We live in volatile times and cannot accurately predict what will happen next.
- In the near future climate and earth changes and wars might cause more displacements of millions of people
- The world economy is far from stable: Shaky banks, unstable trade relations and inequality attest to that
- Old structures are crumbling
- Authority that used to come automatically with the office is gone: The president of the United States and the CEO of Volkswagen are examples
A buzzword that illustrates the situation very well is VUCA. It is the acronym for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity, which is just a complicated way of saying:
There are too many moving parts
To meet the challenges we face today and in the future we need new ways for coping. The structures that have been working for us so far don´t suffice. We need to make international cooperation more efficient.
We have a good base to build upon
In case of earthquakes or other environmental disasters international rescue teams are able to fly in with only a few hours notice. This is a great accomplishment. I think we should opt for complementing this with informal networks in every country that can call to action people for whatever needs to be done.
To manage this we need responsible leaders
When 1 million refugees came to Germany in 2015 there were no structures that could have coped with this. Millions of individuals taking action made all the difference. I have personally met many responsible leaders in this situation: They saw the need, stepped in and helped. They seemed to come out of nowhere. Nobody told them what to do and how to do it.
We have all the resources we need
The digital age gives us a solid base for international networking. We only have to put our human ingenuity and creativity to good use to master these turbulent times. Sounds easy doesn´t it?
We have great human resources to build on and I am witnessing many people learning and educating themselves to be able to play a responsible part in this.
It is our responsibility to take care of ourselves first. People who don´t know how to properly care for themselves cannot take care of others. I believe that only when we take good care of ourselves we are able to develop balanced personalities and bring balance back to this planet.
We are becoming more aware of our interconnectedness
I see this clearly in my clients of all ages: They are actively working on becoming more aware of themselves and they start to see our interconnectedness.
The generation Y is another good example: They are digital natives. Born between 1980 and 2000 they prefer to work in teams rather than in deep hierarchies, they long for more freedom and personal-fulfilment and less for status and prestige. They want to make a contribution that matters.
International cooperation will save us
We are in the age of self-empowerment and cooperation. To manage the many moving parts we need to juggle it is very helpful to cooperate worldwide. More and more people are realising this.
What skills do responsible leaders need?
I compare responsible leaders with bus drivers because for bus drivers many hard skills we believe to be important are secondary.
They don´t need a university degree or specific professional skills other than knowing how to handle a bus. The people who want to travel to a destination are focused on getting there. They choose a driver they trust. Together the two groups make efficient teams.
Soft skills are essential for responsible leaders
Soft skills are a combination of people skills, social skills and communication skills.
Bus drivers care for the wellbeing of the people they drive. They need soft skills to be good at that. Leading responsibly is all about self-awareness: Responsible leaders lead by example. They go first and don´t dictate what others should do. They demonstrate how something can be done and others will follow.
Characteristics of responsible leaders
The responsible leaders I have met or follow in the media have these characteristics:
- They are unpretentious: They are not motivated primarily by prestige, fame or status.
- They are interested in making a contribution that matters.
- They see the bigger picture and care for the wellbeing of others.
- They risk exploring new paths thereby creating opportunities for themselves and for others.
- They are motivated by the problem or the task at hand and don´t necessarily care for long-term commitments. When they reach their goals they search for a new challenge or drop the role of the leader altogether.
- They walk their talk and thus earn their authority: They are authentic.
In times of turmoil we need leaders who are at peace with themselves
- They have to be self-confident enough to not be thrown off course easily.
- They respect and accept themselves and their fellow humans.
- They see and acknowledge the talents of the people around them and encourage them use them.
- They inspire cooperation and teamwork.
How to cultivate and develop responsible leaders
We are the examples for the younger generations. The most important thing we need to teach everybody is how to become responsible for themselves and to take care of themselves.
In my workshops and in my practise I see people of all generations working on educating themselves and getting to know themselves better. This is great, because we need more people who are aware of their potentials, who know that they have what it takes to become responsible leaders.
Examples of responsible leaders today
There already are many responsible leaders today. Here are some examples:
- Jóhannesson, president of Iceland,
- Pope Francis
- Khan, founder of the non-profit educational organisation Khan Academy
- Kayango: The global soap project
- Check TED talks on Youtube, you can meet more there
One way of supporting responsible leaders is to establish more informal international connections between individuals.
Examples of successful international connections
- Exchange programs for teenagers and students
- International work camps for young people all over the world
- Conferences like the ICSR in Cologne for networking
- The Panama Papers: International journalists collaborated for years and published simultaneously: A revolution in investigative journalism
The good thing is that we are getting to know and to work with each other worldwide that way.
How we can support responsible leaders
In Germany during the last 3 years we built informal networks involving volunteer organisations, state officials and politics.
In my hometown of Hamburg it took a long time to establish cross-sectional communication across the different government agencies. This is not working perfectly yet, but we have established these networks and we will surely need them again.
We are all responsible for our future
The weight of our future is not only resting on the shoulders of responsible leaders. Quite the contrary:
Responsible leaders are the ones who are stepping in when they see the need. They go first and start driving a bus. Their passengers are the people who support them. They see the need to get to the destination themselves. The drivers set the example and the passengers make their own responsible choices.
We are all in this together. We all are responsible for creating our joint future. Together we can make things happen we would never have thought possible.
Are you working on taking care of yourself?
To be able to shape a better future together we have to know how to take care of ourselves and accept ourselves first. You think you are already taking good care of yourself? Really? Think again!
Just try to monitor for one day how often you tell yourself that you are stupid for forgetting this, that you are dumb for making that wrong decision. This is not taking care of yourself or acceptance! Believe me, I have been working on this for ages and it still is work in progress. But I have learned that when I accept myself more it is much easier to accept others.
Why is it so hard to accept ourselves? We were brought up to always look at what we lack and what we are deficient at. As a consequence we treat us habitually bad so often that we don´t even realise what we are doing. Only when we become aware of what we are doing we are able to change this.
Not all of us have to be leaders, but the world needs all of us to take responsibility for ourselves. My own experience shows how important it is to be responsible for myself. People who know themselves better are more able to see the bigger picture and make a difference.
Living in a VUCA world
We have to remind ourselves that we are the ones who create our reality. We have to own our authority and be courageous enough to jump into processes with unknown ends. We need more positive pictures of the future to interest more people to involve themselves in the coming transformations.
The situation is going to stay volatile. But panicking is not helping. We can do this. Together we are able to ride the waves of transformation and not get drowned by them. Responsible people and responsible leaders will make the difference. Because:
Everybody can cause considerable rippling effects by being truly himself.
Pictures: pixabay and private
© Inge Schumacher