Developing Adaptive Leaders for Turbulent Times: The Michigan Model of Leadership

May 9, 2013 • LEADERSHIP, Leadership Development, MBAs & Executive Education

In complex and dynamic times, the Michigan Model of Leadership enables leaders to recognise and effectively manage competing tensions in organisational life. Leaders who utilise the process of Mindful Engagement learn to balance these tensions and make an impact in a world where there are no easy answers. We need leaders with empathy, drive, integrity, and courage – across society and throughout organisational hierarchies – whose core purpose is to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

Our generation has been witness to revolutionary advancements in industrial and information technology. Yet, modern organisations face challenges that are unprecedented in complexity and scale. The globalisation of international trade is creating more complex flows of people, goods, funds, and technology across national and political boundaries. Economic institutions that were historically independent are now part of a global ecosystem that, upon its collapse in 2008-2009, erased $14.5 trillion, or 33 per cent, of the value of the world’s companies in only 6 months. Furthermore, the addition of 80 million people each year to an already overcrowded planet is exacerbating the problems of pollution, desertification, underemployment, epidemics, and famine. Two billion people lack access to clean water, 80% of people live on $10 or less per day, only 53% of students in U.S. cities graduate high school, and climate change threatens to alter our way of life. These challenges will define the future of business and society, but how business and society respond to these challenges will define our generation’s legacy. Leadership has always been important, but the need for leaders who embrace this responsibility and can mobilise collective action in service of bringing about positive change has never been greater.

Historically, societies have looked to leaders as heroic figures with the charisma to charm the hearts of people and show them the way forward. Think about Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement of the 1960s in the United States, or Winston Churchill leading the United Kingdom during the Second World War. Unfortunately, Adolf Hitler had similar charismatic qualities that allowed him to capture the hearts of the Nazi party, leading to the death of millions. To address the political, economic and social challenges of our generation, we need more than charismatic figures. We need leaders whose core purpose in life is to make a positive difference in the lives of others, and who embody the courage, empathy, integrity and drive that is necessary to tackle tough challenges. Moreover, people routinely confuse leadership with formal or hierarchical power, expecting leadership only of those who hold lofty titles or positions of authority. Instead, we need leadership from all corners of society and at all levels of organisations. Today’s challenges are simply too complex and the need too immediate for people to be waiting for direction from a single leader. Leadership is not a right that is afforded to some but not others. Neither is leadership merely a position. Rather, leadership is a set of actions that anyone can engage, and we need each person to have a bias towards action with a commitment to the collective good. Finally, most people look to leaders for answers, but given the challenges we face, leaders must understand that there is rarely a single answer. Rather, there is a competing set of tensions and trade-offs that must be considered, and leadership is about making tough choices and balancing those competing tensions.

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