We are being called upon to deliver an innovative product, a game changing service and at the same time are expected to keep our business intact. A tall task for sure!
Latin author, Pubilius Syrus said that, “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm”. If we look around today, the sea is anything but calm. Open a newspaper (yes, some of us still catch up the old style), switch on a television channel, or wander on social networks—there is buzz about change, uncertainty, disruptive technology et al. Does this uncertainty block our vision? Or can it open up a new world if we are able to walk our way through it?
Organisations are increasingly learning to deal with disruptions. For the leaders, this whirl is a certainty. Does it mean that we significantly alter our way of leading and adopt new behaviours to lead effectively? As the demands on leadership are changing, we need to recognise that the world of work is altering. We have to deal with demands for flexibility, work–life balance, personalisation, and instant gratification not just from our employees but also from our customers.
Can there be disruptions in the way we lead people?
We are being called upon to deliver an innovative product, a game changing service and at the same time are expected to keep our business intact. This is like building a new house in the same place that it presently stands, while still staying in it. A tall task for sure!
If leaders need to lead a successful organisation, the culture needs to change. Instead of merely managing a set of employees, what we need to do is channel ‘volunteers’ on the journey.
Maybe it’s time to take an innovative approach to leadership itself. If we look around today, we will find that the mental models on leading a business include analysis, formulas, plans, driving results, decision-making, authority, removing ambiguity, structure and so on. These are all powerful tools, which are certainly necessary but are they enough in a disruptive environment? Or do we shift gears?
In a complex, uncertain environment, making meaning will not come from inductive or deductive reasoning alone. We need to move from determining a path to first learning how to frame the challenge, an ability better known as abductive reasoning.
I believe that if leaders need to lead a successful organisation, the culture needs to change. Instead of merely managing a set of employees, what we need to do is channel ‘volunteers’ on the journey. As we try to cut through the fog, we need a group of passionate individuals who are enlisted on the journey.
While the image of a lone star having a moment of epiphany is very evocative, in today’s world, this may not always be possible. If leaders have to run successful businesses, power should rest with collaborative teams generating ideas and not with a person or a position alone.
This means, leaders need to adapt to managing networks in the organisation and not resort to traditional hierarchy management.
And while leaders encourage collaborative teams, the responsibility of insight generation rests on their shoulders. This demands that as leaders we pay attention and learn to ‘see’. This is not the 20/20 hindsight vision, but the laser that can make way through the fog. It means the ability to pause, notice the small details, and find contours of new patterns.
We can ‘see’ better if we are able to create a culture of conversations that allows for dialogue across different points of view. From these world views and our reflections, we then synthesise, not analyse; find meaning and not just drive outcomes.
This only underscores the point that leadership is essentially about managing paradoxes — handling diversity of thought and managing multiple perspectives.
In the words of American novelist and short story writer, F Scott Fitzgerald, “The test of first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function”.
(The author is head- HR, ICICI Securities.)