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Are You Ready for Anything?

The best way to prepare for uncertain times is to transition yourself to someplace new.

Build a teaching organization. The year 2001 will be a period of transition. In the wake of the bursting of the Internet bubble and the chaotic election, there is a need for partnerships and bridge building. The perceived dichotomy between old and new economies is nonsense. We should now be evaluating winners and losers. Some winners will be older companies undergoing hyper transformation, while others will be five kids in a garage growing into the next Sun Microsystems, Cisco, or Microsoft. The thing that’s true, however, for all companies, is that they are part of a new knowledge economy where learning and teaching are the core activities and where leaders must work to enhance their organizations’ brainpower.

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Experience the teaching-learning paradox. Am I a learner or a teacher? The answer is both. Take on a significant teaching role. This requires that you have a teachable point of view, be able to articulate your ideas and values, have a plan for how you will emotionally energize learners, and have the courage to make difficult decisions. By doing this in an open and interactive way, you will be learn and be taught by your “students.”

Be an active, global, corporate citizen. Develop and have a point of view on environmental issues, including land, water, air, and biodiversity and on human-capital issues, such as health, education, jobs, and housing. Then, engage: Give back to the world, and by doing so, you continue your own growth and learning.

Diversify your social networks, and build on weak ties. Go outside of your strong social networks to develop diverse relationships. Diversity comes from your weaker social networks — the universe of people you barely know. Avoid networking with just your old ties; it leads to redundancy of information and learning. Diversify and build global networks.

Understand your story. Take the time to lay out your own life journey, the ups and downs, the shaping events. Your personal story has the themes that determine how you lead. Your story shapes your ideas, your core values, your tactics for emotionally energizing yourself and others, and your strategy for handling tough decisions as a leader. Share your story with others. It will help develop and motivate them as well.

Align your life energies, and write your eulogy. Take the time to do a very emotionally demanding exercise. Write the eulogy that you would like to have read at your funeral. It forces you to go out to the end of your lifeline and look back at what you want to accomplish. Then look hard in the mirror. Be honest with yourself: Does your time and emotional energy lead to where you say you want to be?

Articulate your leadership dream. Write a Fast Company article about yourself in the year 2002, telling the story you would like to see written about you as a leader — your vision for what you have successfully accomplished. Then live it; make it happen.

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Be a transformational leader: Practice creative destruction. Creatively destroy and remake part of your organization to prepare it for success in tomorrow’s world. Have the courage to take on the resistance to change, work through it, and get people aligned around a new vision for the future.

Get out of your physical comfort zone: Learn a new physical skill. Life is learning at many levels. Don’t leave out the physical. Keep exploring new boundaries and renewing yourself.

Go on a transition journey. Travel totally outside your comfort zone. Look at the world through the eyes of a diverse and less fortunate group. Spend time in an inner city visiting drug rehabilitation centers, homeless shelters, job programs, or food-distribution programs. Go to a less-developed country and visit similar settings — not the Western hotels and tourist sites but the places where people really live. Share and learn.

Noel Tichy is a professor of organizational behavior and human-resource management at the University of Michigan Graduate School of Business Administration, where he is also the director of the Globaleadership.com program.