Have you ever read a book you wished you had written? I have! August of 2020, Blair H. Sheppard of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) published a book titled Ten Years to Midnight: Four Urgent Global Crises and Their Strategic Solutions. His message about leadership in the final chapter is that leaders who want to solve the four big crises mentioned in the book need to have the capability to balance six paradoxes, or competing capabilities. I would call it integrating or balancing competing capabilities. Sheppard’s book succinctly captures for me the wisdom of the capabilities needed to tackle the wicked problems we face going forward.
The six paradoxes he cites are:
- Tech-savvy humanist
- High-integrity politician
- Globally minded localist
- Humble hero
- Traditioned innovator
- Strategic executor
My many years of working with leaders have shown me that integrating competing capabilities is the way of the future. I also know that it will take new kinds of capabilities, involving caring and self-discipline, for the tech-savvy humanist, as an example. We all tend to go with our strengths, especially leaders tasked with difficult problems. Integrating or balancing paradoxes means developing a wholeness around both aspects of the capability and not relying solely on strengths.
As Sheppard says for paradox (1), “only tech-savvy leaders have sufficient technology expertise to build systems that anticipate the future and … make sure they are attentive to improving lives, not threatening them.”
Every human endeavor involves politics, and this will be especially true going forward, when so many stakeholders will need to work together on issues. However, the high-integrity politician (2) also needs to maintain integrity and build trust while negotiating, overcoming resistance and forming coalitions.
The globally minded localist (3) needs to be a student of the world while maintaining deep roots and navigating local market issues. The globalization that our economic world has been experiencing for the past decades has been all about money, leaving whole swaths of society and locales out of the growth.
The humble hero (4) needs to listen and foster resilience in others, and yet step into the breach with decisions and confidence in times of uncertainty. The world’s current coronavirus crisis is a case in point. Where have we seen leaders make bold decisions with clarity and confidence while acknowledging the limitations of their knowledge while having the ability to listen to others?
The traditioned innovator (5) is the person we want on our team when we need to come up with innovative ideas or products. Organizations treasure their deeply held values and the principles on which they were founded, and need to bring those forward while driving innovation and trying new ideas.
The strategic executor (6) is especially important for leaders who head the organization. Sheppard’s description is simple and concise: being strategic means using insights about the future to inform today’s decision-making, and executor means delivering exquisitely on today’s challenges. Insight and delivery!