Why leaders need software upgrades

Mark Vernooij Berend-Jan Hilberts
June 24th, 2019
Article by: Mark Vernooij, Berend-Jan Hilberts
Why leaders need software upgrades

Don’t ask what leaders need to do, ask what leaders need to be!

 

We live in interesting times

 

Everyone wants a sustainable future, with a flourishing natural world, food for all, and a solution for pollution. Everyone wants to benefit from technological advances, economic progress, and institutions that create safety, equity, and wellbeing for all.

 

These wishes are complex. When we say complex, we mean that their intrinsic structure makes them difficult to realize. These problems have no clear definition, as they cross multiple stakeholder groups, are interrelated, contain feedback loops, and continuously change which means that they don’t have one clear moral or optimal solution.

 

Unfortunately, we live in a time where leaders face more and more of these complex problems. The system we live in is bumping against its own limits. The old policies and structures that formed the system have outlived their usefulness. Whether you’re a politician trying to manage a tax system that’s not set up to deal with companies that can change their tax regime with a touch of a button or whether you’re a business leader trying to navigate your organization through the latest technologies, all of you face more complex problems every day.

why leaders need software upgrades
Whether you’re a politician, a business leader, or a small business owner, all of you face more complex problems every day. #leadership #complexity #creativeleadership #creativeleader Click To Tweet

We are all in over our heads

Everyone transforms from baby to adolescent to young adult. Research shows that these transformations in adults are like upgrades of your operating system, but for the brain: suddenly you can handle more complexity with less effort.

The software upgrades from infant to adolescent to young adult are like auto-installs; they happen regardless for most people. But after the third stage, people – including leaders – need to work hard to upgrade to the next level. At least 75% of the world’s population has not done the hard work to get to stage 4.0, and less than 5% have reached stage 5.0.

This means that most adults are in over their heads. They are trying to succeed in a world that they’re not equipped for – or to continue the computer analogy: they are trying to run Windows applications on an MS-DOS operating system. We see this in the rising number of leaders who feel ill-equipped, overwhelmed, and burned out as well as in the number of clearly naïve solutions for complex challenges.

why leaders need software upgrades
A rising number of leaders feel ill-equipped, overwhelmed, and burned out, resulting in naïve solutions for complex challenges. #leadership #complexity #burnout #creativeleadership Click To Tweet

It always seems impossible until it's done

It is possible for leaders to transform themselves along their innermost axis and acquire the perspective that is needed to handle much more complexity with greater ease and grace. Our world deserves leaders who can move people with a compelling vision for an alternative state of affairs; leaders who admit they don’t have all the answers, but who take their people along on a joint exploration of the path; leaders who stay away from winning and losing, and look out for the betterment of all. We see glimpses of these leaders in politics (New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern); business (Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff) and; society (International Institute for Peace Chair, Forest Whitaker).

These leaders – operating at the 4.0 and 5.0 software upgrades – are between two and nine times more effective in their leadership as research amongst business leaders shows. What these leaders have in common is their ability to bring people on a new and uncertain journey, with an optimistic, constructive energy and understanding and respect for what is and a high ambition for what could be.

They have a tolerance for the imperfect temporary state of the present, where things cannot be fixed with a magic wand. They appreciate the importance of interpersonal relating and self-awareness, operate with integrity and authenticity, understand systems dynamics, and offer a deeper purpose that manifests itself through a compelling vision. They lead with clarity of mind, a courageous heart, and a soulful conviction.

why leaders need software upgrades
Our world deserves leaders who admit they don’t have all the answers, but who take their people along on a joint exploration of the path and look out for the betterment of all. #creativeleadership #future #leadership Click To Tweet

Do or do not. There is no try

A new version of leadership is called for: leaders who are well-equipped to lead amidst the complex state of our world. We all understand the difference between a tribe member, a chief, and a tribe elder and we see the differences between Donald Trump, Steve Jobs, and Jacinda Ardern and how their distinct ways of leading demonstrate their software difference.

We need to:

  • Create awareness for the innate ability – coupled with significant effort – to continue growth and upgrades of the mind
  • Foster dialogue in this field to further strengthen its business case and to increase understanding of how to best support leaders with upgrading their software
  • Just start with piloting, testing, and scaling approaches that provide these software upgrades

We know upgrading leadership is essential, we know it’s possible, and we know it pays off. So, let’s get started!

To upgrade your leadership, join the THNK Executive Leadership ProgramDownload the brochure or find out if you qualify.