The New Principles of Leadership

We’re all aware that there are timeless leadership principles that have been true since the dawn of time and that will continue to be valid in tomorrow’s business environment. Things like integrity, honesty, and personal responsibility immediately come to mind. While those are all vital traits, they’re not the leadership traits I’m addressing right now. In today’s world of technology-driven transformation, leaders need to embrace a new leadership principle if they want their organization to be relevant today and in the future.


In the recent past, leaders have focused on agility—being able to change quickly based on external circumstances because change from the outside-in has been coming at an ever-increasing speed, and it’s only getting faster. Many of these types of changes are driven by technology, but they’re also from our customers, because technology is influencing our customers and changing the way they interact with us. We also have increasing transparency, meaning your customers and prospects have access to complaints, as well as accolades, through social media and other new forms of communication. All of these changes, which are coming from the outside-in and force agility, cause leaders to react, crisis manage, and put out fires on a daily basis.

Knowing this, it’s evident that simply being agile no longer works. Instead, today’s leaders need to be anticipatory.

When you’re anticipatory, you’re creating changes and driving disruption from the inside-out rather than being disrupted from the outside-in. Disruption is the disruptive technology that changes our world on us and keeps many leaders up at night. Chances are you’ve often asked, “What new technology will disrupt my path to market?” or “What new technology will change how my customers behave?” For many leaders, disruption is a familiar foe.

But realize that disruptive technology is only disruptive if you didn’t know about it ahead of time. And when you’re anticipatory, you can not only see and accurately anticipate those disruptive technologies, but you can use them to create new revenue streams, new products, new services, and new markets. That’s when you drive growth and change from the inside-out so that others have to react to you instead of you reacting to what others are doing. In this scenario, disruption is your friend.

So the question is, how do become more anticipatory?

First, you have to make the future more visible. Ask yourself, “In these times of unprecedented change and uncertainty, what am I certain about?” If you look closely, you’ll see there are two types of change you routinely deal with, and both are fully predictable. The first is cyclical change. There are over three hundred known cycles that allow anyone to anticipate the future. For example, home values, the stock market, imports, and exports will continually ebb and flow. Those all represent cyclical changes that are in many ways easier to deal with, provided you know historically how long the cycle will last.

Sometimes, though, changes are linear. For example, someone gets an iPod and starts listening to music on that device rather than buying CDs. That person now has all her music with her at all times. That’s a linear change because she’s not going back to music on CDs. Other examples of linear change include globalization, the acceleration of computer processing speed, and an increase in the world’s population. Linear changes, even small ones, can have devastating effects on a business. What linear marketplace changes are on your organization’s radar? Identify them so you can anticipate.

Next, identify the Hard Trends—the trends that will happen—and ask yourself, “What are the disruptions on the horizon?” How we do our supply chain, purchasing, logistics, and many more functions are being transformed by technologies like the cloud and virtualization. It’s creating disruption/opportunity. You can either sit back and wait until the disruption hits—take a “wait-and-see” approach—or you can get active, what I call being preactive, and take positive action based on future known events.

For example, if you were a cable television company, you would have to look at IPTV—Internet Protocol Television—and ask yourself, “How are young people watching TV today?” You’d see they’re using tablets like iPads or using smartphones like iPhones and Androids to watch television, such as YouTube, Hulu, and Netflix to name a few. Many of them aren’t watching cable TV anymore, even though some cable channels like Time Warner have created apps recently. Most cable companies are not embracing this revolution as a new profit center even though it is already disrupting and will continue to disrupt at an ever-increasing pace.

Finally, look outside your industry for the solutions you need. You’re probably reading a lot of information every day about the industry you’re in. You’re also likely a member of multiple industry associations, and as a leader, you probably play a leadership role in some of them. However, by being so immersed in your industry, you may be missing what’s going on outside your industry. Therefore, look outside your industry and see where others have been innovating. Find out what changes they’ve made, technologies they’ve developed or adapted, and then modify those to your situation. Learn from their mistakes so you don’t have to make them. That’s how you proactively approach the disruptions you know are coming.

So while we all know the timeless traits of leadership, there’s no competitive advantage in being just like everyone else. That’s why being anticipatory is so important. What do you see that’s about to happen, and how can you use that to your advantage? Instead of getting stopped by things you don’t know, it’s time to anticipate what’s coming so it doesn’t disrupt you.

No matter who you are or what you do, you can anticipate. Therefore, don’t wait for your future to unfold randomly, only to end up in a place you don’t want to be. Instead, identify the certainties that await you, pinpoint the looming disruptions, and go outside your industry to devise tomorrow’s solutions today. Look at what you can do rather than what you can’t, and you’ll emerge as a timeless leader who always succeeds.

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DANIEL BURRUS is considered one of the World’s Leading Futurists on Global Trends and Innovation, a top LinkedIn Global INfluencer, and is the founder and CEO of Burrus Research, a research and consulting firm that monitors global advancements in technology driven trends to help clients understand how technological, social and business forces are converging to create enormous untapped opportunities. He is the author of six books including The New York Times best seller Flash ForesightFollow Daniel on Twitter and LinkedInwww.burrus.com

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