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Anticipant Leadership – New Rules for Leadership in the Digital Society - Bonar Institute for Purposeful Leadership

There have been many transitions for humankind. From the Neolithic, scientific, agrarian, industrial, information, and now digital era. Each one of these transitions fundamentally changed our lives. And for the better – on balance. What was fundamental in each change was that humans were involved allowing us to do less dangerous activities and enabling us to use more of our creativity. The industrial revolution introduced machines to do the work of humans faster and safer. However, with the digital evolution, something has changed, unlike any previous era.

In the digital era, the time has been compressed unlike ever before. Where previously, we had months, weeks or days to make decisions, in the digital era, we have only minutes. And this time compression is accelerating. Today our crises can be measured in nanoseconds as illustrated by the stock market crash of 2008. Today we have a “nato crisis” – which is a predicament, or calamity, whose origins lie in the dependence of an organization on a digital system, and whose speed and scale preclude immediate mitigation by humans. So what? For the first time in our history, machines are making decisions faster and with fewer errors than humans. Also, for the first time, machines are communicating with other machines. Humans now find themselves for the first time, out of the loop.

This is a new reality but to assuage any concerns, this is not science fiction, or the Terminator come to life. It is the evolution of where we have come from and what we have built. The key aspects of this new phenomenon are the creation of four dimensions. The unit of productive time is now the ‘nanosecond’, the speed of transmission is ‘at light’, the scale of impact is ‘unlimited’ and the domain of interaction is ‘supra-human. The consequence of this new reality is ‘when you cannot participate you must anticipate’!

This new reality will fundamentally change much in our society. But the machines are not taking over. Leaders in every company will still lead people, but now, they will lead machines. Machines will become colleagues and not just devices. Machines will interact with other machines, make decisions autonomously and deliver services.  They are, however, only as good as the programmers who program them and herein lies the new challenge for leaders. Leaders must take the time to lead programmers and ensure that all the ethical criteria and training we give our people are imbued in the machines. And that training must be updated continuously if we are to achieve the desired outcomes. Leadership just became more complicated.

The old rules of leadership and organizations still apply; however, new principles have entered the discussion. These include:

  1. The greatest threat to any organization is an event it doesn’t see coming
  2. An organization must use all its information fully to serve its citizens better than competing organizations can
  3. The reputation and mission of any organization is eroded by unethical behaviour, no matter how isolated
  4. Successful organizations require both flawless execution and visionary anticipation
  5. An organization must use all its resources to full potential or risk irrelevance
  6. Organizations must adapt to opportunity by innovating continuously

An anticipant is an entity committed to readying itself for effective action by identifying likely events, conceiving appropriate responses, and rehearsing them in advance of any occurrence.

In our book called “The Anticipant Organization,” my co-authors and I go through this situation and impact on leadership in depth. We do this from a practitioner’s point of view. Our experiences over 40 plus years of leadership, in both the private and public sectors, have led to these observations and conclusions. As hybrid leaders, emerging from the analog to the digital worlds, our observations and experiences are presented for consideration and discussion. We have created a road map on how to navigate through these new levels of complexity. We have considered how mature companies can adapt from a reactive to an anticipatory approach while factoring in time compression, machine learning, and the new principles. This still is very much to discover on leading people towards the achievement of desired outcomes.

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