The new role of leadership in a fast-paced, unpredictable world

Exponential change calls for exponential leaders. In today’s environment of nonstop volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, business leaders must continuously evolve to stay competitive and relevant in their industries. As the diversity and complexity of leaders’ worlds increase, their capacity to adapt accordingly becomes increasingly important.

Seemingly, as one geopolitical crisis is resolved, another makes whiplash headlines. Similarly, social unrest, cyber hacks, natural disasters and other disruptive events continually take us by surprise. To create and lead a successful transformation, leaders of today need a new approach. The skills and mindsets carefully honed over years of experience are necessary, but no longer sufficient to lead the organisation of the 21st century. To survive and thrive in new conditions, leaders must replace their old mindset with a new framework – one reliant on the following skills and capabilities:


Agility is defined as the ability to move quickly and easily; or the ability to think and understand quickly. Agility is thus a pivotal capability to prepare leaders for the next era of business practices. Research from McKinsey & Company found that leadership and the way in which leadership shapes culture are the biggest barriers to – as well as the most significant enablers of – organisations’ successful agile transformations.

When unexpected changes take place, surprise, discomfort, and unrest are the result, which is why leaders must hone their ability to adapt quickly; to grow from mistakes, stay flexible and rise to various challenges.

Future-forward thinking

How does one proactively anticipate change? Instead of perceiving, and planning for future events as a new version of past events, exponential leaders need to imagine new possibilities expectantly and optimistically. They must be able to adapt quickly to situations outside of their comfort zones – to become equally comfortable with managing what is known, as well as with exploring what is unknown. These future-forward thinking leaders need to replace traditional business planning with strategic foresight, backcasting, innovation and scenario forecasting.

Rigorous innovation

The future needs creative innovators, and leaders of today and tomorrow need to discover new ideas through rigorous experimentation. Innovation requires a growth mindset, which enables continual iteration to uncover and tap into heretofore hidden opportunities.

Innovative leaders must always put the customer’s needs first. To do so, it is important to harvest customer insights using human-centred instead of behavioural-centred processes, such as keen observation, analysis of metrics and ongoing questioning. As innovators, leaders must be able to communicate their ideas quickly and effectively, which is why honing the skills of visual thinking and storytelling is essential.

Well-known research by Google suggests that to foster team innovation, leaders also need to create a sense of psychologic safety; people need to feel comfortable suggesting ideas, speaking openly, and admitting they don’t know. This is one of the pervasive characteristics of high-performing and innovative teams.


Increasingly, technology can automate, digitise, manipulate and replace physical products and services, challenging the status quo of many existing companies. Technology will furthermore continue to raise questions around ethics, privacy and the role of artificial intelligence. Not only do leaders need to understand which technologies will directly impact their industries, but they also need to experiment with different technology products and services that go beyond what’s familiar or comfortable.


Exponential leaders aim to do well by using their skills to improve the lives of people and society as a whole – not as part of their corporate social responsibility, but integrated into their company mission. Leading as a humanitarian means explicitly creating positive impact. It can also mean investing in a positive corporate culture and a meaningful work environment, which inspires employees and partners to unlock their full potential.

The role of 21st-century leader development

More than any other factor, the key enabler to an organisation’s successful agile transformation is to help leaders develop the mindsets and capabilities to design, build, and lead an agile company. At Factor10 consulting, we are leveraging the psychology of leadership in an exponential world to create leadership impact and organisational value. Get in touch to find out more about unleashing your organisation’s peak potential.


A new leadership lens to navigate complexity – Global Focus
● Leading agile transformation: The new capabilities leaders need to build 21st-century organizations – McKinsey&Company

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