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5 Reasons Why the Future of Leadership is Leading by Design

Updated: May 13, 2022

A shift is underway - to the leadership by design

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 - leading by design. I go into the industrial, information, and experience ages and their implications for business in "Productivity Myths & the Power of Bringing Your Whole Self to Work" article. 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 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 becoming less useful for organizations in our times of unprecedented change. 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. Or what I've coined Leading by Design. 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.

Design thinking leads strategy by 30%+ on this C-suite soft skills 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. Perhaps you don't like to jump on a bandwagon without proof of profitability. Then be sure to check out the Design Value Index from Design Management Institute which shows that design-led firms outperform the S&P 500 by 228% over the last ten years. But in case you're still a skeptic of data, let me provide you with five more tangible reasons why leading 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. Employees are no different. 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 shifting from manager to coach to designer. And the future is now.

Check out the related SlideShare below for more information on when to use each style of leadership.

To learn more about the Future of Leadership tune in as Karen delivers an inspirational message at the 2021 Global Leadership Summit.

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