What Is Important about the Future of Leadership? by Les McKeown
You’ve probably heard the story of Mao Zedong, who when asked in the 1950′s about the impact of the French Revolution 150 years earlier, replied “It’s much too early to tell”.
Apocryphal as the story may be, the perspective it affords on the future of leadership is a useful one: leadership is as leadership was. Little has changed, or ever will change, in the underlying principles of true leadership – there are few leadership principles that can’t be divined from examining the work of say, Alexander the Great, who began his unparalleled (if short) leadership career in 340 BC.
Leadership principles are immutable, and although the tools and techniques we use to teach leadership will continue to evolve, their impact is frankly marginal. New teaching tools will continue to be developed – most poor or bad, some good, a very few excellent. Excellent leaders will utilize excellent tools, and lazy or cowardly HR practitioners will continue to grow the ‘leadership development’ industry by hiding behind the bad or poor tools.
I believe the next generation of great leaders will be just as great as any of the great leaders of the past, and the poor leaders just as poor. I’m not convinced that there are generational shifts in leadership, and I’m wholly unconvinced that changes in teaching modalities make any difference whatsoever in the quality of leadership.
So, looking forward, what is important about the future of leadership? For me, the most pressing issue is this: Where will we see true leadership displayed in the next generation or two? In what fields of endeavor will our next great leaders emerge?
To understand what I mean, consider the environments we primarily looked to for leadership in our (relatively) recent history:
2012: Business, Sports and Politics (the latter in decline).
1912: Scientists and Statesmen.
1812: Generals and Writers.
1712: Monarchs and Merchants.
1612: Religious and Feudal leaders.
1512: Theologians and Explorers.
One thing is clear: our 20th/21st-century preoccupation with business and sports as pre-eminent leadership arenas is relatively new, and their pre-eminence is likely to wane. (That’s not to say they will disappear – we still have leaders who are generals, theologians and scientists, but they’re not currently who we lionize as a society.)
So, what about 2112? If not business or sports, where will those leaders who are making a real difference be working in then? I have one best guess, and one hope.
My best guess is the field of philanthropy. The people I meet today who strike me as potentially great leaders of tomorrow are those who are doing great things in the fields of education, health, housing and energy (just take a peek, for example, at the incredible roster of future leaders who have appeared at the Do Lectures in recent years) – mostly with little or no funding.
My hope? Entertainers. Despite comprising the most well-known, potentially influential people on the planet, with only a few exceptions the entertainment industry has until now conspicuously eschewed adopting any leadership role whatsoever. Fearful of offending anyone and thus reducing revenues, few people in the world of movies, TV, music or gaming display anything that approaches true leadership as we would define it. It may be a vain hope that this will ever change, but I have my fingers crossed.
Our guest Les McKeown is a speaker, author and consultant on the leadership of organizational growth. His latest book is “The Synergist: How to Lead Your Team to Predictable Success”. Go here for more information on Les and his work.