Amy Edmondson is the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School. She’s a renowned expert on organizational learning and leadership and the #1 ranked management thinker in the world by Thinkers50 (2021). Her most recent book, The Fearless Organization, offers a practical guide for organizations serious about success in the modern economy and has been translated into 11 languages.
Amy will join us at Nordic Business Forum 2022 next September, so we asked her a couple of questions about her keynote and the event theme of future-focused leadership.
Nordic Business Forum: Can you give us a teaser of what to expect from your Nordic Business Forum 2022 presentation?
Amy Edmondson: We’ll explore what psychological safety is (and what it isn’t) and why it matters so very much for success in uncertain, fast-paced environments. Many organizations today are in a state of flux, as demand for innovation intensifies, new experiments in work arrangements disrupt teams, and risks multiply. As a result, the need to inspire people to contribute their knowledge in a timely, fearless way has moved to center stage for leaders in every industry. But many companies lack the psychological safety that makes fearless teaming possible. We’ll look at what it takes to build a psychologically safe, resilient culture and identify best practices for building a fearless culture able to navigate uncertainty when the stakes are high.
NBF: The theme of the event is future-focused leadership. What does that mean to you?
AE: Good leadership has always been future-focused. I see leadership as the force that moves us forward, bravely and collaboratively, to fight against our natural desire for comfort and predictability. This means being vulnerable. In fact, good leaders recognize that their vulnerability is simply a fact. We are all vulnerable – as individuals and as organizations. The question for leaders, therefore, is whether or not they acknowledge and use that fact to help their teams and organizations to make progress against persistent challenges.
Few myths are as pervasive as the notion that leaders ought to appear tough and confident. But the pandemic exposed the weaknesses of forceful, dominant leaders and highlighted the superiority of those who have the courage to reveal vulnerabilities. People in organizations of all types are better off when leaders are smart, honest, and caring — when their focus is on helping the organization move forward, not on how they look to others. Above all, they are more interested in understanding what’s really happening than in being right. They welcome criticism — not because they like it any more than the rest of us, but because they know it’s necessary for making progress.
Future-focused leadership to me thus means being honest and open. Resisting the urge to tell people what they want to hear. When leaders are clear about the challenges ahead, they are leading. Transparent and vulnerable is the kind of future-focused leadership we desperately need when answers are not clear and anyone in the organization can contribute vital ideas.
NBF: What would you highlight as the most important thing(s) for leaders to focus on in the future?
AE: The overarching focus must be an appreciation for our deep interconnectedness and vulnerability on this small planet. What that means for leaders across industries is finding the courage to consider longer-term consequences of near-term actions – and to use that to alter those near-term actions. We need to focus on making the world work for everyone – and indeed this will take the kind of leadership that is too rarely seen. It may seem that my answer to this question quickly goes beyond the scope of my expertise, which is absolutely true. And yet, I believe the ability of leaders to focus on what matters most will require engaging people – at all levels, and with diverse expertise – in fearless, evidence-based journeys to discover the new solutions we need to thrive in the future.
At Nordic Business Forum 2022, Amy will share more about how to create a fearless organization through psychological safety. To learn more from Amy, join the Nordic Business Forum 2022 Helsinki event.