Leader as a Designer – 5 Reasons Why the Future of Leadership is Design

leader as a designer

A shift is underway – to the leader as a designer.

Perhaps you are like me; you’ve been distracted by the myriad of problems going on in the world. Amid pandemics, riots, political debates, and skyrocketing unemployment, we haven’t given much thought to the transformation that is happening.  Leadership publications are still lamenting the laggards of the industrial age leadership style. Meanwhile, encouraging leaders to embrace the coaching style of the information age. Simultaneously, missing the shift underway to the experience age – leadership as a designer. I go into these three ages and their implications for business in “How Leaders Master the 3 Human Dimensions of Productivity.” However, in this post, I’ll briefly share the distinctions:

  • Industrial Age – Leader as a Manager. In the industrial age, leadership was about mandating and micro-managing. To keep production rolling along, leaders took a command and control approach. Sadly, this style of leadership is still too prevalent.
  • Information Age – Leader as a Coach. In the information age, leadership was all about setting the goals and coaching individuals across the finish line. This style works well when the goals don’t change, and the path to the finish line is clear cut. While coaching (I’m a certified coach myself) is still an effective method in specific instances, it’s less useful for organizations. Now more than ever, the goals are always changing, and the path to the finish line is less than apparent. Thus, a new style of leadership is required.
  • Experience Age – Leader as a Designer. Dulled by the continual droning of data and information, the employee of the experience age is demanding that work come alive with compassion, creativity, and connection through collaboration. The fluid nature of creativity will require leaders to let go of managing and coaching and turn their efforts to design the best possible outcomes through collaboration.

Doubt me, but don’t doubt the numbers.

The wave of leadership by design is starting to build. And if the research reflects anything, it’s that you have two choices. You can either ride the wave or be drowned by it.

C-Suite Skills

Design thinking leads by 30%+ on the list in Gartner’s research.  But the significance of design thinking is far greater than the percentage implies. Design thinking is the only skill on the list that has a direct impact on the other nine skills. Because of its universal appeal and iterative nature, design thinking is the gift that keeps on giving. But in case you’re a skeptic of data, let me provide you with five more tangible reasons why leadership by design is the future.

5 Reasons Why the Future of Leadership is Design.

  1. Creativity. According to the World Economic Forum, creativity is the third most desirable skill of the future. Only behind analytical thinking, innovation, and active learning/strategies. All of which are foundational skills in the design thinking process.
  2. Artificial Intelligence. This point is closely related to the first. However, the implication of AI is too enormous not to highlight individually. AI is taking the workforce by storm. If a job is repeatable, it’s replaceable. The future of human work, according to Harvard Business Review Ascend, is imagination, creativity, and strategy. All due to the impact of AI.
  3. Experience Economy. With the Experience Age, comes the Experience Economy. Now more than ever, consumers want their voices heard, their needs met, and to not only purchase a product but to have an experience. The process of design thinking encompasses all of those things. From listening to users, allowing them to help define the problem to be solved, involving them in the creation of the innovation via prototyping and testing.
  4. Complexity. We live in a VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguous) world. Although, silos worked in the past for supply chain, marketing, customer service, etc. That is no longer the case. Every area of business is interconnected and entangled. Add to that the VUCA of the external world. And designing a company that is simple, intuitive, and pleasurable is a daunting task. As Harvard Business Review puts it, Design Thinking is Coming of Age at precisely the right time.
  5. Job Crafting. Innovation is to the customer experience as job crafting is to employee experience. One is the outward-facing design, one inward-facing design. Customers are not the only ones that desire meaningful experiences in their interactions with an enterprise. Employees also want meaningful work.

In summary, leadership is shifting. These five reasons are just a drop in the ocean of evidence that design thinking is the skill that enterprise leaders need most.

The future of leadership is shift from manager to coach to designer. And the future is now.

Business is hard; training your leaders doesn’t need to be.

Likely there are many more reasons to bring design thinking leadership training to your leaders. But don’t let the complexity of finding a college, determining how leaders will fit into their schedules, and wondering whether they will be able to apply their case study exercises in the real-world stop you. I’ve developed on-site leadership training to bring the experience of design thinking to your leaders with direct application to real-time challenges. This train-the-trainer approach implements design thinking principles into your enterprise ecosystem of 250 leaders or less within a year.  To learn more about Leading by Design Training click here.

A related Slideshare you might find useful.

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