Monday, February 27, 2012

Leadership Paradigm Shift Approaching...Rise of Collective Development


In last week's blog post...Leadership Development...What is New is Really Old...I discussed where much of leadership development best practices we are familiar with today really started between World War I and II. While in many respects these leadership development practices are are still highly relevant...we may need to shift the paradigm on what kind of leadership capability we are developing in our organizations and why we need it.

Much of my perspective is driven by the nature of the environment we all find ourselves operating in every day. I have written about it often...the VUCA environment is the new normal. VUCA, coined by the U.S. Army in 2004 as it looked at what junior officers were dealing with on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan and how it might shift leadership development to account for this, is defined as the following:

Volatile: change happens rapidly and on a large scale
Uncertain: the future cannot be predicted with any precision
Complex: challenges are complicated by many factors and there are few single causes or solutions
Ambiguous: there is little clarity on what events mean and what effect they may have

That new normal places immense pressures on leaders to make sense of the environment and make decisions that will maintain or advance competitive advantage. The Center for Creative Leadership recently issued a report titled "Future Trends in Leadership Development" where it addresses the VUCA environment and what this looks like to managers. The CCL report states research indicates that...

- They contain a large number of interacting elements.
- Information in the system is highly ambiguous, incomplete, or indecipherable. Interactions among system elements are non-linear and tightly-coupled such that small changes can produce disproportionately large effects.
- Solutions emerge from the dynamics within the system and cannot be imposed from outside with predictable results.
- Hindsight does not lead to foresight since the elements and conditions of the system can be in continual flux.

The report also indicates that the skills that leaders will need most in the future are the following:

- Adaptability
- Self-awareness
- Boundary spanning
- Collaboration
- Network thinking

The report also recognizes what may be critical to working in the VUCA environment...

"It appears that the new V.U.C.A. environment is seeing the demand move away from isolated behavioral competencies toward complex “thinking” abilities. These manifest as adaptive competencies such as learning agility, self-awareness, comfort with ambiguity, and strategic thinking. With such changes in the mental demands on future leaders, the question will be, how will we produce these capacities of thinking?"

Where does all of this take us? For starters it will need to shift the way we view and conduct "leader" development. Why do I say leader development? Because we are typically focused on individuals in leadership development. Helping them understand their individual leadership needs and addressing them through the best practices discussed in the last blog post.

The CCL report makes the case, and one that I agree with, is that in order for our organizations to prosper in the VUCA environment, we will need to focus on "collective leadership" development.

"The complexity of the new environment increasingly presents what Ronald Heifetz calls “adaptive challenges” in which it is not possible for any one individual to know the solution or even define the problem (the recent U.S. debt crisis, for example). Instead, adaptive challenges call for collaboration between various stakeholders who each hold a different aspect of the reality and many of whom must themselves adapt and grow if the problem is to be solved. These collectives, who often cross geographies, reporting lines, and organizations, need to collaboratively share information, create plans, influence each other, and make decisions."

Focusing on collective leadership, vice leader development is something we can and should embrace. It will take a different perspective from leadership development to raise up from the "dance floor" and look at it from the "balcony" and how we orchestrate collective leadership development , while supporting individualized leader development. I discussed looking at leadership capability through portfolio management perspectives to identify investments and risk (You Need a Leadership Capability Portfolio Manager)

This will be a new world for some of us, but a necessary paradigm shift. The success of our organizations depend on it.


J. Keith Dunbar is a Global Talent Management Leader...Creator of Talent, Leadership Capability, and Culture Change...He can be found connecting and sharing knowledge on Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Twitter: JKeithDunbar
LinkedIn: J. Keith Dunbar
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Blog: DNA of Human Capital

The opinions or views expressed here are mine alone and do not represent the views of the SAIC.


  1. Thanks for the kind comments...very much appreciated.


  2. Your observation is in the mark. I happen to Agree and would add another dimension as well, that of spiritually in leadership ...compassion and inclusiveness...consideration of impacts on those whom the decision affects ...just for starters. Thanks for sharing the vision.

  3. Hi Robin...Leaders will need high Emotional Intelligence to know when and how to adapt to situations with employees...

    Thanks for sharing...