Strong leadership to survive VUCA

BY Archana Law

Leaders get people moving. They energise and mobilise others, and take people and their organisations to places where they’ve never been before. In these uncertain and turbulent times, accepting this leadership challenge is the only antidote to chaos, stagnation and disintegration. Teams, organisations and communities need more people to step up and take charge.

Without leadership, there would be no extraordinary efforts to solve existing problems and realise unimagined opportunities. As American journalist Sydney Harris said: “Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time. What we really want is for things to get better but remain the same!”

The domain of leaders is the future and their unique legacy remains the creation of valued institutions that survive over time. The most significant contribution they make isn’t simply to help make profits but ensure the long-term development of people and institutions so that they can adapt, change, prosper and grow.

We need more exemplary leaders. And we need them now. If only because the business landscape is undoubtedly changing. While some aspects of leadership such as setting a vision and executing a strategy remain, future leaders will need an arsenal of new skills and mindsets to lead effectively. We would need a new type of leader at the helm since our businesses will look and operate differently in the future.

Leadership pipelines and development are at a crossroads. Businesses must focus on both traditional and new aspects. Organisations know they must develop leaders for perennial leadership skills such as the ability to manage operations, supervise teams, make decisions, prioritise investments and manage bottom lines.

But it must also develop leaders to address the demands of a rapidly evolving technology driven business environment. These include preventing ambiguity, managing increasing complexity, being tech savvy, handling changing customer and talent demographics, and addressing international and cultural differences.

How do you solve a problem where there are only questions and no answers? What will help our leaders succeed in a disruptive, digital and exciting future, which has very different expectations of them? Here are the basics…

ADAPTABILITY McKinsey research says adaptability is the key. Its model suggests focussing on the three basics that shape organisations: work, workforce and workplace. Examining and optimising these will enable organisations function better.

NEEDED SKILLS Best-selling author Jacob Morgan put together nine notable mindsets and skills that future leaders should master, after interviewing more than 140 top CEOs in the world.

Mindsets include being a global leader, serving the purpose of business existence with humility, balancing technology with care for employees and curiously exploring new ideas.

Skills span the ability to coach; being futuristic, technology savvy and excellent communicators; and possessing emotional intelligence.

Researcher and author Jim Collins found that enterprises seeking an enduring presence require extraordinary individuals to lead the way. He calls them ‘Level 5’ leaders. They have extreme humility and intense professional will, and have moved from being highly capable individuals, contributing team players, competent managers and effective leaders to becoming outstanding executives.

According to Leaders Make the Future: 10 New Skills for an Uncertain Future author Bob Johansen, a world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) will have both danger and opportunity. Leaders will be buffeted but they needn’t allow themselves to be overwhelmed, depressed or immobilised. They must do more than simply respond to a whirl of events and instead be change agents in the midst of chaos, and help create a new future.

Ambiguity is one of the leading causes of conflict in any business. Two symptoms that are frequently associated with it include being unable to conceptualise threats and opportunities accurately before these become lethal; and growing increasingly frustrated because compartmentalised accomplishments don’t add up to comprehensive or enduring success.

It’s imperative that leaders provide clarity because ambiguity makes employees insecure. When competent employees encounter ambiguity, they will do what they’re most comfortable doing to feel as if they are contributing effectively.

Uncertainty and complexity won’t go away, and confusion will remain part of the mix. The years ahead will be exceptionally volatile with many ‘make or break’ decisions to be made. But the greatest danger is being unprepared. You can control that by preparing yourself as a leader and readying your organisation for an uncertain future.