Over the course of the past year, you may have noticed that students, teenagers and other young adults, have escalated their concerns about the quality of decisions being made by the current generation of leaders.

This has been expressed through their social media comment, mainstream media commentary, rallies and more recently the phenomenon of school strikes. They have sought to be heard on topics ranging from climate change and (in the US), gun reform. 

Quite rightly they are asking us to consider how the decisions of leaders today will affect them, their families, their communities, and the societies they will live and work in during their lifetimes. In Australia their recent commentary on climate change inaction by our political leaders demonstrates their dire concerns about the future of the planet.

Why is it then that leaders often dismiss these youthful concerns by speaking to the immaturity or “lack of wisdom” from which these concerns spring?  Strange isn’t it, that the perspectives of those ultimately most affected by our decisions are often the ones being ignored or dismissed.

At Cornerstone Integral we see this as another example of the leader’s struggle to make effective decisions in the Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) environment of today’s world. Youthful concerns are being lost in the clamor of attention being demanded by voters, shareholders, investors, creditors, customers, regulators, suppliers, and competitors; let alone their need to consider the effect of emergent technologies, markets and social trends. These youthful concerns are but one example of how critical perspectives are lost in this clamor. Research confirms that the more our attention is stretched, the less able we are to navigate the complexity of our modern world. Often this draws us to short term thinking, solving day to day problems as they occur.  Is it any wonder then that the voice of youth is lost in this chatter as they are often absent from the noise of voting intentions, investment decisions, and other stakeholder perspectives attracting the attention of leaders.  In short, outside of being the noisy teenager at home or in the school yard their voice is often overlooked by those who have the responsibility to  deeply consider their future welfare.  

However, is it fair to be critical of our leaders when they are so chronically affected by the VUCA world they now find themselves residing in;  particularly as it has only recently become clear how to build leaders’ capability to make decisions requiring higher levels of complex thinking.

Decision making in a VUCA world

Resulting from the legacy of more than 100 years of research and the recent ground-breaking work by Dr. Theo Dawson at Lectica – (one of our favourite researchers), we can now confidently predict and build the capability leaders bring to the quality of their decision making, enabling them to affect decisions on issues of greater complexity and breadth.  This capability provides a leader with a compass to navigate their way through the VUCA world we now live in. Dr. Dawson’s insight allows us to reduce the gap in leaders’ capability  described in the complexity gap below. 

The teal line shows the complexity level of roles from Junior to Senior Leadership. The red line shows the capability level of manager/leaders to perform in these levels. Developmental Level describes the level of complexity related to roles and human capability.  The complexity gap describes the gap between leaders’ capability and the complexity of roles.

The teal line shows the complexity level of roles from Junior to Senior Leadership. The red line shows the capability level of manager/leaders to perform in these levels. Developmental Level describes the level of complexity related to roles and human capability.

The complexity gap describes the gap between leaders’ capability and the complexity of roles.

The importance of enhanced perspective seeking

Dr. Dawson’s research confirms that building  perspective seeking skills is a critical factor in enhanced decision making and she describes the learning steps we can use to achieve this outcome. At Cornerstone Integral, Dr. Dawson’s research forms one element of our Integrally informed approach to leadership development and capacity building for individuals and organisations.

 

What then is the gift you can give to those most in need of your wisdom and leadership?

If you are concerned about the legacy you are leaving our future generations we recommend you think about these questions.

  • Do I consider the perspectives of those who will be ultimately affected by the decisions I make?

  • How do I build my decision-making capability and robustly consider those affected by my decisions as a leader?

  • With respect to the next generations, how can I consider their needs so that my gift to them is reflected in the legacy created by the decisions I make today? 

For more insight into Dr. Dawson’s seminal work on this topic we invite you read

VUCA Leader Decision Making.

Finally…

One of our colleagues attended an evening of Christmas chorals last week and one of the songs was inspired by chorister’s interpretation of a child’s Christmas wish.… (Sung to the tune of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’).

 

“I don’t need a gift, need no more than I’ve got…

I only want a world for Christmas, the blue-green forever turning world,

for Christmas – oh please give me a present for the future….

You could follow your heart, but you follow a whim, 

and fill up your stockings way over the brim…”

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