Dan Buchner is vice-president of the Peter Lougheed Leadership Institute at the Banff Centre in Banff, Alta.
The communities where we live and work are confronting the most complex challenges of our time. We are consumed by concerns over climate change, economic uncertainty, income inequality, multicultural relations, geopolitical unrest and other seemingly uncontrollable forces. People are stressed, confused, anxious, on edge.
When we think of leadership in such times, we immediately look toward the dynamic individual leader who can guide us through the volatility. But today's leadership has shifted toward a shared responsibility of key actors in the play, a process shared by passionate and motivated individuals within a social system. There will always be strong individual voices, but success will come from interactions among groups of leaders developing innovative approaches by looking at existing ideas in new and creative ways.
We are facing real challenges developing leadership capacity in this context. It requires a different type of person than we've seen in the past. In a recent Ipsos Reid survey, chief executive officers and politicians (who often exemplify the dynamic individual leader) were rated near the bottom, just a few percentage points above telemarketers, of a list measuring trust in Canadian professionals. In another survey by the Gandalf Group, 50 per cent of respondents said they "do not trust" politicians and just 22 per cent of Canadians said they "trust" business CEOs.
Historically, most leadership development has been focused on the effectiveness of the individual leader and their organization's performance. The need has quickly shifted to developing individuals and organizations so they can lead within the context of the community where they live and work, but methods have not evolved at the same pace. We know from research that new leadership skills are required to be effective in the 21st century.
We need to develop new processes that can help people lead within the collective. This requires complex thinking capabilities that allow us to get a deeper understanding of all the moving parts of the systems at play. You can't ensure that a good plan can be executed without interaction among the right leaders in the right way. Leaders need to continually invent new solutions to react to unpredictability. You need to learn from those outside your expertise and operate under the assumption that your understanding of the world is incomplete or insufficient. Through empathy and shared understanding, we can look beyond the challenges to find solutions.
Amid such challenges, there is increased demand for all stakeholders to come on board: private, public, not-for-profit and community organizations, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, activists. If interrelated elements are what make things so complex, the way out involves interactive, multiparticipant engagement. We need to seek out diverse perspectives, promote new voices and bring people together to co-create innovative ideas, not just compromises. To do this, we need to challenge old assumptions and experiment with new possibilities in a constructive and stimulating environment. That requires a different way of leading.
As a leader, how do you reach an agreement when organizations or individuals have conflicting objectives? Gathering a diverse group of stakeholders can be risky. Different strategies and skills are required to shift the dialogue from a partisan and polarized debate to one where engaged individuals are willing to address change. We must create conditions encouraging a belief that people are operating and leading from a place of trust and, as we've seen, that isn't currently the case. We need to encourage processes that deliver the skills needed for collaborative leadership: adaptability, self-awareness, reflection, deep listening skills, comfort with ambiguity, the courage to come up with creative approaches.
Expectations are higher than they've ever been. There is a desire for more say and input in our organizations and communities. Groups of inspired, passionate advocates who want to drive change can build better organizations and a better society. These are the types of leaders our world needs.