Why we’re entering the era of the vulnerable leader Julie Vens - De Vos - December 24, 2019

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If you’re looking at 2020 as thé ‘future’, I dare to challenge you to think and act beyond that. 2020 is the year you’ll have to actually be bold and fast enough to kickstart all the good intentions you had last year or basically…ever. The good news: it does not require you to become the new Jack Ma, Elon Musk or Daniel Ek. You won’t have to invent the world’s most complex technologies, nor make sure you’re an Einstein-minded whizzkid (though I’d advise you to keep some of them around).

2020 is about us, humans, and about making sure we all individually and collectively connect, wonder and grow. When I return home from one of our programs, the one thing that makes me smile is the thought of the people I’ve met, the insights they’ve shared, the questions they raised. Their wander- and wonderlust leads to new ideas and new ambitions. However small those daily moments, we tend to neglect their power to change our minds and adjust our course. If we acknowledge that powerful energy, we can realise that our job is not about having all the right answers for our boss, our team or peers but rather about building the connections that matter, share the insights we’ve encountered or the struggles we’ve had.

This all made me reflect on what is ‘leadership’, going forward. The evolutions of the last decades have opened up the world, allowing people to find each other, but they also unleashed the paradox of choice. What are the bets you want to make? How will you keep focus in the abundance of value that’s there to build? How will you - however small or big - lead your purpose forward? The world has shown us in 2019 how polarities arise about what type of value we’d actually want to pursue: be it on a macro geopolitical level where global powers are placing their bets, be it the paradox of individuals, not daring to voice their doubts about their job or your expectations or that newly announced technology. Technology has become the elephant in the room, everybody knows it’s there, yet we often find it very difficult to ask small or big questions about it. Whether we want to create value for the world, our companies, or ourselves, if we won’t share and collectively embed this value, we will fail.

That’s where true leaders will play in 2020. Not at the top of the pyramid, but in the midst of the crowd. If you happen to be functioning above or inside a pyramid system, then I wish you to be that rockstar that builds a different narrative. One where you invite your environment to be curious, challenge them to be creative and one where you are bold enough to be vulnerable to embrace the ambiguity that 2020 will hold.

Long story short - we’ve been living in a VUCA world for some time now (Velocity, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity). We’ve already moved into what Jamais Cascio (Institute For The Future) called a ‘BANI world’.

  • B = BRITTLE = strong systems breaking down, hard but likeable to break easily
  • A = ANXIOUS = feeling there are no good options
  • N = NON-LINEARITY = strong differential cause-effect
  • I = INCOMPREHENSIBLE = too complex for the human to understand, at least at the present or without augmentation

Leaders won’t thrive in this environment if they only try to solve and unwire linear problems. Like I said, they will need to embrace the ambiguity and admit that they don’t have all the answers, but will try to experiment with their entire team to improve the situation. This (wrongly) perceived type of vulnerability is exactly what will make them and their team stronger. I believe that if they do so, they will arrive on 2020’s stage with resilience, empathy, flexibility and good old intuition in order to light the room on fire and have a great party.

Thanks to Laurence Van Elegem, Peter Van Der Auwera, David Rooke, De Tijd, and all the people I was blessed to meet with in 2019.

Julie Vens - De Vos

Julie is CEO and partner at nexxworks since 2018. As a natural communicator with 5 years of experience in a corporate FMCG environment, she understands how organisations not only...