Leadership and the new normal by John Hill

In the next year, the US will have a new and perhaps radically different president, the UK may have voted to leave the EU, migration will continue to be a massive issue, the ongoing stagnation of the oil price will influence economies and the climate change imperative will drive business strategy for the next 20 years and beyond. Add to that massive leaps forward in technology which will continue to impact on all of us – 3D printing, drone technology, home networking, driverless cars and humanoid robots to name but a few – See here. It’s like the stuff of Minority Report!

The world and, consequently, the world of business is going through change at warp speed, influenced by the rapid change of economic, political, social, technological, environmental and other factors.

Thomas Freidman, in his book, The Earth is Flat, says “…there is something different about the flattening of the world that is going to be qualitatively different from other such profound changes: the speed and breadth with which it is taking hold….This flattening process is happening at warp speed and directly or indirectly touching a lot more people on the planet at once. The faster and broader this transition to a new era, the more likely is the potential of disruption.”

Businesses are having to adapt more quickly than they ever have before and in order to do so they need massive reserves of what we might call psychological capital – innovation, resourcefulness, imagination, resilience, adaptability, self-management and vision.

This calls for a new type of leadership – a leadership that is less about proven methods, implementation and compliance and more about vision, adaptability and courage. The world the we are experiencing, the ‘new normal’ as Friedman calls it, has been described as a VUCA world. Coined in the late 1990’s, the military-derived acronym stands for the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity—terms that reflect an increasingly unstable and rapidly changing business world. This new VUCA environment will require HR and talent management professionals to change the focus and methods of leadership development.

A VUCA leader is one who embodies what is called the “VUCA Prime,” which flips the acronym to focus on vision, understanding, clarity, and agility – all key characteristics for navigating teams and organisations through this new landscape. The foundation stone for building these characteristics is the radical and intentional development of self-awareness and a new enthusiasm and passion for learning new skills, new approaches and new mind-sets. For those interested have a look at this article by Erika Andersen on ‘Learning how to learn’ written for Harvard Business Review March 2016 issue http://tinyurl.com/zgcpcxq

The ability to acquire new leadership skills and knowledge quickly and continually is crucial to success in a world of rapid change.

When people aren’t happy in their workplace, the workflow is interrupted and the ripples run through the entire team. Conflict arises from many different sources: a misleading claim for a successful advertising concept at your Dubai marketing meeting, a team fragmenting during a stressful point in a project, or a simple gripe over missing food in the office fridge.

Finding the best way to resolve conflict in the office means knowing how to effectively implement your company’s human resource guidelines. Just as you wouldn’t sue your neighbour the first time their child chucks a ball over the fence, you wouldn’t go straight for formal warnings when tensions rise in the workplace – well not unless the tensions had resulted in some seriously criminal behaviour.

Avengers team

Can you get them to work together as a team?

Initially your job as manager of a team of people is to diffuse the situation when it becomes a problem to the overall running of the team. This may mean pulling the main protagonists to one side and giving them the chance to air their views. At this stage it’s not about finding out which one of them is wrong, it’s more about allowing them to talk in a reasonable manner, in a safe place. This is essential to achieving an early resolution. Let a situation go too far and they may not even wish to sit in the same room to talk it through.

What you are aiming for is a position where all parties get to air their views equally. Some conflict may arise out of one person receiving a promotion that another person feels unfairly missed them. Or there may be serious disagreements over the right way to structure a bid. You may not wish to take out time during a busy period, but an hour taken out to help people can prevent hours and hours of poorly done work down the line.

At the initial stage, do keep a note of all the dealings with the conflict. This will help you if there are more problems down the line. If they haven’t listened to each other, you can at least show them your thoughts on the meeting and how it was concluded.

Allow each person equal time to put forward their side of the problem, but bear in mind that each person is seeing it solely from their point of view. It is your job to keep a sense of perspective and not be drawn yourself into the argument.

Try and find a point on which everyone agrees and build a solution around it. If you cannot find resolution, the next step could be mediation. This is a more formal meeting and you should talk to someone in human resources beforehand. They will have more experience dealing with conflict and may be able to offer a solution you hadn’t thought of.

But don’t forget, not all conflict is necessarily bad. There are times when two people do not see eye to eye on how to deliver a new product. In these situations, the win/win scenario can be made to fit. Even though neither of them can be completely right, a seasoned well trained manager of a Dubai company will know how to solve the problem: look at both methods and take the very best ideas from both camps.