Leadership for the Future

How will the world look in the next 10 or 20 years, and what kinds of leaders will we need to help us thrive?

That was the question I asked myself last month in preparing for our workshop at UNC, as a guide for defining how our students could prepare themselves to be the leaders of the future.

Not so I could deliver a talk about the world of tomorrow (h/t Tex Avery). I don’t claim to be a futurist or psychic, and I’m definitely not selling my predictions. But it occurred to me I’d be offering little value to students entering the workplace in the next couple years if I concentrated my lessons on today. So instead I placed my focus on current trends that I think are going to impact us in a large way, very soon.

And they all are thanks to one thing: Technology

Technology is Eating the World

There is more computing power in my smartphone than Bill Clinton had available to him, period, during his presidency. (None of our UNC students were actually alive when he was first elected, but I think this still meant something to them.) That means that in my lifetime they shrunk a supercomputer into my pocket. And most of us just use it to play Candy Crush.

And that technology is growing exponentially. We’re now at the point that we have essentially surpassed our brains’ ability to conceptualize how fast the next changes are coming (nerdy reference).

My favorite technology predictions of the coming decades:

  • 2020's: Nanobots will eradicate most disease
  • 2030’s: Virtual reality will seem completely real
  • 2040’s: Wirelessly connecting our brains to the cloud

That all might sound crazy and might be. But the point is, a lot of new stuff seems likely to happen pretty quickly in our lives and our leaders will need to have to skills to help others thrive in the midst of it.

And as the world continues to develop, we live longer lives and disease control is improved, a host of other challenges come to the forefront.

  • Globalization
  • Population growth
  • Climate change
  • Energy consumption
  • Waste management

And what I think is one of the biggest, but rarely discussed.

Scarcity of Time and Attention

In 2010, Google noted that every two days we create more data than existed before 2003. In fact, 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years. This is all technology related, of course. But think about how that affects our day-to-day lives — once Internet is ubiquitous, we’re constantly attached to multiple social networks, able to publish freely and storage space isn’t an issue.

We’ve already seen advertisers take over your Facebook feeds. Once the entire world is a network, and every surface on earth is a potential screen, how do things start to look?

That’s why we’re here.

We need mindful leaders.

Our future challenges require leaders who can relate to others, are comfortable with ambiguity and solving complex problems, and who can remain calm and focused on what’s important despite what’s going on around them.

Mindfulness tools — meditation, gratitude practices and others — are the key to helping us stay present in the midst of change. They help us to be a stable force. And most importantly, they allow us to communicate with others on a deeply personal level.

At least, that’s what I think. Like I said, I’m no fortune teller.