Who would want to be a leader nowadays? Despite all the uncertainty in the world, from flash crashes in the markets to the fall-out of Brexit and the election of Trump – not to mention the mind-bending leaps taken by technology every other week – there’s a lot expected of leaders. They have to get a swift grasp of the challenges in their market, spot the opportunities, and make the best decisions at the right time, and all as if they knew exactly what they were doing.
The most successful leaders are those shedding the assumption that what worked yesterday will do the job today. Indeed, the model of an omniscient ruler lurking in the boardroom far from the action, issuing diktats from on high, now looks incredibly outdated.
Here are six tips for leaders looking to adopt a new approach fit for today’s working environment…
1. Ditch the top-down approach
Research from CEB, the best practice insight and technology company, found that 80% of leaders respond to uncertainty by loading more responsibility onto their shoulders – making strategic decisions, creating plans, and rolling them out across the company, hoping everyone jumps on board. The logic is that this enables them to be right, consistent, efficient and fast. But there’s a problem: working models have changed, tasks are more collaborative, and information more dispersed across organisations. When leaders try to hammer new strategies and solutions down from above, frontline managers actually understand less. According to CEB, fewer than 25% of the managers in such organisations actually understand why a particular change is being made.
2. Use your peer network
In periods of uncertainty, you’re bound to encounter challenges that are utterly new to you. But chances are, another leader in the organisation will have been there, done it, and brought the T-shirt to dress-down Friday. According to CEB’s research, today’s top-performing leaders stand out not for their individual skills or actions, but their ability to collaborate productively with their peers. The most effective leaders spend around 14 hours a week talking with and learning from their network – capturing ideas, information and resources and applying them to these new problems.
3. Find the right people to make decisions
Knowledge and insight on how to meet changing goals and objectives are likely to be distributed across all levels, territories and roles in your organisation – closer to where work is actually done. So if everyone in the room is at the same level or works in the same business function, you need to invite others in. Who? Whoever’s likely to be knowledgeable about it but not speaking out, whoever would be likely to have a different perspective, and whoever would actually be affected by the change. Find the people who embrace change, are more comfortable with ambiguity, and work better with others, and offer them a seat.
4. Own your vulnerability
It’s hard to talk openly about challenges when you don’t have all the answers. But instead of retreating to your cave to work on the masterplan, go out, admit you don’t know everything and pull other people into the process. Your employees will be far more engaged and committed to a leader who asks for help, than to the shadowy figure they can see through the gaps in her office blinds, tearing her hair out.
5. Place decision-making close to the coalface
Work out which roles are critical to business success, put the best employees there, and give them decent support. These days, when organisations are flatter, more networked and more virtual than ever, processes are less predictable and these positions will be critical flash points for change. Instead of micro-managing, give these front-line folk proper responsibility.
6. Promote the ‘why’?
Change is the new normal, and these changes will be small and many, rather than earth-shattering one-offs. The quicker your employees know that, the better. But try to resist the urge to sell them on a particular change – the truth is, in every change there are winners and losers. Instead, convey why a strategy is shifting – that will be more likely to get everyone behind it. Explain the business rationale for a decision; provide insight on the dynamics of the market you operate in; and share the metrics you’re using to work out whether you’re succeeding. Finally, check that it’s working – by asking your employees.
For more ideas on how to adapt your leadership to thrive in uncertain times, read the full CEB article, Driving Performance in Volatile Markets.