Future Shaping: How Leaders Can Take Charge in an Uncertain World
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Future Shaping: How Leaders Can Take Charge in an Uncertain World

Future Shaping: How Leaders Can Take Charge in an Uncertain World

To paraphrase the first sentence in the introduction to Niamh O'Keeffe's forthcoming book, "In a world of distractions and overwhelm, why would you choose to spend a few minutes of your precious time reading this article?" This article is from the introduction to Future Shaper: How Leaders Can Take Charge in an Uncertain World. In fact, it IS the introduction. In the coming months we'll be running excerpts from the book. Try this for starters to determine if her approach to leadership is for you.

In a world of distractions and overwhelm, why would you choose to spend a few hours of your precious time reading this book? The most compelling reasons I can give you are that this book will improve your leadership intelligence, help you succeed in your leadership career, and empower you to shape a better future for everyone. If you are ambitious and feel that you have unfulfilled leadership potential, then read on.

In past times, leaders were the ones who had maximum access to information and were better able to predict what would happen next. Employees had a reassuring (even if false) sense of security that top executives knew how to solve all the difficult challenges and problems. There was sufficient stability to develop 10-year plans, and more clarity on exactly how to steer the business. Until recently, leadership has been about setting out a definitive strategy and instructing people on how to execute it.

No one would buy that approach any more. I don't have to tell you that we are living in interesting times! The world has changed, unpredictability is the new predictability, and traditional rules for how to lead do not apply any more. The type of leadership intelligence required is no longer limited to strategic capability, emotional intelligence, and good communication skills - instead it is about a further evolution to a whole new set of leadership intelligence fundamentals and an upskilling in the new leadership traits required for the types of challenges and uncertainty we face now.

This book is my attempt at the new leadership intelligence playbook needed to deal with all the threats and opportunities ahead. Leadership theory needs to catch up and, for me, the central point is empowerment. How can you be empowered to take charge in an uncertain world? Although it sounds counterintuitive, I believe you have more control and more choice than you realize. This empowered mindset is what sets apart the leader from the follower, and indeed what sets apart the leader from the machine. This book is about gaining better leadership intelligence in an increasingly artificial intelligence world.

I use the term "future shaping" to describe the type of leadership needed now. The future shaper leader is prepared to face up to the challenges of today and decide what to do about them to create a better tomorrow. This book offers a blueprint to help guide leaders on how to take back control, proactively future shape, and achieve great success.

Behind complex narratives on the future outlook of the global economy lies a more honest diagnosis of the current state of play - which is that we are experiencing a crisis of leadership. And, as in any crisis, only the most adaptable will survive. In this book I decode what it will take to survive and thrive as a great leader now, and I offer you inspiration and insight on how to skill up for the journey ahead.

In brief summary, the future shaping leadership intelligence playbook builds your capacity to:

  • Step back, to get perspective and see the bigger picture
  • Realize you have the power to shape the future
  • Stop feeling afraid of unknowns and "wild card" events
  • Empower yourself to lead; don't wait for permission or the right job title
  • Apply a new leadership intelligence framework and cultivate more relevant traits

The future shaping leadership intelligence framework will steer you on how to shape the future you desire:

  • Establish your preferred future outcome
  • Convince people to follow you
  • Be resilient and stay the course
  • Nurture successful teams and deliver great results
  • Power up your network and multiply your impact

To support your application of the future shaper framework, I invite you to cultivate a new set of essential leadership traits. I help you to become more fearless, unconventional, tenacious, unifying, resilient, empathetic; super-adaptable, hard-working, authentic, proactive, energizing, resourceful.

The total opportunity for you will be to create a positive leadership ripple effect for you and the world around you:

  • Empower yourself and others
  • Join forces with like-minded leaders, and change the world
  • Succeed in your leadership career and make an impact

I have peppered the book with quotes and examples of iconic future shapers (past and present) to help inspire you along the way and to ground my ideas in real people, real experience, and real results.

Surprisingly, leaders don't think enough about the task of leading, or the methodology or approach that we take to the task of leading. Leaders face very challenging situations and typically get busy leading in a very organic, self-directed way. When the pressure mounts up, this can involve doing the managing, or even doing the doing, and not really leading at all. Ask yourself, ask your peers, ask your boss, What is your approach to leadership? You will get a patchwork of answers that range from someone's guiding philosophy, e.g., "Who dares, wins" to a set of core values, e.g., "I believe in authenticity and respect for the individual" to some key mantras that can be a bit reductive, e.g., "It's all about people" or "It's all about EQ, not IQ."

Rarely ever, will someone respond by explaining the framework or actual set of steps they take to approaching their leadership task. Why not? Because they don't have one. For some inexplicable reason we are missing the "manual" for leadership. Yes, there are thousands of books on leadership, and hundreds of examples of great leaders, but somehow it never quite got captured into a useful methodology that stuck. Perhaps leaders rail against the very idea of process skills for leadership and being "constrained" by a methodology - because they prefer to see leadership as an art and not a science. But without a clearly defined approach to leadership, it is all too easy to get derailed and lose sight of what you are supposed to be focused on.

A new intelligent framework and playbook on how to lead will help steady us. This missing manual or intelligent playbook is what I want to offer you. The framework starts by asking you for total clarity on your future preferable outcome, and an explanation of the four key fundamental levers that help you to power up and convert this preferable outcome into a more predictable outcome. And finally, I describe the critical wraparound of leadership traits you need to cultivate to become a true future shaper and properly apply the levers.

Once you have mastered the future shaping approach on how to lead, you will feel more empowered. You will be clear on what you need to do. You will be focused on your big-picture vision, your key strategic outcomes, and will deal with everything in the context of the higher goals you set out to achieve. You are less likely to get derailed from your key priorities - or if/when you do, you will have a methodology for lifting yourself back up out of the detail, in order to refocus on the bigger picture and the key strategic outcomes you are trying to shape.

Rather than feeling relentlessly buffeted and at the mercy of events, trying to predict the unpredictable or waiting passively to see what will happen next, you have an approach to follow - which helps you to take back control, empower yourself, and decide what kind of future you want to create. Rather than wasting time dealing with lists of never-ending problems and issues, you can rise above the overwhelm and set the agenda. You will feel better when you empower yourself to step up as a future shaper, take charge and make decisions - and when you have this better sense of control over what is happening, this will further empower and embolden you. Stop waiting and start creating! This is an empowering rally cry to step up and take more leadership action to shape a better future for you, your organization, and ultimately the world.

The real value of this book is that it is a catalyst for sustainable leadership success. It has four distinct strengths: 1) its holistic approach, to people and context; 2) its pragmatism, in blending useful ideas and top tips with the reality of our uncertain business environment; 3) its framework, to provide a foundation and structure in which individuals are enabled and can build to achieve their personal leadership potential; and finally, like all good ideas and approaches, 4) it is empowering and actionable and allows individuals like you, dear reader, to immediately deliver benefits for yourself and others.

Thank you for investing the time to read this book, and I wish you well as you start your journey toward becoming a future shaper leader and fulfilling your leadership potential.

 Niamh O'Keeffe is a leadership advisor, author, and founder of First 100. Her more than 25 years in leadership advisory services include strategy consulting, executive search, and leadership coaching. Her client includes advising leaders of entrepreneurial ventures in London and New York, as well as senior executives at global corporations including Accenture, Microsoft, and Oliver Wyman Group. The 2nd edition of her best-selling book Your First 100 Days: How to make maximum impact in your new leadership role was published in 2019. Her other published books include Lead Your Team in Your First 100 Days (2013); Your Next Role: How to get ahead and get promoted (2016); and Stepping Up: How to accelerate your leadership potential (2017).

Published: March 2nd, 2020

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