In this time of rapid change leaders must remain agile and flexible in their approach. We examine how staff can help management identify ways to lead effective transformation.
We are in a new world of unimaginable uncertainty. Not just with our Brexit woes, but with AI tech, emerging markets, globalisation, new competition et al. Monzo, Netflix, Airbnb and Amazon amongst others are causing shifts beyond the reasonable and expected.
Our leaders have tried to work harder and smarter to solve the challenges facing them but, in this VUCA world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, something new is required to survive.
An expansion in our leaders’ bandwidth is essential. The mental model and perspectives need upgrading, thinking needs a higher degree of flexibility, openness and limiting beliefs need to be questioned and viewpoints adjusted.
The mental model and perspectives need upgrading.
There are things you can do to help them develop this ‘bandwidth’ and there are a number of practices described below that will enable them to navigate this volatility whilst leading by consciously transforming.
New ways of thinking
Transformation and innovation require the creation of new practices, new ideas and new actions - and all of this from a position of new perspectives, new models and new thinking.
Disruption is often the consequence of such changes but, at the same time, these new practices facilitate the emergence of new perspectives. Perhaps these VUCA times call for more than just trying to manage change and instead to focus on looking at disruption for innovation.
So, what does it take to responsibly disrupt organisational norms? According to the established field of adult development (or vertical development), leaders develop through a set of stages which give an ever-expanding view and sense of the world.
Transformation and innovation require the creation of new practices, new ideas and new actions.
This evolution enables a leader to move beyond the conventional ways of making sense to a post-conventional open-mindedness, flexibility and curiosity.
This brings an enhanced conceptual, interpersonal and personal capacity with expanded ability to respond and lead in fluid and complex situations – important for intentional transformation and disruption. The five capabilities needed to move towards post-conventional are as follows:
- Promoting inquiry: a questioning and genuine listening to others fosters an experimental and agile orientation.
- Connecting creatively: in order to handle the inaction and confusion that comes with uncertainty, leaders need to connect creatively and collaborate meaningfully with their people and stakeholders.
- Nudging systems: awareness of weak signals and acting in small ‘safe to fail’ ways on the many interrelating aspects of a system can nudge an issue in the desired direction.
- Surfacing dilemmas: paying attention to relationships and politics to ensure dilemmas are discussed is essential for dealing with ambiguity. New solutions can then be designed from, and with, all sides of an issue.
- Cultivate resilience: dealing with relentless workloads and stress is critical, so the ability to balance the emotional, physical and intellectual needs of yourself and others becomes essential.
This evolution of self-development is not automatic however, so how can you enable a leader to develop? Here are five habits to develop these post-conventional capabilities – practical steps your leaders can start taking today:
Capability - Promoting Inquiry = Habit - Improving Listening
- Score yourself on the skill of listening on one to five where one is no skill and five is mastery.
- Note upcoming meetings where you can practise your listening skills by keeping quiet while the other person talks and use good questions to draw out additional insight from that individual’s experiences, e.g. “can you tell me your thinking on….?”, ”what things would you like to raise at this point?”, or “we differ strongly on this – can you explain your perspective on it?”.
- Each time you practise, make a note of what you learnt about yourself, the other person, what went well and what to practisefurther.
- After two weeks rescore yourself.
Capability - Connecting Creatively = Habit – Connecting Others
- Think back over the colleagues you have met recently.
- Identify at least one person who should be connected to someone else you know – because they share ideas in common or just because they would be interested in each other. Introduce them to each other.
- After a month, review what impact your actions have had on you, your colleagues and your organisation.
Capability - Nudging Systems = Habit – Mapping Systems
- Think about an issue you are trying to progress. Map the system of people and relationships involved in that issue.
- Identify the strengths of relationships between you and others.
- Look at where the power lies and notice existing alliances.
- Hold one conversation a week with the aim of improving a priority relationship to see how that impacts on the progress of your issue.
Capability - Surfacing Dilemmas = Habit – Exploring Opposable Thinking
- Seeking the one right answer can cause people or groups to ‘polarise’ as each tries to do the right thing. Encouraging different viewpoints and raising multiple dilemmas can deliver a valuable collective way forward.
- Organise a meeting of your team and use 'opposable thinking' to explore a business challenge.
- You take an observer role in that meeting. As people talk, notice when they oppose each other or are polarised in their views. Ask yourself what unspoken dilemma might be at play?
- Share your observation with the group in a neutral way and encourage them to explore the dilemma.
- At the meeting’s close consider what you learnt about yourself, others and new ways of thinking? What do you want to do next?
Capability - Cultivate Resilience = Habit – Mood Mapping
- At the end of each week, create a 'mood map' of your week.
- Notice when you felt at your most calm and when you were most 'off kilter.'
- Notice any patterns, what experiences or people were most helpful in restoring balance.
- Decide on one action you will take in the next week to add in one more 'resilience boosting' experience.
So, with an intention to grow, you can do it! Let’s turn attention away from attempting to manage change in the usual ways and towards useful disruption.
Leaders will need to step up and build their resilience and bandwidth to do this responsibly and consciously. They will need help to develop, just as children do, and a clear vision of what is required will help. The post-conventional leaders of tomorrow will then emerge.
About Elva Ainsworth
Elva Ainsworth was born into a family of people-watchers and has cultivated a real love of people pattern spotting. This combination led her to a career in HR after a psychology degree at Bristol University. In HR she enjoyed implementing the brand new psychometrics, as well as designing culture change and personal development tools.
In 1994 she focused on her love of psychometrics by joining SHL, the leading business psychologists, where she managed the 360° feedback and management development practice in both the UK and in the USA. Her vision of creating a highly transformational 360 tool lead to her starting Talent Innovations in 2000. TI is now a leading provider of 360, delivering to prestigious clients in 26 languages.
Elva has published two books, “360 Degree Feedback: A Transformational Approach” and "Reboot Your Reputation: 11 Ways to Change Their Minds", available on Amazon.