Leadership 2050 – What Qualities Will We Need?

Paradoxical leaderThis blog post includes excerpts from chapter 13 or an upcoming book edited by the International Leadership Association: Building Bridges series in June 2015. The chapter was written by  Susan Cannon, Maureen Metcalf and Mike Morrow-Fox to explore the question of what does leadership look like in 2050.

The qualities of effective leadership can be paradoxical—requiring effective leaders to be passionate and unbiased, detailed and strategic, hard driving and sustainable, fact-focused and intuitive, self-confident and selfless—often at the same time. Such complexity is rarely found in leaders even under optimal conditions. As we move toward 2050, new contexts and conditions are poised to emerge that will create challenges beyond the abilities of most leaders or any single nation to manage. This powerful contextual shift—a time of great stress and constraint—has the potential to drive a new and more complex stage of human culture and consciousness to meet these challenges.

Historically, as new stages of human culture and consciousness have emerged, the requirements for effective leadership have shifted accordingly. Such a shift is already underway in small pockets; in the next few decades, we expect its significance to increase. This shift will call for and catalyze what researchers and scholar-practitioners of adult developmental maturity (developmentalists) call “Strategist” leadership skills ). Strategist leaders have a world-centric, truly inclusive capacity to see, make meaning, and respond in a way that facilitates consistent, flexible, holistic, meta-systemic, broadly collaborative, and transformative problem-solving that endures even during times of times of stress and constraint. In this chapter, the authors describe research-based probable futures that will require more Strategist

This perfect storm of increasing complexity, accelerating change, and near constant uncertainty is creating conditions that exceed the mental and emotional capacities of most leaders. While technology is advancing exponentially, our laws, culture, and social contracts are moving in a linear fashion. The same is true for conventional approaches to leadership development. Four recent global studies on the future needs and gaps of organizational leadership concluded that current leadership lacks the higher-ordered skills and capacities to meet the complexity of even today’s challenges. For example, current leaders lack the ability to function in environments that have a high degree of ambiguity and uncertainty, to build cross-cultural strategic relationships, to facilitate collaboration between diverse groups, or to sense the crucial and unspoken undercurrents and relational dynamics in a meeting. The systematic cultivation of such higher-ordered capacities in leaders requires more than training—it means they must psychologically evolve to a more complex way of being.

The stages of a leader’s growth have a direct correlation, and thereby a natural fit, with stages of cultural evolution. The new leader that emerged with each cultural stage had the requisite capacities and developmental maturity to reach beyond what came before. For example, someone seeking to become a term-limited chief executive of a Modern era nation-state democracy must have the more complex, nuanced, and emotionally intelligent capacity to gather support and communicate with the electorate and representatives in a way that a Traditional era bloodline monarch, ruling by fiat, would not need or understand.

This emerging cultural stage of development structurally correlates to the Strategist leader.

According to an HBR article, Seven Transformations of Leadership by Torbert and Rooke, 4% of leaders test at the Strategist level. Characteristics include:

  • Perceives systematic patterns and long term trends with uncanny clarity.
  • Can easily differentiate objective versus subjectively biased events.
  • Exhibits a strong focus on self-development, self-actualization, and authenticity.
  • Pursues actualizing personal convictions according to internal standards.
  • Management style is tenacious and yet humble.
  • Understands the importance of mutual interdependence with others.
  • Well-advanced time horizon: approximately fifteen – twenty years with concern for legacy.

In future posts we will explore how to recognize Strategist leaders so you can hire them and/or position them in strategic roles within the organization. We will also talk about how to develop them.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

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photo credit: www.flickr.com Hartwig HKD


Brown, B. (2011). Conscious leadership for sustainability: How leaders with a late-stage action logic design and engage in sustainability initiatives. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from Dissertations and Theses database. (UMI No. 3498378)

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O’Fallon, T. (2013, July). The senses: Demystifying awakening. Presented at the 2013 Integral Theory Conference, San Francisco, CA. Available at https://metaintegral.org/sites/default/files/O’Fallon_ITC2013.pdf

Rooke, D., & Torbert, W. (2005, April). Seven transformations of leadership. Harvard Business Review, 83 (4), 67 – 76. Downloadable at https://hbr.org/2005/04/seven-transformations-of-leadership

Development Dimensions International & The Conference Board (2014). Ready-now leaders: Meeting tomorrow’s business challenges. Global leadership forecast 2014|2015. Retrieved at http://www.ddiworld.com /DDI/media/trend-research/global-leadership-forecast-2014-2015_tr_ddi.pdf?ext=.pdf

Gitsham, M. (2009). Developing the global leader of tomorrow. Ashridge and EABIS report. Available at http://www.ashridge.com/Website/IC.nsf /wFARPUB/Developing+the+Global+Leader+of+Tomorrow+Report+-+2009?opendocument

IBM Corporation (2010). Working beyond borders: Insights from the global chief human resource officer study. Available at http://www-935.ibm.com /services/c-suite/chro/study/

Leslie, B. (2009). The leadership gap: What you need and don’t have when it comes to leadership talent. Center For Creative Leadership. Available at http://www.ccl.org/leadership/pdf/research/leadershipGap.pdf


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