Photo: Pelin Kohn

As the future grows ever more digital, leadership will need to be more human

NORWICH RECORD | Summer 2022

Innovation starts with imagination. As others have said, “anything one man can imagine other men can make real.” It seems only a matter of time before the world embraces even more technological innovations that herald profound changes in society—from circular economies, brain nets, and space commerce to sensor-embedded clothing, a global empathy index, or an artificial intelligence-only web. The acceleration in innovation will offer numerous social, economic, and business opportunities for everyone.

But how will the leaders of tomorrow effectively manage these opportunities for their organizations, business, and society? I see several critical skillsets the future will demand from its leaders. First, they will need technological, collective, and cultural intelligence. In addition, they will need foresight and the ability to think critically and strategically. They will also need to be more careful in creating a better world using technology. Protecting their leadership values of courage, ethics, social purpose, and a global mindset will be more important than ever.

While there is some overlap with the skills demanded of successful leaders today, a different future requires leaders with different abilities. There will be many opportunities for them, but with one condition: The future of leadership will be all about leading people and data. By this I mean they will need the ability to understand and interpret data, so that they can create a vision based on that information. Leveraging these skills will allow them to not only become better managers but to create a better leadership model for the people, organizations, and communities they guide. This is especially important when dealing with uncertainty, and there is nothing more uncertain than the future. The leaders of tomorrow will therefore need to under¬stand the systematic patterns that underlie and shape their spheres of influence and the world to build a leadership strategy based on the patterns learned from data.

Will understanding data and technology be enough for future leaders to be unique? Unfortunately, no. Numerous other qualifications will be required. The best-kept secret is that the more digital the world gets in the future, the more human leader¬ship will need to be. It may seem counter¬intuitive that future leaders will need to be adept at technology while also focusing more on human capital, but it is not.

The pace of future technological innovation will be rapid and relentless. But future leaders should not be distracted by this, because human needs will not change simultaneously. Our need for safety, belonging, and protection remains the same today as it was a million years ago. The same will be true in the future: As professionals, we will seek the same “human” support from our leaders that we do today and have in the past, especially when uncertainty is our new reality.

Virtually all leadership is judged by analyzing the outcome, but leadership is a process not a result. The future of leader-ship, therefore, will need to be more collective. In other words, it will have to be more inclusive. The future brings great opportunity to individuals who have developed skills independent from their race, gender, and country or culture of origin. These individuals as leaders who can focus on others as well as themselves will move us toward more global intelligence.

Leadership in the future will require us to bring people together, listen to them, and include them in the leadership process, regardless of their social and cultural backgrounds. The ability to understand cultural backgrounds and bring people together will be essential. More important will be the ability to connect people to work toward and achieve a meaningful purpose.

Future leaders will also need global intelligence. Technology makes our world ever smaller and more connected. Future leaders will need to be increasingly globally focused as the connections between people around the world become even more commonplace.

So much about the future is uncertain. Leaders will need strategic intelligence, or foresight, to understand, define, and lead in the future. They must use the past to predict the future, an elusive skill also known as foresight.

Acquiring it is a daunting task. Leading in the future will also be a challenge. Thankfully the future of leadership and leadership studies at Norwich is very bright. Recently, faculty, staff, and leaders have worked to position Norwich as one of the most important actors in writing the story of the future of leadership through the creation of new academic leadership programs, including a new leadership major, minor, and accelerated master’s degree.

Focusing on the development of human capital, our new leadership center will aim to foster foresight and critical and strategic thinking skills in our students to prepare them as the campus, community, national, and world leaders of tomorrow. Our university and graduates will be ready to lead, whatever the future brings.

Leadership expert Pelin Kohn earned a PhD in leadership (administration and planning) from Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey, and is a former Fulbright scholar and executive coach. She has worked with global CEOs, middle managers, and fledgling leaders to improve their leadership, and companies such as Bosch, Turkish Airlines, Liberty Insurance, British Petroleum, Hyundai, and Ford.

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