Two keys to leadership in the era of complexity

Published: February 17th, 2017

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” Franklin D. Roosevelt famously declared in his inaugural address in 1932. These words are powerful – and they are almost as American as apple pie! President Roosevelt’s words still resonate today because they strike a deep chord in the human psyche: fear is frightening, but the courage to overcome it is greater yet.

Americans are nothing if not resilient and courageous. However, two fears that bring worry to many of us today are poor leadership and big data. Yes, the gathering of big data along with the interpretation and application of the information are issues of profound consequence, but what we have to really fear is arrogance and ignorance.

We should fear ignorance and abdication of true leadership in all of us to the power of big data, “group think” and the temptation to give in to the biggest trends and the loudest voices. We should fear arrogance because overconfidence will get us in trouble – every time.

Big D is here to stay and, yes, big data can do good by uncovering our blind spots or discover significant trends. However, beware of drawing quick conclusions or blindly following the biggest leads. The world is complex; people are complex. Technology provides information but will never have the whole story.

Leaders, like the rest of us, often have to take action before knowing the whole story; hence awareness of bias is critical. So is awareness of the nature of our Achilles heel. We all have one – because we are human. Arguably, for leaders, arrogance is more dangerous than fear.

According to Plato and the philosophers of the Enlightenment, the highest form of knowledge is contemplation. Contemplation may be the best but also the toughest place to face our fears. However, in today’s era of big data, instant-communication and instant-gratification, finding time for contemplation is a leader’s greatest challenge. The first key to leadership of self and others is to realize you have a bias; the second is the courage to make time to listen and reflect deeply.

Next week’s topic: patterns of listening

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