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5 Leadership Traits to Survive (and Thrive) Over the Next Decade

America is at a looming inflection point.

Covid has brought us even more abruptly to a massive-reset moment, for America and for leadership. And that reset got accelerated and expanded by the sickening murder of and inspiring social movement after George Floyd. Like all change, our times are not only cause for uncertainty, but present opportunities for new leaders to step forward. Leaders ready for this century, not the year 2000 version, but for the 2020’s and beyond. The previous 20 years might as well have been equivalent to a century full of change we are still trying to catch up to.

Massive upheavals like 2020 can also be a moment for undoing and expelling old ways of thinking and working and being. As Seth Godin articulated recently in his typically simple, yet powerful, language, “The industrial era, struggling for the last decade or two, is now officially being replaced by one based on connection and leadership and the opportunity to show up and make a difference.” This is where the rebuilders come in, as powerful forces for a new kind of connection and leadership. For a future that otherwise risks fast-becoming less and less equal and more and more siloed along economic, political, and health lines.

To be blunt, there are heroes and villains to be made in the years ahead. Just like there have been at other huge inflection points in American history. From the robber barons at the turn of the 20th century and war profiteers to the greatest generation and the front-line heroes of both 9/11 and Covid, American history is replete with villains and heroes. In times like these, leadership is the seminal lever in civil society. Those that show up with the five vital traits will not only be the rebuilders for the future, they will be genuine American heroes.

If we can bring forward truly new and better leaders, then this period of time we are in will turn out to be a moment not just of division and inequity in the near-term, but of progress towards stronger, better communities and companies over the long-term. The rebuilders you read about will give you belief and hope. They are doing the work now to strengthen and rebuild our economic, social and health bridges across America, but we need a lot more like them. Leaders like you.

The future of America depends on our leaders’ ability to hold these five leadership traits.

5 Leadership Traits of the Future

24/7 Authenticity

Authenticity sort of sits at the intersection of radical transparency and media-as-an-amplifier. You need to be authentic and open before you have to be. It’s not as if it’s optional or variable in today’s world. A leader just needs to start from that as a grounding principle. And 24-7 implies a proactive quality. Not just responsively authentic, but leaning in, pushing your comfort zone on authenticity.

Complexity Capacity

Given that the total breadth and depth of challenges future leaders need to grapple with in the decade ahead are greater than we’ve faced, at least in the past seventy-five years , a capacity for complexity is an absolute need in any serious organization. Especially in a post-COVID world. The capacity means you not only have to be able to take in the many variables at play, but interpret, process, and make sense of them, and ultimately communicate effectively. This trait is very much about using both sides of your brain.

Generosity Mindset

Whatever the social or economic or health disparities at hand, it is going to require a range of people and perspectives and philosophies. The ability to be the leader that, as Rosanne Haggerty said, creates a commitment to unity and looks for what you can commonly share while respecting each other’s differences is pivotal. The mindset to leave room for multiple identities at just about all costs is paramount. And remember that a Generosity Mindset needs to be able to process complexity in order to know where and how opportunities arise that can be leveraged and sustained.

Data Conviction

Think constant learning and improvement. Instead of data being an afterthought to understand social or community impact at a point in time, it’s more powerful to develop a relentless focus on understanding the real-world, real-time, ongoing impact of programs, practices, and policies. And ensure that the data being used is the right, not just readily available, data. It can then inform persistent, day-to-day improvement in companies and communities.  

Cross-Sector Fluency

When the lines between and the historical norms of our private, nonprofit, and public sectors are intersecting and overlapping as never before, Cross-Sector Fluency becomes a must-have, not a nice-to-have. I don’t mean sort of hopping into a project in another sector and then going back into your longtime professional sector silo for most of your career. I mean genuine immersion in the other two sectors or at least one of the other two sectors.

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Paul Shoemaker

Shoemaker is the Founding President of Social Venture Partners International—a global network of thousands of social innovators, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and business and community leaders that support social change agents in over 40 cities and 8 countries. With insights from over 17 years at this unique vantage point, as well as a decade prior at Microsoft and Nestlé, he is a global thought leader and consultant on activating social change agents and increasing impact.

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