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.

In the October Issue of the Harvard Business Review magazine Zenger, Folkman and Edinger (2011) describe a path for executives to take to enhance their leadership strengths using a cross-training approach. Leadership key competencies were paired with competency companions and when these companions were addressed the strength became more distinct to the employer pushing executives closer to the tipping point they needed for promotion into a leadership role. They argue that a single extraordinary strength can elevate you from the bottom third of leaders whilst two distinct strengths will put you in the top third of candidates.

In the cross-training approach strengths should be identified and selection of strength to focus on quantitatively made. This is based on your skills, the importance of that strength to the organisation and the passion you feel for it (do you actively and happily seek knowledge in this area outside your defined job role?). A complimentary behaviour to strengthen is then chosen to work on. Their example executive’s selected personal strength was ‘inspires and motivates others’, a recognised leadership quality. From a list of competency companions which included ‘develops others’ and ‘nurtures innovation’, he chooses to work on ‘communicates powerfully and broadly’. This skill was also important to his organisation and if he successfully masters it could emphasise his strength, namely ‘to inspire and motivate others’.

Queen Rania

21st Century leaders must be inspirational

Whilst leaders should leverage their strengths it also behoves them to recognise and eliminate their weaknesses. Leaders that do not recognise their weaknesses are often dictatorial and egotistic, the type of leader that rules by authority and rank instead of knowledge, integrity,influence or charisma. Are you scrutinising your leadership skills and working on them?

“Leadership is not magnetic personality — that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not ‘making friends and influencing people’ — that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” –Peter F. Drucker

References

Zenger, J.H., Folkman, J.R., & Edinger, S.K. (2011, October). Making Yourself Indispensable. Harvard Business Review Magazine. Retrieved 4th October, 2011 from http://hbr.org/2011/10/making-yourself-indispensable/ar/4

If team members were asked to confidentially evaluate their managers then rarely would the feedback be all  positive but possibly  more along the lines of “motivates by threatening punitive action” or “hears what they want to hear but not what I say”. In Dubai, a recognised problem is that many managers tend to do very little ‘managing’ and provide minimal direction or support for staff. They are not able to inspire better performance but do demand it. Managing is not an easy job but giving up and taking the hardened attitude of “my way or the highway” will not ultimately create a sustainable, creative, effective, cohesive and empowered team.EffectiveManagement?

As a manager you cannot rely solely on your technical skills to lead a team you also need to have good management and interpersonal communication skills. It is crucial that your team develop trust and confidence in you and you will need to invest in and update your own skill set/ expertise on a continual basis. It is as much a developmental journey for you as it for each team member you are responsible for. A high performing team will be one in which the members are ultimately self managing, where ideas are freely exchanged, leadership roles shift and peer coaching is present. In order to improve your management style you may need to work on the following areas:-

  • Effective delegation.
  • Communicating the companies’ guidelines and vision. Do staff know what the big picture is?
  • Clear communication of goals and possible strategies to achieve them.
  • Listening to feedback.
  • Analysing facts not opinion, the “what” not the “who”.
  • Managing meetings effectively.
  • Encouraging and coaching team members towards achieving their goals based on what they are doing right not through criticism of what they are doing wrong.
  • Developing the skills set of team members and setting aside enough time to do this.
  • Positively rewarding and modeling best practices.
  • Encouraging others to share their ideas in a non threatening way.
  • Motivating members to excel improve their work quality and accept responsibility.
  • Evaluating the development of yourself and team members in a positive way. Your performance management should not be superficial, restricted to generic performance appraisals .It should ideally arise from a genuine realisation of the achievements, talents, skill gaps and career aspirations of staff which have been gleaned from regular coaching and one on one discussion.
  • Cultural Intelligence.

Of course none of this comes easily; it will take time from your already busy schedule, training, practice and determination to reinforce these management behaviours but when the effective team you are working towards emerges their performance and job satisfaction will validate your management model.