Information sharing via the internet has unleashed a whole new playing field for businesses. Leaders have had to begin working on different skills for a few years, but 2020 has pushed the envelope and created a definitive mandate for the shift to happen or else fail. Add in this year’s level of unexpected and volatile events and we are definitely not in Kansas anymore, Toto.
The challenge is less about learning something completely new and more about leaders giving themselves permission to embrace a different way of leading. This requires letting go of the way things were and opening ourselves up to aspects of leadership and being human that we’ve been trained to avoid at all costs. These skills include a combination of the tangible skills and new mindsets.
The tangible skills to focus on include:
Imagining the Future – Imagination is not just for the kids. Somewhere along the line we were told that daydreaming and conjuring up ‘out there’ ideas was an act of immaturity. As we grew up, we were conditioned to control vs. invent. But in a world where innovation is the lifeblood of any business, this is clearly a faulty way of thinking.
Remember that imagining the future is different than simply thinking about the problems you will solve after today. That’s just evaluating the past and present and putting together a things-to-do list with deadlines. That’s not the same as creating something that doesn’t exist yet. Imagination starts with desire. What do you want? Start working out this part of your brain by asking yourself what you want to do every morning. Don’t put limitations on it. Let your brain fantasize about all you’d like to experience. You can tell it no later. See how long you can spend genuinely creating your ideal experiences before switching to assessing limitations and problem solving.
Embracing Dynamic Change – Danielle Bodwitch, consultant with Four Letter Consulting, shares that, “Change is no longer done in silos. You have to work across functions, levels and even with vendors. Needing to be the all-knowing leader who does it all is an unhealthy expectation and approach for all involved.” She elaborated that the good news is everybody gets things are changing. “What leaders need to be expert in is clarifying what problem really needs to be solved, the urgency to solve it and who to work with to make it happen.”
Rapid Prototyping – “Leaders who can learn from failure at an accelerated speed will be able to drive their organizations to success and out-pace the industry,” shares Bowditch. This takes a great deal of risk tolerance and capacity to live by the growth mindset. This means being able to absorb lessons from unexpected results, mistakes and failures and using that to drive the next improved option. We have to be able to set aside our egos and desire to look good. Once we do that, we can make room for the speed in which people have to learn from mistakes and apply those lessons learned.
Budgeting for Value vs. Cost Control – There is a tendency in budgeting for leaders to focus on either saving as much money as possible or spend what was given to them to ensure they don’t lose any budget dollars. But this lacks any real future-focused strategy. Getting savvy at how to use budget as a resource that can be used to create greater value helps leaders move from bean counting to value creation. Where can some money help create brand recognition or engagement? Where can we enhance value through better efficiencies and cost cutting? This comes from a focus on creating what’s wanted vs. avoiding what we don’t want.
Real-Time Decision Making – Using data for more than researching best practices or reinforcing the tried and true of what works and what doesn’t is another critical skill for the ‘Next Level’ leader. Well curated and tracked data can be used to help drive the dynamic change and rapid prototyping. “Being able to reference trends and themes that are surfacing are critical for leaders as they make tough in-the-moment calls that require informed risk-taking with less of a guaranteed success than ever before,” cautions Bowditch.
Navigating Ambiguity – Democratic decision-making has become the norm. The idea that there’s one person who has clear and all-encompassing decision-making power has shifted from a work world focused on compliance to one focused on collaboration. Effective collaboration is full of gray areas and ambiguity. It requires a balance of art and science. Being able to ‘read the room’ and gauge when to listen, when to push back and when to compromise.
Critical new mindsets all leaders will need to start fully embracing include:
Humility – As mentioned earlier, letting our egos sit in the driver’s seat of our decisions, we will never be the kind of leaders that can evolve. “It takes humility to accept you don’t have all the answers. If you’re narrative is this is about you solving, fixing or saving everyone, then you won’t be able to let go of the control needed to enable others to be part of the solution. Humility is the anecdote to that,” explains Bowditch. Leaders who can prioritize the best solution over trying to be the best person will inspire others, foster commitment and set everyone up to do their best work.
Self-Worth – The other side of that coin is trusting our ability to figure things out even if we have no idea what may happen or how you might resolve something at the outset of things. That belief in ourselves sets us up to let go of the reigns, take risks and know when to take a step back, allowing others to take the lead when needed. It’s rarely our need to trust others as much as it’s the need to trust ourselves to handle the unexpected.
Vulnerability –The ability to let our walls down and ask for help. The willingness to admit what we don’t know, what we’re scared of and what we are struggling with. This is definitely a different direction from the all-knowing, all-powerful leader. Instead, it breads a willingness to let others contribute by helping us, trusting that it will make you both better off by the trust and growth that comes for working like a partnership vs. one-way relationships.
Bravery – Finally, it the months to come will require the ability to feel the fear and anxiety of not knowing what’s next and moving forward anyway. Bowditch highlights that, “We’ve all been groomed to focus on control, avoid mistakes at all costs and don’t do anything you can’t do perfectly. It’s hard to let go of that kind of certainty and trust we’ll land on our feet.”
Many of the words that were sometimes seen as bad words in the proverbial boardroom are now the star line up that will determine which leaders thrive and which struggle the most. The good news is, we’re all capable of these skills and mindsets. It begins with embracing that this is the direction of leadership, giving ourselves permission to step outside our comfort zones and make room for everyone to learn in front of each other vs. putting too much energy into trying to lead with perfection.
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