Leaders continue to experience conflict between preparing for future opportunities and meeting the urgency of immediate responsibilities. In our current state of sweeping exponential change, this balance is a growing cause for concern. Yet, the tension between today and tomorrow may not be the central challenge that many leaders think it is – in fact, it might signal a source of additional resilience for the organization.
The volume and variety of risks and opportunities coming from internal and external pressures require constant attention from the C-Suite. This results in a perpetual state of motion and tension between the demands of today’s challenges and the need to create tomorrow’s value. Those who continue to try to wrap their arms around both often end up accomplishing neither. In fact, they often end up harming the organization and their employees in the process.
Toffler Associates sees broad evidence of the tension today’s leaders face between what is necessary in the immediate timeframe, and what may be required in the future. While this is hardly an exhaustive list, these three examples illustrate the enormity of their challenge. We will explore each of these points in future blogs to hone in on the specific impact of these issues.
- Gig economy and its impact on benefits
- Changing geopolitical landscapes and their impact on long-term capital investments
- The impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on business models
Don’t Lose Sight of Critical Assets
Leaders at the helm of the C-suite need people. And they know it. Even with so much talk of the capacity and presence of AI in boardrooms and businesses, CEOs are putting a premium on good people. According to the most recent PWC annual CEO survey, Managing Man and Machine, only 16% of CEOs report plans to cut company headcount in the next 12 months – and of those, only a quarter say it’s primarily because of technology. Conversely, 52% plan to hire more employees.
And yet, hiring is easier planned than done. There is a real shortage in the specific kinds of knowledge that CEOs say they need. The majority (77%) worries that the shortages could impair their company growth. Human capital requirements are growing more intensive as organizations seek to identify, recruit, hire, develop and retain the workforce critical to excelling today and in the future.
While the need for a deliberate and robust plan to harness new technologies and other Future Shocks seems to conflict with the urgency of solving today’s workforce and human capital needs, the situation actually presents opportunities.
Identify and Use Tension as the Focusing Mechanism for Growth
Leaders must focus on identifying and understanding the tension points between today and tomorrow, external and internal, and tactical and strategic requirements. If they lack the resources or the willingness to listen, they are likely to struggle between these dynamic tension points. But those who surround themselves with individuals who are equipped to monitor, assess, and share a view of the future have a good chance to create a productive interplay between the present and future.
By gaining clarity around how current and future demands coexist within the organization, leadership teams can invest time and resources with a more strategic mindset. So the ‘either or’ conflict about whether to put an imperative on planning for the future or delivering today becomes more of a ‘yes, and’ conversation. Not only does this sensibility of interrelatedness broaden and improve the long-term perspective for the organization, it serves to heighten a sense of ownership and excitement for the future.
Ultimately, what this all means is that successful leadership does not hinge on the ability to control the tension between immediate and future opportunities and challenges. It is more about identifying what is required to thrive today and in the future, then unleashing and empowering your teams to attend to both through increased focus and clarity. Executing on that plan then becomes the shared responsibility of a team that has been selected, trained, and empowered to contribute insight and ideas that will enable the dynamic between present and future to be a productive one.
It’s time to recognize that the hallmark of great leadership is not necessarily the ability to see into the future – it is the ability to identify critical needs and match empowered people to those needs.