Importance of Leadership in an Uncertain World
The ongoing global crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic is giving us a very rough ride and refreshing our memory of the “VUCA” world where everything seems constant and unpredictable. This is now also the norm in certain industries and areas of the business world.
Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity – VUCA – are the realities of today and will inevitably prevail for the period of time unknown to us. Leaders need to get ready to accept this, at the double.
Today’s rapidly changing world can be difficult for companies. They need to meet the expectations of their customers, develop a strong brand identity and be able to adapt quickly to radical shifts within their industries, addressing new demands that are hard to anticipate.
The need for a company to meet all these goals simultaneously involves developing dynamic capabilities. This organizational concept emphasizes the capability to integrate, build and reconfigure internal and external competencies to address rapidly changing environments.
Every organization is different. There is no general set of rules for an organization to build dynamic capabilities, especially in this VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous – business environment. This creates an acute challenge for management in the areas of innovation, organizational structure and managing talent, just to name a few. Innovation and dynamic capabilities are the two main necessary requirements to achieve leadership agility in the VUCA world.
The markets of today and tomorrow reward those organizations that have the capacity and willingness to adapt and the management approaches that encourage creativity and innovation. All these factors are commonly referred to as agile and that encourage leaders to pivot faster in response to a VUCA world situation like now.
To be precise, leadership agility is the ability to successfully lead organizational change, build teams, and navigate the speed of change.
In today’s volatile world, leaders don’t just need to be agile. They also need to be contortionist. It is hard to track changes in your environment and immediately understand them while being able to dovetail external factors into their internal settings to bring a change and take advantage of them. However, what a leader can do is put a structure around themselves to constantly remind themselves they need to be agile.
Levels of Leadership Agility:
Leadership agility model shows that there are three leadership agility levels extant in today’s organizations. Those are as follows:
- Expert Level
- Achiever Level
- Catalyst Level
Measured on their performances, the expert level leaders undergo a tactical and problem-solving orientation, the achiever level leaders get a strategic, outcome orientation, while catalyst level leaders promote an inspiring vision, bring together the right people to make it happen and empower others to actively facilitate their development.
What are the Factors to Determine Leadership Agility?
Various studies exhibit there are four key factors to determine a leader’s agility.
- Context-setting Agility – how effectively a leader frames their initiatives
- Stakeholder Agility – how well they work with stakeholders
- Creative Agility – how creative they are in solving complex problems
- Self-leadership Agility – how proactively they seek and learn from feedback on their own effectiveness
The move from an expert to an achiever leadership level involves proactively growing their agility in these areas and developing capability of catalyst level eventually. This is a collective undertaking.
How to Develop Leadership Agility?
Agile leaders have the ability and capacity to assess risk, take bold decisions, and act promptly to meet the rapidly evolving environment while achieving results and helping others to develop capacity to do the same.
Various studies have pointed out five key qualities that can drive a leader to be agile and that they can leverage at scale to change how their organizations work and get work done.
- Innovative mindset
- Sense of urgency
- Cross-functional collaboration
- Focussed and foresightful
These five key drivers of agile leadership are identifiable, observable, and measurable competencies and behaviors that are critical for a leader’s success. These can also help them create an agile culture based on shared organizational values that align your business and people strategies.
How to Build Effective Followership in a VUCA World?
Leaders are respected and followed by others because of their authority and expertise. They can embrace a situation of any gravity, identify solutions to navigate, and bring their team members on to the board to collaboratively learn. But, this is not an easy job to do.
It is not simply a matter of knowledge, but how to apply the knowledge they have to the real-life situations, extract the knowledge from those around themselves, and have the ability to sublimate their own ego to choose answers that might not necessarily fit into their own worldview.
In this world full of uncertainty, embracing the reality of VUCA is uncomfortable for most leaders. Even if you think you are making all the right moves and decisions, there is no guarantee of business or organizational success. That’s why it is increasingly important for leaders to focus on the following concepts:
Authentic Leadership – Based on the idea of building the leaders’ legitimacy through honest relationships with followers to value their input, authentic leadership is composed of positive people with a truthful sense of self to promote openness with those around them.
Executive Presence – It lies in three crucial factors, which are how you act (otherwise known as gravitis), how you communicate, and how you look.
Emotional Intelligence – There are five key elements to emotional intelligence for building effective followership. Those are self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. The more you can capably manage each of these areas, the higher your emotional intelligence and the more effective leader you can become.
In a VUCA world, uncertainty does not mean certain failure. Instead, it is a great opportunity to grow your leadership capacity. You need to develop and maintain a founder’s mentality.
How is Keeping A Founder’s Mentality Vital?
Various reports suggest that 85% of leaders blame internal factors for their problems rather than external ones beyond their control. As companies become bigger and more successful, they inevitably become more complex. This complexity is “the silent killer of growth.” Does it sound paradoxical? But, it’s true.
Businesses maintain a “founder’s mentality” even as they grow. It helps them stay focused on what made them successful in the first place.
“The founder’s mentality is not about individual founders per se, but about the attitudes and behaviors that are common across the most sustainably successful companies with the most loyal and energized employees.”
So what is it about this founder’s mentality that makes the difference? Zook and Allen explain it using three key traits to measure and track a company and how close the company is to their founder’s mentality.
Insurgency – Insurgency is what drove the business at the beginning. It’s about the belief they could do better than the market currently provided.
Frontline Obsession – Frontline obsession is inherent in all founders. It exhibits itself in three ways. First is with an obsession with front-line employees, second is with individual customers at all levels of the company, and the third is with the details of the business.
Owner Mindset – The owner mindset is where the public envisions entrepreneurs, their aversion to bureaucracy, a bias towards action and risk, and a strong focus on the cash flow and fundamentals of the business. Simply speaking, the owner mindset means taking responsibility for all the business and taking actions instead of the bureaucratic system in larger organizations where employees are only concerned about their patch.
Wisdom comes from where you have been in the past, but you must exist in the present, and be the most courageous, creative, confident, empathetic, and visionary to navigate the challenging, uncertain business environments.
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