Are you a future ready leader? - Michelle Gibbings

Are you a future ready leader?

Recently, CSIRO released their latest report on the megatrends they see impacting the world.

Their report, worth reading if you want insights into potential impacts on your profession and industry, is another document in a long list of predictions and studies on the future.

There’s no doubt that the future is full of change, but so is the present. 2022 is unfolding as another unpredictable year, and there’s no certainty as to how it will conclude. No surprise, therefore, that the demands on leaders continue to rise.

During times of uncertainty and change, leaders are at the epicentre of the action, playing a critical role in problem-solving, managing stakeholders, balancing competing demands and inspiring their team members with confidence and care.

Psychologist and decision-making expert Daniel Kahneman found a strong expectation that leaders will be decisive and act quickly. He said, “We deeply want to be led by people who know what they’re doing and who don’t have to think about it too much“.

Particularly so during times of change. To me, leadership is never ‘one size fits all’ because context matters. What’s needed from leaders also isn’t static. It changes as circumstances change.

However, some fundamental principles are timeless.

Build the Foundation
Leaders should establish a psychologically safe environment where team members can share what works for them and how they feel. As part of this process, ask questions, listen, gather input and facilitate open discussions with your team.

In such an environment, team members can be encouraged to embrace the uncertainty and see it as a challenge to solve, not a barrier to avoid. They can be supported to engage in spirited conversations. Spirited conversations create energy, spark new ideas, help people think more clearly about their position, and open the room to different solutions.

Over time, this creates team norms where ideas are shared and challenged to secure more robust decisions and effective outcomes.

Go for Clarity
As the leader, set clear goals, responsibilities, and ways of working with your team and have realistic expectations about workload and deadlines. Challenge yourself and consider: How are you creating clarity rather than confusion about work, deadlines, dependencies and challenges?

Leaders should strive to frame the work and ensure everyone in the team is on the same page. You want to establish common goals, clarity on challenges, and expectations on dealing with failure and setbacks.

Reflect rather than Ruminate
There are always times when things don’t go to plan. It might be a project behind schedule, a missed client deal or a calculation error in a report. The key is for you and your team to focus on reflecting rather than ruminating.

When we ruminate, we aren’t productive with our thoughts because our thinking process doesn’t reach a conclusion. When you reflect, you think about the situation, focus on uncovering what you have learned, how you were feeling and identifying what you and your team will do differently next time.

Build their Capability
As the world changes, so too do the needs of your workforce. Across your team, identify the strengths and gaps against the required future capabilities and how those elements will hinder or enable your progress.

Once you’ve identified those gaps, you can develop the capability program to close those gaps. The work program may include short courses, online discussion forums, leadership programs and other development activities for your team.

As part of this process, create opportunities for your team members to practice and embed their learning. For example, through on-the-job practice, volunteering, online demonstrations, or practising with a colleague. All of this increases their skills and builds their confidence.

Confidence isn’t hubris
Mark Twain wrote, “All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence and then success is sure“.

It’s critical to recognise there is a difference between confidence and hubris. A confident leader is open to debate and challenge and accepts it’s impossible to have all the answers. A leader with hubris digs in and holds entrenched opinions, doesn’t listen and lets their over-confidence negatively impact outcomes.

As part of this, leaders need to know when to make decisions alone or when to collaborate. Never-ending collaboration and consultation can heighten uncertainty and confusion.

Making decisions alone doesn’t mean you don’t seek expert advice. It means you are clear on who has the accountability and authority to make the decision, and you know when to consult and engage and when to decide.

What’s needed from leaders changes over time, as Nitin Nohria, the former dean of Harvard Business School, reminds us in his recent HBR article. Ask yourself: when and how did you last change? How do your support your team members to adapt? How are you creating an adaptive and future-fit culture?

If you are struggling to answer those questions, you may want to ponder the words of the former Chief of Staff in the US army, General Eric Shinseki, who once remarked, “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less“.

Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®

Michelle Gibbings is bringing back the happy to workplace culture. The award-winning author of three books, and a global keynote speaker, she’s on a mission to help leaders, teams and organisations create successful workplaces – where people thrive and progress is accelerated. 

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