I am keenly interested in understanding how leaders progress their business agendas as well as the global agenda in times of significant geopolitical shifts. I attended the International Leadership Association's conference, Authentic Leadership for Progress, Peace & Prosperity, in West Palm Beach, Florida, where keynote speakers, academics, award recipients and leaders across industries and the globe discussed their perspectives on the subject. This article summarizes my key takeaways.
With 39 countries represented at the conference, the focus on the volume, complexity and rate of change in the current climate continued to inform the conversations. So too did the political landscape, particularly the disillusionment with democracy and the move toward populism. The conversation was also impacted by several events happening in the background, such as a bomber delivering 14 bombs to democratic leaders and supporters, who was actually apprehended near West Palm Beach, where the conference was being held. There was also a synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh in the morning of the final day at the conference.
These events called to question what more we, as members of an international association, can do to focus on the intersection of leadership, scholarship and practice at a conference that focuses on progress, peace and prosperity.
The following themes are based on my discussions with thought leaders around the world and sessions I attended.
1. Leadership certification needs to be a strong consideration.
Many professions require certification before performing a job, like realtors, massage therapists, electricians, attorneys and certified public accountants. This is in strong contrast to the number of leaders holding key roles with no education and, in some cases, little experience.
While hiring is always complicated, certification can reduce the risk of costly hiring mistakes. Certification is important for leaders who want to stand out by demonstrating their competence. And organizations will have a greater degree of assurance that the person they are hiring is competent based on an objective standard and a rigorous certification process.
2. Leadership is the interplay between the organization's internal environment and external ecosystem.
We train leaders in leadership concepts but don't address the importance of helping leaders understand how they need to flex their leadership approach based on their context and their followers. The most effective leaders "sense" the needs of their followers and adapt their leadership accordingly. They help followers understand their leadership style and set clear expectations as well take into account their followers' styles, so everyone can focus their energy on accomplishing goals.
3. Leaders need new tools to solve highly complex problems.
Many of the problems organizations face are emergent, and they may not have faced them before. Therefore, leaders must have the tools to address them. The most effective leaders balance inner knowing with strong analytics and collaboration.
4. Leadership ethics are key.
There are questions about leaders learning ethics versus gaining ethics as part of the process of maturing. Are ethics the guidelines people comply with? Is there a call for leaders to develop a strong inner compass that ensures they follow the spirit of ethics as the rules change? I believe it's important for leaders to have a strong inner sense of both the impact you want to make on the world as well as the "guardrails" you use to accomplish that impact.
5. Leaders operate in an interconnected system and need to consider the broader impact they make.
Conference participants were clear about the importance of profit as the fuel for the business and that businesses are among the most powerful institutions across the planet. They are positioned to enact important changes that involve issues such as climate change, for example.
During the conference last year, there were many discussions on identifying leadership values. This year, speakers reminded us of the mandate for leaders to live their values and pay attention to how their actions impact their organizations, and by extension, the world.
6. Resilience remains a key concern.
It was acknowledged that everyone is now or will soon be impacted by some level of change to their organization, their climate, their community and their government. These changes require that we deliberately tend to the resilience (ability to absorb change and remain highly functional) of our people, our organizations, our communities and our governments. It is important to ensure these have the capacity to metabolize change without going into crisis mode.
7. Learning to harness the power of women and a diverse workforce is critical to addressing the upcoming talent gap.
Even with artificial intelligence and other forms of workforce augmentation, participants projected a huge talent shortage now through 2030 and beyond. The size of this change is expected to grow from 2020 to 2030.
Companies need to leverage the best talent to thrive. It will be important for companies to find ways to identify the right people and create a work environment that fosters attraction and retention and expands the old norms that caused talented people who wanted to work but not within restricted bounds to leave.
As leaders in this era of turbulence, if we want to create a more prosperous and peaceful world, we need to look at new ways of leading and of identifying and developing leaders of the future. This is a call to action to revisit what you are doing now and how you can evolve your own approaches that enhance your ability to lead from a stance of authenticity.
Are you learning from thought leaders, academics and practitioners? Each holds a piece of the complex solution we all need to thrive in the short and long term.
Photos (top-bottom): Maureen Metcalf and Katherine Tyler Scott; Lisa DeFrank-Cole, Metcalf, and Sherylle J. Tan ; Metcalf, Joyce Osland, and Allan Bird; Keith Grint, Metcalf, and Brad Jackson; Metcalf and Ron Riggio; Mike Hardy and Metcalf.
A version of this article originally appeared in Forbes.com and is reprinted with permission of the copyright holder.