• The problems we confront are complex, interconnected and emergent.
• Real leadership issues from the fountain of consensus and consultation.
Our world is beset with a legion of complex problems.
While the problems we face are inherently emergent and interconnected, the solutions we proffer are simplistic, formulaic and hierarchically determined. We are hard at work applying industrial age approaches to solving problems in what I consider the post-knowledge economy.
Ours is the Anthropocene; the era of exceeding human dominance, which is characterised by global warming, inexorable decline of biodiversity, our rivers and lakes are poisoned with pollutants and in some parts of the insects like honeybees, that work so hard to ensure we have food on the table are nearly extinct. Nearly 35 per cent of our food is pollinated by bees. Globally, the rapacious expansion of agriculture is decimating forests, grasslands and wetlands.
Thanks to the clash of ignorance, we have touched off virulent gust conflict that pits Islam against Christianity; Judaism against Islam; white Americans against Latinos; black against white. In this part of the world, the clash of ignorance has sparked deadly ethnic conflagration in countries like Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan. Terrorism, domestic and international, remains the biggest challenge to global security.
Moreover, the failures of global capitalism have created an unconscionable chasm of wealth inequality between and within nations. Differences in income now determine health and education outcomes as well as life expectancy. For example, life expectancy in the richest parts of Sao Paolo in Brazil is a whooping 24 year longer compared to the poorest areas of the city
Income inequality defines maternal and infant outcomes. Access to quality healthcare and nutritious food determines every child’s first 1,000 days and pretty much preordains the rest of it, especially educational attainment. In Kenya, a girl born into a poor family has one in 250 chances of continuing her studies beyond secondary school.
The problems we confront are complex, interconnected and emergent. Being adept at solving the problems of yesterday provides no experience or preparation to grapple with the crisis at hand. The past is instructive but we cannot carve the future in the image of history. Moreover, existing organisational structures, which divide labour, define hierarchy and mandate are best suited for tactical or process solutions. They are woefully inadequate for building adaptive responses to emergent issues.
Leadership for this age demands must be adaptive, not formulaic. Complexity, uncertainty, crisis and consequential change defines the new normal. Leaders for this age must be insurgents, assailing disrupting convention and tradition. Cultural sclerosis, the ossified command and control leadership practices must give way.
We have reached the end of hierarchical leadership models. Leadership is now about connectedness. Power is wielded through networks and webs of relationships, not formal structures or channels of traditional power. Power and legitimate authority belongs to those who wield influence, not those who coerce or author edicts.
Real leadership issues from the fountain of consensus and consultation. The vertical model must evolve, adapt and respond to the challenges of a connected and networked world. Formulaic solutions won’t solve complexity and uncertainty.
Alex O. Awiti is the Vice Provost and Interim Dean for the Graduate School of Media and Communications at Aga Khan University