Leading into the future

What kind of leaders do we need in a rapidly changing world?

By Jason Jaggard

Pandemics and political fights. Famine and corruption. Inequality and illness. In times like these, we look to our leaders around the world for guidance and stability. 

But what makes someone a leader? What will it take to lead us into the future? What kind of leaders do we need in the world, and where will we find them?

Kiwanis magazine reached out to executive coach Jason Jaggard for his thoughts. 

Even amid the turmoil and hardship and divisiveness, I’m still incredibly optimistic about the next 10 years of human history. While many think it will be our darkest hour, I’m convinced it will be our finest. 

Here are the 10 skills I think are required for every leader in order to guarantee that it happens.

1. The ability to learn (in a targeted way).
A lot of people — including myself — often learn in an undisciplined way. Lazy learners often say, “I love to read.” As a coach, I don’t care how much you love to read. Or how many conferences you go to. What I care about is whether you’re learning in the specific ways required for you to be successful. Ask yourself: Am I a professional learner or an amateur learner? Amateur learners learn recreationally. That’s not bad. It’s just that professional learners learn to get to the next level.  

2. The ability to unlearn.
Leaders have to learn to unlearn, and the hardest thing for people to unlearn is that about which they’re most certain. The leader of the future will have to get used to and even enjoy unlearning things. In politics, it’s called flip-flopping — everywhere else it’s called growth. We should celebrate leaders who are able to say, “I was wrong.” We need to make saying “we were wrong before and here’s what I’m going to do to fix it” the new evidence of great leadership.

3. The ability to notice when you’re drunk on being right.
The human brain craves being right, which isn’t entirely bad. But when we’re in its grip and not aware that it’s leading us, we’ll create enemies unnecessarily — and create false solutions that lead us away from a better future. Being right is useful as a tool, but often it becomes a blinder to other possibilities. 

4. The ability to persuade without condemning.
The great civil rights movements of the 20th century were successful because they created a path of nobility. (More on this later.) They generally condemned behavior, but not people. More than that, they invited those who were against them into a future that both parties could agree was morally desirable. Don’t expect your adversary to let go of what they’re holding on to until you give them something they perceive as better to grab on to. The leaders of today sometimes create enemies unintentionally, increasing the antagonism the leaders say they are working to solve. The leaders of tomorrow will be solution-oriented and authentically compassionate — and consequently more persuasive and constructive.

5. The ability to master paradox.
Leadership is the art of seeing two seemingly contradictory values and pulling them together. Compassion and responsibility. The needs of the individual and the needs of the community. Our desire for security and our desire for adventure. Empathy and honesty. The leader of tomorrow will fight the temptation to pick one over the other and instead manage both, creating cultures that have a value for all. Today, people swing wildly to one side or the other. The leader of tomorrow will have an appetite for wisdom, especially the part of wisdom that is hard for them to embrace. 

6. The ability to dream outside your own intuitive fence. 
Leaders of the next 10 years will need to master the skill of seeing new possibilities that seem impossible at first. Our lives are governed by what we at Novus Global call “intuitive fences” — imaginary boundaries we place in our lives, guided by our intuition and feelings. The larger our fence, the more options we’re able to think of. The more options, the more creative we can be at creating a better future together. The leaders of the future will embody Robert Kennedy’s words: “Some people see the world as it is and ask, ‘why?’ I dream of things that never were and ask, ‘why not?’”

7. The ability to see the world for how it actually works.
Many times, leaders lead by wishing the world was different than it is. Like wishing a car was a boat and then driving it into the water. One example: Some people believe that people are inherently selfish, and others believe that people are inherently good. They’re both right. And they’re both wrong. No empirical research anywhere in the world confirms either of these two positions. Turns out, people aren’t inherently anything. They’re people — a mixed bag of good and bad and contradiction and mystery. All people are susceptible to great moral heights and moments of destruction. Believing that people (or subsets of people) are inherently good will create policies that destroy a world. Believing they’re inherently selfish will too. Taking that into account helps us lead people well, and it creates societies that are sober in our understanding about how people work. 

8. The ability to reflect without self-flattery. 
Building on the previous skill, leaders of the future will have mastered the skill of understanding the less-than-noble impulses that are often present in our behavior. They’ll be aware of when they’re motivated by greed or lust or jealousy. Today we’re much better at ascribing vice to others, but many leaders struggle to ascribe those same vices to themselves. The leaders of the future will understand their darker impulses and develop strategies for dealing with them in the context of community. This will involve ancient skills like genuine, non-advertised confession, forgiveness and repentance before a leader’s life blows up, not after. 

9. The ability to cultivate nobility in your heart and relationships.
The leaders of the future will be obsessed with nobility. Not the “nobility” of acquiring lands, but the nobility of pursuing a life that is full and makes the world a better place. Nobility is a competitive advantage for leaders. The nobler someone is, the more other people desire to be influenced by them. This has always been true, but not always appreciated. I define nobility as the intersection of community, creativity, generosity and prosperity. Most people pursue one or two at the expense of the others. Leaders of the future will try to hold all four in a paradoxical center.

10. The ability to coach and be coached.
The leader of the future will embrace coaching as an indispensable tool, and they’ll be committed to having the best coaches for themselves. Coaches help you cultivate the other nine skills for future leaders. The coaches of the future will be masters at helping leaders cultivate these skills — from learning and unlearning to cultivating nobility and all the others in between. In fact, the leaders of the future will not only be masters at coaching others, but at being coached toward these skills themselves. 

These 10 skills are the antidote to blame, arrogance, greed, foolishness, simple-mindedness and pride that tempt every leader (including me). As we collectively begin to embrace these skills, the world will improve in miraculous ways. If you’re reading this, it’s your time. The future is in your hands.

Jason Jaggard is the founding partner and CEO of Novus Global, a group of elite executive coaches around the world. He is also the co-founder of the Meta Performance Institute for Coaching, which trains individuals to develop coaching practices that serve high-performing leaders. Jason lives in Los Angeles, California.

Jason Jaggard

This story originally appeared in the October/November 2020 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

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