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Ready for Exponential Leadership? Here are seven things you need to know.


Earlier this year I was lucky enough to attend, along with some colleagues, the Singularity University Executive Programme which covered emerging technologies and their impact on the world, including workplace. Inspired by the programme, we got thinking about a concept that we felt should be put on the radar alongside disruption – Exponential Leadership. What qualities of leadership are required for an organisation to flourish at a time when technology, driven by Moore’s Law, has transformed the way we work, live and play? 

Why does this matter? I’ve read many articles talking about the future of work recently, and I’ve written a few myself! In many cases the phrase ‘the future of work’ is completely redundant, because it’s already here. Think about it - rapid change, advanced technology, employee-centric culture, flexible working, to name a few, are all happening now.

The corporate world may not have reached a pace of exponential change we’ve seen in computing power, but today’s leaders need to start thinking of how Moore’s law applies to people and management. And, specifically, what does it take to lead in this brave (not so) new world of digital disruption and the ‘uberisation’ of anything you can think of?

Here are some of the key points that came out of the conference:

1.            Balance 

A tricky one. Exponential and linear are not mutually exclusive, although typically people are good at one or the other. Since the industrial revolution, most businesses have progressed according to short term or medium term needs. Not surprising, given that millions of years of human evolution have conditioned us to think linearly and respond cautiously to our immediate environment.  Leaders in this bi-modal world must now learn how to balance longer-term aspirations against immediate-term needs and operate within these extremes with much more agility.

2.            Vision

An exponential leader needs a vision that’s bold, clear and easy to share. Without an appealing Northern Star (or moonshot as Peter Diamandis, the Co-founder and Executive Chairman of Singularity Univertisy, calls it) people will be unclear as to their purpose. This matters more and more with the growing number of Millennials in the workforce who value a sense of purpose above anything else. 

3.            Multiple paths

From continuous - rather than annual - reviews, to flexible vacation allowances, many companies are abandoning traditional, rigid workplace practices. The same applies to the journey taken to reach the ‘moonshot’ vision.  The exponential leader needs to create an environment where multiple teams and cultures collaborate and compete towards the vision.  It might feel a bit uncomfortable to begin with. For a long time the company culture has been an untameable beast, but I believe it is shifting now to a team culture where stronger and more agile visions co-exist. Either way, one thing still holds true – leaders who create an environment of trust will excel. It is trust that allows institutions to function and thrive.

4.            Diversity

However many sub-cultures persist in the agile organisation, it’s clear that the exponential leader needs to build an environment of diversity of thought within the organisation, across the teams themselves and also within their networks and influencers. Individual teams also need to strengthen their diversity of skills. For example, if you haven’t   got a technologist on your team, you’re not preparing yourself well enough.

5.            Learning

The new leader needs to develop a learning environment that matches the pace at which the workplace is changing. They need to accomplish this across the organisation and for themselves. Getting on a continuous learning journey and leveraging the latest thinking becomes even more imperative. By the way, if you’re talking about engagement but not talking about neuroscience, you’re out of date.

6.            Embracing failure

Wherever possible the exponential leader will need to find opportunities to share goals of exponential change both within teams and across the organisation, and build confidence by sharing success stories alongside the lessons of failure. An environment where failure is recognised promotes risk-taking, trying harder and innovating.

7.            Customisation

Forget Generations X, Y or Z. This is the era of choice and everyone needs and, indeed, demands a personalised approach when it comes to career goals, personal development and learning. Technology can certainly help here, providing analytics that understand the workforce and connectivity to design customised workplace solutions.

To sum up, leaders today must be equally comfortable with ambiguity as with linear certainty.  But what an exciting time to lead a team.  As William Gibson wrote, “the future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed.”



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