...at the Edges of Knowledge.”
In our current volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) business environment, business leaders are coming to terms with the new reality. Much of what they knew about how to stay relevant to stakeholders three to five years ago has been rendered mute under today’s conditions. Both external and internal stakeholders now have much different expectations to the level where leaders are realizing a renewed sense of the importance and focus on culture, purpose, and effective communications as crucial to their sustainable success.
Inherent in this process are the two key elements of the title quote. The first is the level of continuous learning embraced by 21st Century leaders as they strive for purposeful relevance. We’ve written about leadership learning over the years, most recently earlier this year which you can see here. The second is the importance of knowledge in the leader’s learning process to inform what really matters to their organization’s sustainable success. This is also a topic we’ve written about in the past with the most recent article available here. We explore both ideas in more detail in the following paragraphs.
We start the discussion of learning with one of my favorite quotes which comes from the futurist Alvin Toffler who said, ““The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” With this idea as a backdrop, effective leaders embrace continuous learning to stay relevant. To generate different results, leaders must act differently. And in order to act differently, they must change how they think. For continuous learning to be effective and stay ahead of current events, leaders exercise a heightened level of curiosity as a habitual and sustainable leadership attitude!
As we work with our coaching clients in this area, we leverage a simple technique of asking questions that challenge the status quo. Questions beginning with “What if...” and/or “Why not...” are two of our favorites to build an attitude of curiosity. Of course, the learning begins with knowing the answers to these questions. More importantly, meaningful learning happens based on how leaders apply the answers to these questions!
Which leads us to the importance of applied knowledge. We define leadership development as the process of improving one’s leadership skills, knowledge, and attitudes in the context of the leadership roles they have in the organization. We also know that knowledge is created by putting available relevant information into a useful context. In other words, knowledge is answering the simple question of, “So what?” Why is this information important and why should the leader care about it relative to the key business decisions they need to make? A recent survey in the “Future of Jobs Report 2020” published by the World Economic Forum listed the top ten skills of 2025. Of the ten skills listed below, five of the ten skills are related to problem-solving and are highlighted in bold lettering:
Effective 21st Century leadership requires critical thinking to make the relevant business decisions to achieve desired results. Whether a for-profit or non-profit, small business or large corporation, publicly or privately held, critical thinking is common under all scenarios. What was necessary to be relevant three to five years ago has changed, in some cases dramatically, to what being relevant means in today’s new reality. Therefore, leaders must embrace a continuous learning mindset to develop the relevant knowledge necessary for sustainable success!
What new knowledge are you applying to your leadership journey? If you are not sure, we can help.