure education, our economy and how we live… as we are beginning to see a bit already. Yep…take another deep breath.

Step back and imagine for a moment what the world was like pre-smart phone — a mere 11 years ago. Not only did we not know what an “app” was or how to buy one, but we had no way to open a pop-up store without a cash register (yay, Square!) or orient to a new destination without a list of directions prepped beforehand (this stuns my teenage daughter). There was no Uber or Lyft. Or multi-billion dollar businesses that relied on the instant, unlimited photo (Instagram) …or selfies!! (Snapchat)… the list goes on and on.

So as we stand at the threshold of these new technologies, few can imagine what is possible ahead. Even in their earliest forms — from a 3D printed house that takes less than 24hr and $10k to produce to drone deliveries and robot seamstresses in China and micro-chip implanted employees around the world — these technologies are ushering in huge shifts and demanding we show up in new ways with new capacities. And that we ask whole new questions.

And what this will mean for job destruction (cashier?), job creation (drone delivery engineer?) and the massive reskilling needed to keep current roles in sync with the future, from remote crane operator to CAD dental designer to space attorney to virtual teacher. This is what we call the “Disruption Mandate” and as I type, every single person, business, industry and government is wondering this will impact them. How are we preparing? How can we makes sense of, store and keep safe the 2.5 quintillion bits of data created each day? How will our lifestyles/food/relationships shift? And how do we stay centered and calm in the midst of such radical change?

These are the questions that occupy my brain 24/7. And not only do we need to consider how these shifts will impact our work and our own day to day lives, but we are also increasingly being asked to consider how these shifts will impact society at large. What are the ethical considerations? How will ensure all have access to this digital future? What are our responsibilities as innovators, producers and “consumers”? And most importantly, what are we just not thinking through fast enough??

AQ + Liminal Leadership (uh, Leadering)

As I’ve worked with clients in a range of industries — and had conversations with attendees after every one of my talks — I’ve become firmly convinced the biggest shift we need to make right now is in our mindset. We cannot tackle the questions and opportunities of a new industrial age with the processes and beliefs of an outdated era. Expontential Economist Amin Toufani describes it as a need to develop our AQ — our Adaptability Quotient. Deloitte’s John Hagel implores us to move from cultures of efficiency to cultures of learning. Amen to both.

But I think there is more… we must also move to a space of radical open-heartedness. Business leaders especially will be more effective as they develop and build toward a deeper recognition of our humanity — both individually and collectively. Nora Bateson, an award-winning filmmaker, writer and educator, as well as President of the International Bateson Institute, based in Sweden (and someone I have really come to admire and learn a lot from this past year), describes it as a culture of caring… a recognition of our essential interdependence, both with each other and with our natural world. Her essay on Liminal Leadership is pretty extraordinary, and every tweet she shares is packed with insight and urgency. As she writes:

“Leadership models come in many flavors. Strategic leadership, leadership from behind, organizational, innovative, creative leadership, collective leadership, transformational leadership, cross-cultural leadership, team leadership — the list goes on. But the kind of leadership that I want to explore may not be identifiable as leadership at all. I am interested in a kind of mutually alert care and attention to the wellbeing of all people and ecological systems. This kind of leadership cannot be found in individuals; rather, it is found between them. It cannot be found in organizations, nations, religions, or institutions; rather, it is found between them. I have called it Liminal Leadership to highlight these relational characteristics.” ~ Nora Bateson. Liminal Leadership

This past week I also read an article that sci-fi writer Issac Asimov wrote in 1984, 35 years ago, imagining what things could look like in 2019. It was both so optimistic and quite prescriptive… and yet we are pretty far off the mark of what could really be possible. He worried we’d suffer a great deal of pain in this fast transition from one industrial age to the next and, similar to Nora, felt the ways to minimize this were to increase (not decrease) our global interdependence, our environmental care-taking and our rebuilding of vastly outdated education systems. As he imagined it 35 years ago:

“…The consequences of human irresponsibility in terms of waste and pollution will become more apparent and unbearable with time and again, attempts to deal with this will become more strenuous. It is to be hoped that by 2019, advances in technology will place tools in our hands that will help accelerate the process whereby the deterioration of the environment will be reversed.

[Also] the world effort that must be invested in this and in generally easing the pains of the transition may, assuming the presence of a minimum level of sanity among the peoples of the world, again not a safe assumption, weaken in comparison the causes that have fed the time-honoured quarrels between and within nations over petty hatred and suspicions.

…This means that a vast change in the nature of education must take place, and entire populations must be made “computer-literate” and must be taught to deal with a “high-tech” world.

…The change, however, is much faster this time and society must work much faster; perhaps faster than they can.~ Issac Asimov, 1984

True. Because here we are, with the digital technologies racing ahead, but without the meaningful advances in societal and interpersonal infrastructures necessary to make this next era really extraordinary and inclusive for most.

Nora and I both agree the term “leadership” has outrun its usefulness… and so I much prefer the dynamic, inclusive idea of Leadering. One that is adaptive, caring, self-aware, collaborative and in every sense focused on the relationship between us … therefore creating real value vs simply extracting or philanthropically transferring it. And this is what I’ll continue focusing on in 2019.

So, here’s what I’m creating now …

First, we’ve launched two new websites: a revamped (strategy + event focused) and a shiny new (speaking + content focused); please check ’em out and me know how we can refine.

Secondly, I’m taking another small step in defining my own voice as I shift away from creating TEDx events to now piloting my own experience for college and high school students that I describe as an enlightened “Career Fair For the Future” taking place in Austin on March 10th, 2019! Yep, only 10ish weeks away! Look for more info on that next week… ;)

Also, at SXSW (on March 12th to be precise), I’ll be moderating a panel titled Write the Future Now with successful screenwriters James V Hart and Laeta Kalogridis as well as Singularity University Exec Chipp Norcross, discussing how sci-fi content shapes our beliefs and priorities for the future … and why it’s so important we become more aware and in search of the utopian vs dystopian story.

If interested in more now, here are two podcast interviews I did recently; and I’ll be sharing more highlights from my 2018 talks in the next couple of weeks. I’m also really excited to be sharing and developing more of my thinking for talks in Oslo, Amsterdam and potentially other global destinations this Spring. And yes, well, I am also finally taking a stab at a book myself! ;)

People, there is work to be done. And WE are folks we’ve been waiting on to make it happen. This year really matters. And each of us has something quite powerful to contribute to what lies ahead. So book or not, I can’t wait to see what you write into the future… and am always here to help in any way I can.

With loads of love and deep breaths,

xo, Nancy

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