Message to All of Us Who Lead: Clinging to the Past is Exactly What is Preventing Us from Reaching the Future!

Former Harvard Business School professor and futurist Jim Ware says we have a crisis in leadership in organizations and communities. After 35+ years in economic development, working with leaders in 31 states, I find myself agreeing with Ware, whose work I have followed for the past decade. This is a challenge for Ashtabula County. We must let go of the past and mount a leadership path that will carry our county to a brighter and more prosperous future! Some will argue that we are making progress, and things are better today than a couple years back. I think that is true in some ways, but our leadership improvement efforts are not guided by an understood and shared “model of leadership.” This is not a criticism of any particular organizations or individuals. It’s an overall observation after working in the county going on five months.

Here are a few clips from Ware’s recent article on this issue, and what we need to do about it: “I believe our social institutions are in the early stages of disintegration. The old rules don’t work anymore, yet too many of our leaders are clinging to the past. They are, to use futurist Bill Jensen’s language, “holding back” the future of work. They are unwilling to turn their people loose – to let them explore, experiment, and create new products, new ideas, and new understandings of what is possible.

Jensen believes that today’s leaders are too risk-averse to let go; they are scared to death by the uncertainties they see on the road ahead, so they hang on to leadership styles and beliefs that worked for them in the past. But, as management expert Marshall Goldsmith says so eloquently, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.”

This clinging to the past is exactly what is preventing us from reaching the future. Most leaders are so focused on command and control (that’s their identity, after all) that they are unable to imagine or experience the power of collective intelligence. They haven’t yet grasped the reality that today’s technologies have created a new “Age of Networked Intelligence” that enables any of us to collaborate with almost anyone else, anywhere in the world.” Read Ware’s article on the Future of Work.

Ashtabula County has some good public and private sector leaders. It really does. Having good leaders isn’t enough. To really move ahead, Ashtabula County needs a new leadership model for economic and community development across the public and private sectors that is guided by clear values, strategic in its thinking and action, knowledge-based, collaborative, future-focused, inclusive, transparent, focused on the causes and not the symptoms, and performance-based in its work. We need some sustained conversations on how we build and move to a new leadership model together.

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