We live in a world of urgencies. In this world, many decisions and measures that should have been taken and implemented long ago have become imperative. We can no longer put them off.

These urgencies are those set out in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations 2030 Agenda. These 17 goals not only tell us which are the areas in which a paradigm shift is urgent, but also show us the way forward, with recommendations and indications for each sector.

In the first place, then, the leadership needed today has a framework and a horizon: the SDGs. Today’s leaders must keep them very much in mind when guiding their actions.

At the same time, we live in a world increasingly permeated by technology. We communicate, educate, work, inform, shop, celebrate and train, among so many other daily functions, digitally. Digitalization has also transformed our consumption and production patterns, and therefore our business models, and has meant a profound disruption in the way we do politics. The importance and speed that digitalization and the advance of emerging technologies have acquired in all aspects of our lives is so evident that no leader can ignore or naturalize it without constantly asking about the opportunities, but also about the challenges that this advance implies.

So many barriers have been removed that it is often difficult for us to measure the scope of change. It is a change that is also constant and exponential, which makes the task even more difficult, because when we are just beginning to understand its impact, the technologies are already different and have crossed new frontiers.

The pandemic has exposed us to a digital life without filters and made it clear that citizenship in the digital age, and even more so leadership, requires new skills to become “digital literate”. Among these skills, there is one that is fundamental, and it is linked to critical thinking. Developing critical thinking with respect to the digital world implies understanding how we think and how it can be difficult, in certain contexts, to differentiate between the digital and analogue worlds; recognizing the biases to which we are constantly exposed; and fundamentally, understanding how to inform ourselves for better decision making.

For example, in the age of AI, algorithms and hyper-segmentation, the confirmation bias, which leads us to consume information that is in line with our beliefs, preferences and expectations, becomes ever more profound. As we constantly provide algorithms with data about our preferences, they are increasingly able to provide us with information that makes us feel comfortable. This is a situation that not only prevents us from being well informed, but ultimately leads to polarization and radicalization of thinking. If we only listen to and validate one way of thinking, and do not expand and question it, sooner or later we will become intolerant citizens. And when there is no longer tolerance, the very foundations of our democratic coexistence begin to crack. The leaders needed today must constantly cultivate their critical thinking, and more importantly, it is their responsibility to foster it in their own ecosystems.

Another very important point is related to the use of large databases on which leaders inform their actions and develop strategies. Big data is destined to be one of the most important transformations in the coming decades. Each day we are able to store and process more and more amounts of data about human beings and their environments. These huge databases are a valuable tool, for example, in providing services more efficiently. However, those in charge of generating and interpreting these databases are often unaware or untrained to understand the consequences that misuse of these tools can have: access to private information without prior consent, profiling, stigmatization, discrimination, among others. Those in leadership positions have a greater responsibility for the data they use, and here again the importance of constantly applying critical thinking and asking where the data comes from and why we pay attention to some data and not to others.

Likewise, virtual reality is becoming more and more present in work environments and offers immense opportunities, but also great challenges related to critical thinking. Virtual reality became popular when a few months ago Facebook changed its name to Meta, a clear allusion to the concept of the metaverse, which refers to a new way of interacting through technology. It. The experience in the virtual world is based entirely on perceptions. While virtual reality is not new, in recent years technological developments have allowed virtual spaces to increasingly resemble the real world, incorporating sensory experiences that go far beyond the visual. For example, it can be used for team meetings in companies.  Within the virtual space, everyone has their own avatar with whom they interact, converse, debate, take notes or present their plans. The different functions make it possible, among other things, to stand up, write on a screen and share a document. You perceive that you are in a room with one or more people, and by their voice and the movement of their lips, there comes a moment when you feel that you are really with that person, sharing the same space, even though in reality it is an avatar, and the space is a virtual one and not a physical one. This clearly poses a huge challenge in terms of our digital and information literacy and requires us to increasingly work on our ability to understand the boundary between what is real and what we perceive as real.

Technology offers limitless potential to create and evolve, but at the same time raises major ethical dilemmas, linked to privacy, control, manipulation and knowledge asymmetry, among many others. The digital era involves the development of tools that far exceed the cognitive capacity of any human being, at least in terms of their capacity and speed to store and process billions of available data to determine outcomes and results. However, algorithms and AI are still far from offering a real alternative to human leadership.

In short, the necessary leadership involves deconstructing the traditional role. The necessary leadership is one that thinks horizontally, in the ecosystem and in the long term. One that thinks critically about technology, as a tool for empowerment and social evolution. One that has a sense of purpose, sees the opportunities, but also anticipates the risks. One who does not abuse ignorance but creates projects for the common good and leads in uncertainty, empowering others through knowledge.

Maria Laura Garcia
Maria Laura Garcia

Chairwoman, Business Committee, WICMI
President, GlobalNews Group