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Extraordinary times demand extraordinary leadership

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Ask anyone to describe the current times in one word and you’ll get a variety of responses, from turbulent, chaotic, and even dangerous to promising, exciting, and enriching. Put it all together and, I would assert, these present times can be best referred to as extraordinary.

If that’s the case, then traditional leadership approaches simply won’t cut it. Recent polls by Gallup back this up. Its General Mood of the Country revealed that, in April 2023, 83% of U.S. respondents were dissatisfied with the way things are going; almost half indicated in January 2023 that they are “very dissatisfied.” When asked the reason for their dissatisfaction, government came in at number one.

Globally, things don’t seem to be much better. On a scale of zero to 100, Gallup’s Negative Experience Index (consisting of anger, stress, sadness, worry, and physical pain) currently stands at an all-time high of 33.

Leadership guru John Maxwell famously stated: “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” And charting a path to a more prosperous future demands nothing less than extraordinary leadership. During the summer of 2023, the International Institute for Knowledge & Innovation (IIKI; iiki.org) held a series of online seminars outlining new, emerging leadership styles aimed at taking individuals, organizations, nations, and society to the next level. Those leadership styles— science-based, foresight-driven, and adaptive/democratic—suggest exciting opportunities for KM.

Science-based leadership

Strong leaders have the ability to move large numbers of people to take extraordinary action. Motivation to take action is often emotionally driven. Whether dealing with the fear of a fragile climate or the excitement of the possibility of extended longevity, emotions can, and often do, override logic and of pain and the promise of pleasure are powerful motivators. This is where science-based leadership plays a key role in maintaining balance and perspective.

Opportunities for KM: We can start by helping decision makers connect the myriad dots involved (think knowledge graphs). We can help increase trust by tracking and managing provenance, making sure people can confidently answer the question: “Where the heck did this come from?” We can help people better understand the critical distinction between correlation and causality. Above all, we can facilitate the introduction of dissenting viewpoints, buffered with an ever-present reminder that true science is based on the rule of falsifiability—that the scientific method always aims for rigorously attempting to disprove, as opposed to quickly leaping to prove, a hypothesis.

Foresight-driven leadership

People often forget that decision making occurs under three conditions: certainty, risk, and uncertainty. As for the first, dream on. Aside from death and taxes, most will agree that there’s very little certainty in today’s world other than that things will continue to change! As for risk, that works well in the presence of cyclic, observable patterns. Are we three, four, or five standard deviations from the norm? We can hedge our bets accordingly, based on our risk tolerance, as long as the underlying assumptions remain reasonably consistent.

But in the uncertainty of a complex, fast-changing world, especially where “black swan” events can and do appear out of nowhere, trying to predict the future is ultimately a fool’s game. That’s where the value of foresight comes into play. In fact, the greater the uncertainty, the greater the strength and value of leadership based on strategic foresight become. According to the Prescient360 Group (prescient360.com), in this style of leadership, the leadership team learns and practices the fine art (and science) of 1) recognizing multiple possible scenarios; 2) charting the full range of alternative paths, consequences, and responses; and 3) maintaining clarity concerning which variables to monitor and what they might mean.

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