Preview Thursday: the New Leadership Literacies by Bob Johansen

The following post is a preview excerpt from the Introduction of the New Leadership Literacies by Bob Johansen.

In simpler times, perhaps action orientation was enough to make a great leader. Perhaps the future was more clear back then, the insights more obvious. But the next decade will be extremely complex, messy, and threatening. Leaders will need to combine the practices of foresight, insight, and action. Even thousands of hours of practice in the present won’t be enough for this future world. Leaders will need to develop new literacies in new ways for a new future.

Future leaders will be facing a VUCA World: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. I learned this term at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where I have done immersion experiences, workshops, and talks since 9/11. This book is about what’s next in what I believe will be an increasingly VUCA World, on a meandering path toward—but never quite reaching—distributed everything.

The Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year for 2016 was “post-truth,” an adjective that they defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Post-truth VUCA will be a scramble: lots of practices and processes that have been stuck will get unstuck. In the scramble, many creative things will happen—including shifts that are very different from what the scramblers intended. Unintended consequences will abound. Those who are good at unsticking—the scramblers—are not likely to be good at putting things back together again in new ways. This is a future that will be ripe for innovation of all kinds—for good and for evil.

I’ll be using the Foresight-Insight-Action Cycle throughout the book to summarize how leaders can take the content of this book and translate it into their own personal process of leading.

In Future Tense

This is a book about the future and so it is by definition an opinion book, since the future hasn’t happened yet. I will share many signals from the future, but are no facts from the future.

In this book, I will explore the external future forces most likely to disrupt leaders and leadership. This book will give practical advice for how leaders can make the future a better place. This book will suggest an ideal talent profile for future leaders.

I will propose five new leadership literacies, but I ask that you open yourself to other new literacies that go beyond what I am suggesting. The literacies I introduce here will give you a head start on the future, but there will be others to come. What we’ve been taught about leadership in the past won’t be enough—even though the new literacies are informed by enduring leadership wisdom from the past.

My opinions are based on working as a professional futurist in Silicon Valley for some forty years. My forecasts are plausible, internally consistent, and provocative. While nobody can predict the future, my forecasted futures over the years have usually happened. While I don’t claim to be an expert in the present, I have been pretty good at listening for and foreseeing the future. The best futurists I know don’t really fit in the present. I don’t quite fit in the present either and I think that is an advantage.


Bob Johansen is a distinguished fellow with the Institute for the Future in Silicon Valley. For more than 30 years, Bob has helped organizations around the world prepare for and shape the future, including corporations such as P&G, Walmart, McKinsey, United Rentals, and Syngenta, as well as major universities and nonprofits.

The author or co-author of ten books, Bob is a frequent keynote speaker. His best-selling book Get There Early: Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present was selected as one of the top business books of 2007. His latest book is The New Leadership Literacies: Thriving in a Future of Extreme Disruption and Distributed Everything discusses five new leadership literacies—combinations of disciplines, practices, and worldviews—that will be needed to thrive in a VUCA world of increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.


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