Leadership, Blurred Lines and Sliding Scales

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Leadership has entered a new realm, leaving the space of knowns and certainties (which was an illusion anyway) and entering the space of deep uncertainty, blurred lines and sliding scales. What it takes to succeed as a leader in this new realm is completely different from the leadership of ages past.

“Old ways of thinking will not work. It will require viewing these blurring of lines from an integrated perspective where flexibility and choice are the norm, rather than viewing each different blurring of lines as a linear problem to be solved.”

Kathryn Johnson, The Lines are Blurring: How Leaders Can Respond to the Ever-Changing Work Environment, Management Concepts

This change is happening across industries and disciplines and it’s putting us all to the test, as our leadership preparation likely didn’t include a master class on navigating in blurry, high complexity situations.

Feeling the Pressure

What does it feel like to lead right now? It feels like walking across a tightrope between skyscrapers without a net, and the pandemic has added additional life and death decision-making to the mix. If you lead, you are probably feeling the pressure of this transition and stretching to adapt. This week, I’m sharing some evidence of this evolution of leadership, and raising some provocative questions about how to respond.

Evidence of Blurred Lines Across Industries

“A new Korn Ferry report based on in-depth conversations with more than 100 board members, many of whom are CEOs themselves, found that 86 percent of participants say the line between business and society is increasingly blurred.”

Don Lowman and Tierney Remick, Blurred Lines Between Business And Society Changing CEO Purpose And Pay Principles, Chief Executive

“’The Times They Are a-Changin’ could be a theme song for the PR industry. We read, we hear, and we repeat these fundamentals: lines are blurred, fully integrated is required, and social is everywhere.”

Julie Batliner, Blurred Lines, PR Council

“From a focus on “securing the perimeter” to securing the data assets themselves as they move in and out of a company’s purview. From a “black and white,” binary, secured or unsecured approach to one of a sliding scale of security protections and data accessibility depending on data sensitivity and transactional requirements.”

Peter Hodkinson, The Evolution of Leadership in Information Risk and Cybersecurity, SpencerStuart

“What has also become clear is that, in today’s communications environment, the transition from business issue to political maelstrom to online consumer boycott can happen at lightning speed. Consumer, political and business worlds have converged.”

Adrian Warr, Headline Attraction, Portland

“As the lines between digital and physical blur, marketers are redefining the rules of engagement and the roles that content, creative, and technology have in addressing the unmet needs of consumers.”

Nelson Kunkel and Ian Daly, The (Near) Future of Experiences, Association of National Advertisers Event

Where Do We Go From Here?

What this means is that organizations need to orient leaders to this new realm, and guide them as they develop a completely new mindset along with keener awareness, a higher tolerance for complexity and ambiguity, new navigational abilities, and advanced decision making skills.

Getting there may seem daunting, so where do we go from here? Use these discussion questions to explore how to orient your organizational leadership to the kind that thrives in a time of blurred lines and sliding scales.

  • What are we doing right now to prepare our leadership for thriving in a time of blurred lines and sliding scales?
  • How well is it working? How do we know? Have we asked?
  • How are people feeling about this new space and their journey through it? Are some of them considering leaving leadership because they’re overwhelmed, not ready or don’t want to deal with it?
  • Could we provide support that could help retain our top leadership talent?
  • Where are the skill gaps? Do we need to work on adopting the new mindset? Moving beyond binary thinking? Thriving in uncertainty? Developing higher level decision making?
  • What are we going to do about the gaps? If we do nothing, a few leaders may figure things out on their own, but many will fail. Is that a chance we are willing to take? What could it cost us?

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© 2009-2023 Leading in Context LLC

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