Train for 2018 Leadership

In advance of leading training-for-trainers conference, Training 2018, expo co-curator and global head of Duke Corporate Education Labs, Tony O’Driscoll takes Dialogue‘s Kirsten Levermore through the most pressing challenges of getting leaders ready for what’s next

Digital connectivity has led to structural volatility. The intern can pitch directly to the chief executive, the financial planner can talk strategy with the marketer, the designer can interact with the analyst. Networks are accessible 24/7, and project-work is quickly dominating 9-to-5 structure. Our world is changing. And we must keep up.

An adult education visionary with IBM before taking up a professorship at Duke University’s Fuqua Business School, Tony O’Driscoll is now global head of Duke Corporate Education (DukeCE) Labs – a job that, in his words, allows him to stare out the window and look intently at the horizon. Together with his team, O’Driscoll determines the future of leadership development, experimenting with new methodologies, approaches and technologies to uncover where leverage lies in building the leadership system capabilities required to survive and thrive in an increasingly complex world.

Today, O’Driscoll is sharing what increased volatility and complexity means for leaders and how learning professionals can prepare themselves to develop those leaders to thrive…

Building a VUCA-ready leadership system

People have always looked to leadership to light a path between an untenable present and an uncertain future.

But the more connected we are by digital channels, under ever-increasing and intense scrutiny, the more vulnerable and insecure leadership feel to take individual action.

This means that entering the VUCA world, we are desperately looking for leadership to light the path to a better tomorrow at precisely the moment they feel most insecure in their ability to lead the way.

Instincts dating back to the earliest humans determine how we cope with fear. It is generally agreed that we respond to uncertain environments in one of three ways: fight (where leaders challenge fear), flight (where leaders run away from the uncertainty and unconsciously revert to what they know – which will get you eaten by a VUCA mountain lion) or freeze.

A lot of people are in ‘Freeze’ mode, languishing in the doldrums of indecision and inaction, hanging in stasis, unsure how to go forward. The leaders among them are faced with crucial decisions but, in the face of such volatile, crippling uncertainty, they aren’t able to make a choice or choose a path, and it will cost their organization dearly.

What learning professionals need to do, therefore, is equip leaders to escape ‘freeze’ and move forward.

Moving leaders forward

‘Training’ in the traditional sense will be of no use to leaders in a VUCA world. What we need is a mindset shift.

Success in a VUCA world will be dependent on the ability of leadership to build a more responsive, resilient and adaptable organization.

DukeCE Labs has identified two key concepts that need to be incorporated into the mindset of VUCA-ready leaders: unlearning and the assimilation of collective consciousness.

  • Unlearning is more important than learning

A chief executive friend of mine has a nightly ritual: every evening, they ask themselves, “what have I unlearned today?”. This CEO lives in the new world of work.

Unlearning is very difficult, forcing us to surface long-held assumptions about reality and question their validity in this entirely new context. Unlearning is also, however, essential because a) past experience, acquired in stable and predictable times, may no longer be relevant in today’s VUCA world, rarely will one solution apply to more than one situation and b) unlearning unlocks curiosity to see beyond your prior experience to discover new and different progression paths to the future.

Curiosity is one of the most important elements of future-proof leadership: Once we have learnt something, it is rare (in the working world) that we have the chance to question it. Unlearning, however, allows for a blank slate which needs to be filled. Thus, curiosity. That curiosity leads to the pursuit and embrace of new ideas, technologies and people. Those new insights lead to change. Change means adaptation. And, without the ability change, the likelihood of survival in a world that is changing as fast as ours is zero. Without change, it’s game over.

Learning and change are two sides of the same coin. There is no change in behavior without unlearning bad habits and replacing them with new ones.

  • Collective consciousness will make up a resilient leadership system

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change”

– Albert Einstein

In the connected world, companies – and leaders – can no longer act in isolation. Leaders and trusted advisors must, therefore, be equipped with knowledge of today’s climate and the context of business. The only way to truly capture all of this information is to embrace the collective consciousness of the organization.

Business can learn a lesson from the Arts, here: Pilobolus is an exceptional dance troupe that embody collective consciousness, with each dancer working as part of the collective to collaborate and choreograph a dance live in front of an audience. Live, in real-time, the dancers abide by a set of principles of collaboration, coming together to create a unique and contextually resonant piece of work. They are a living, breathing, collective organism. Attendees at Training 2018 will get to see this live in action – but the goal is that every organization will get to practice this collective collaboration on a day-to-day basis for themselves. 

Leadership development today is about building a resilient leadership system for the future –that will transcend individuals to survive, no matter who is in power, in any context.

What will training look like in 2018?

Learning is going to experience a profound change over the next few years. Looking into the shape of ‘learning’ for the year to come with an experiment at Training‘s Online Learning Conference last fall, we can already see a move from classroom-based, static, scheduled, linear, planned learning to a far more digital, adaptive, on-demand, personalised, interactive and instant training system.

With this in mind, Training 2018 Conference and Expo is producing a flexible, exciting series of workshops and – especially for our co-located event, the Duke CE Leadership Experience  –  interactive, immersive experiences for learning and HR leaders that help them to challenge the norms and adapt to the VUCA world.

Another certainty is that the work of being human, and leading humans, will require discretionary effort going forward; changing mindsets and behaviours is the hard part of future-proof training because, for leaders, the pain of learning does not always seem more attractive than the anxiety of survival.

Furthermore, it’s not rational, cognitive arguments that change minds, but more of a shock-and-respond, stimulus-response experience.

Training 2018, therefore, will see participants exposed to and equipped with experiences that allow them their own ‘Aha!’ moments, allow them to explore and work for themselves.

Define leadership development for the future?

Future-proofed leadership strategy is:

  • Agile
  • Resilient
  • Able to respond to the environment

Learn more about the future of work from Linda Sharkey // Watch Tony O’Driscoll discuss explaining an unimaginable world to our children // Discover Kevin Oakes’ formula for organizational agility // Consider the role of leaders as the central nervous system of a company //Investigate the effect of the external environment on businesses

– Tony O’Driscoll is global head of DukeCE Labs and curator of the high-performance leadership track and DukeCE Leadership Experience in collaboration with Training 2018 Conference & Expo. Follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn

Training 2018 will be held in Atlanta, Georgia, 12-14 February 2018 and features 30 sessions and 40 speakers from some of the best and most respected companies on the planet. 

DukeCE will host the DukeCE Leadership Experience, taking place on February 12, to push the boundaries and engage in an agenda setting dialogue around what’s next for leadership development, and is curator of the Leadership for What’s Next track within Training 2018 on 13-14 February. Modules include:

  • Learning’s value in the era of disruption
  • How to close the growing leadership gap
  • The future of leadership and learning
  • Design thinking for organizations and leadership
  • Demystifying finance to make better business decisions
  • Leadership development on purpose