Exceptional Leadership by Design

Rob Elkington, Madeleine van der Steege, Judith Glick-Smith Jennifer Moss Breen

Design, we see it everywhere, and yet we don’t. That is because good design is subtle and enigmatic in that it does not announce its presence but you and I both know when good design is missing.

For instance, think back to the times you stood in long line-ups waiting to purchase something, or flew seventeen hours in Economy class on an airplane, or worked on a laptop that made your wrist or eyes hurt. These are examples of poor design and we are reminded then, of the power of design because it is missing! In our VUCA world, which is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous, Design thinking is one of the ways we might effectively cultivate VUCA prime, or Vision, Understanding, Clarity, and Agility. Ponder this for a moment and you will see that VUCA prime is a human-centric antidote to VUCA – and thus Design thinking fits beautifully!

Design is, at its core, an anthropocentric undertaking. It seeks to place humanity at the centre of any process and ask the simple question: “How can we make this product, or process, or experience, better for the people who will use it?” Once that question is in the air we move through the phases of Design Thinking from the initial stance of “Empathy,” in which we seek to understand the people who are impacted by our product through the next phases of “Defining,” and then “Ideating,” “Prototyping,” and then “Testing.” In fact, that is how we designed this book that you now hold in your hands – we designed it with you in mind!

This Design Thinking approach is no less true of leadership, especially since at its core leadership focuses on two key dimensions, Task and Relationship. All leaders, and by extension the leadership, exists to accomplish a task. But in order to accomplish that task leadership needs to work with people and hence the need for relationship. Great leadership knows how to effectively and efficaciously balance both Task and Relationship so that there is a beautiful mutual synergy between both. I think here of exemplars such as “Madiba” (Nelson Mandela), Ghandi, and Churchill, to name a few.

We are excited about this book, primarily because we believe that it will change the way leaders lead and bring human-centric intentionality to the leadership arena at a time when many are questioning the value and importance of humanity in a potentially AI driven world. Even in the most AI intensive arena we will still need Design (AI affects humans) and we will still need exceptional leadership (what policies, bureaucracies, and administration bound the realm of AI to ensure the safety of humanity?)

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