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The new leadership muscles for today's environment-p2

Continued from part1 – click here to read

Muscle #6 – Get ahead of changing circumstances – Be bold, have the courage and adapt fast.

Strong leaders get ahead of changing circumstances as they have the courage to embrace failure and learn from mistakes. They seek input and information from diverse sources, are not afraid to admit what they don't know, and bring in outside expertise when needed. Leaders need to decide what not to do, put on hold large initiatives and expenses, and ruthlessly prioritize. Publicize your "what not to do" choices. Throw out yesterday's playbook. The actions that previously drove results may no longer be relevant. The best leaders adjust quickly and develop new plans of attack. Strengthen (or build) direct connections to the front line. Effective leaders extend their antennae across all the ecosystems where they operate.

The best leaders know they can't do everything themselves and be bold to ask for help. The leader is not expected to be the smartest guy in the room and have all answers, I was talking to a bunch of leaders at a mid-size scale up company and they said that we want our leader to be one amongst us, who has the courage to admit mistakes, can learn with us and have fun with us. Many leaders think they have to be invincible know-it-all, but those leaders often don’t make it. Nobody can lead by themselves, and the more help you get, the better off you and your team will be.

As Warren Buffett said, “If you’re the smartest guy in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” Contrary to the CEO-as-Superman myth, you don’t have to be the smartest guy in the room—it might even be a disadvantage. But you do need to figure out who is, get them on your team, and let them lead. “If two leaders always agree, one of them is unnecessary.” So remember, don’t be afraid to be the dumbest person in the room. In fact, make it your goal.

To me, courage and kindness are very important muscle for every leader. Courage has always guided me on ‘what’ needs to be done and helps take the ‘right’ decisions, even if they are hard. For e.g. letting go people during a downturn to save the organization from going into losses or sometimes even on the verge of shutting down. And kindness enables the ‘how’ decisions are executed with care and compassion. Courageous leaders are seen to confront reality far better during crisis. Courage even helps them to listen to people on the ground or 360 degree feedback to understand the blind spots.

A leader cannot play favourites, and must have the courage to be fair and transparent. As a leader, one needs to make several tough calls on performance and ethical issues. It helps the leader to communicate openly and frequently to lead the change. Courageous leaders do not hide behind jargon. If a leader is courageous, capable and confident, she finds it easy to give credit to others when deserving and at the same time have the ability to hold people accountable for their actions.

Muscle #7 – Be (truly) rooted in purpose for sustained attractiveness for customers, talent and wider society.

Leaders needs to manage a complex and diverse set of stakeholders, which includes conversation and accountability on areas such as ESGs, diversity, government and community relations; all gaining greater importance than yester years due to climate change.

More than ever, leaders must ensure their organizations are rooted in purpose, which provides stability and motivates people amid societal and economic uncertainty. Exercise a passion for renewal in the business, products, the organization and its people.

Leaders must reorient their organizations for continuous transformation to enable sustainable growth and deliver long-term value for all stakeholders from customers to employees, society and investors. Although leaders show willingness to transform for these new imperatives, gaps remain in their organizations’ capabilities, focus areas and translating intent into action. Radical customer-centricity as well as a purposeful, nurturing company culture embeds the agility to move at the speed of market and customer changes

During volatile times as we experience now in the pandemic, focus on 3 things:

  • clarity on what’s important (purpose), sense of belonging and demonstrate care,
  • create impact by focusing our teams on customer delivery and business continuity…
  • consistent story telling by our leaders and consistency in what they say and what they do…especially during the crisis.

Strong leader are able to attract the best people to join their team. In today’s day and age, we see that the millennials are okay to decline a big brand name, a fat salary and join a start-up instead, or a social enterprise, whatever gives them meaning and purpose to associate with, either the technology, innovation, new business model or a cause that they can associate with.

Ability to hire people better than yourself enables leaders to learn from their teams and vice versa and creates a space for learning. This can happen only when the managers are not insecure about losing their job and have an abundance mindset.

Muscle #8 – Keeping pace with technology & building ecosystem is imperative.

To realize sustainable competitive advantage the leaders must embrace three interconnected value drivers, viz. humans at the center, technology at speed and innovation at scale.

Advanced technologies are increasingly impacting how companies advance business models, and customer and employee experiences. Leveraging technology for creativity and deploying it faster are critical.

CEOs and C-suite executives need to not only understand the importance of data, but also reframe how they obtain, manage, use and scale it. Taking a value-first approach and embedding trust into data, business models and advanced technologies will power the intelligence running through the enterprise and ultimately provide targeted, sustainable value creation.

Technology is not only changing the way we work or operate but is also impacting the culture of the organization in many ways. Information is no longer power. Managers or HR does not have more information about an individual than the employee may have by himself. Thus, creating greater ownership and empowerment. Democratizing of learning and careers is liberating and holds the individual responsible for chartering their own career. While it provided people choices, it also holds them accountable.

Companies are using integrated talent strategies through AI to enable positive employee experience. Examples include AI-enabled recruiting by creating a liberated job market, matching profiles with job specs, experience and aspiration, talent crowd sourcing for specific projects, career development, curated learning from global repositories, employee engagement, thus creating personalized and an engaging experience.

Leaders have the responsibility to accelerate technology adoption. The pandemic has catapulted us into the digital-first era literally overnight. With new technologies emerging and maturing more quickly, companies that can leverage them as instruments of creativity will inherently perform better. Apart from leveraging these technologies, companies will need to deploy technology faster as well in order to serve the ever-evolving needs of customers, employees and ecosystem partners. Therefore, digital driven business transformation and AI/data science are the top competencies requiring new or increased C-suite attention.

However, companies need to carefully consider the human impact of every technology before widescale deployment, as public awareness of the security, privacy and ethical risks grows. CEOs need pay particular attention to building trust with stakeholders to reap the full benefit afforded by AI and data science.

Successfully leveraging and implementing technology at speed requires upskilling and reskilling employees as well as diffusing a transformative mindset across the entire organization at all levels. Forward-looking risk management practices and strong cybersecurity capabilities will be linchpins in fully realizing the value of technology to improve the human experience in our increasingly virtual world.

Integrating into ecosystems will be a defining feature of the future successful enterprise. Over the past several years, we have seen industry boundaries erode and threats emerge from non-traditional competitors. Increasingly companies are shifting to ‘coopetition,’ cooperation between competing companies, as well as adopting ecosystem business models to deliver superior customer value and achieve market leadership. This requires a completely new mind set shift for the leader to embrace and leverage for competitive advantage. Resisting this change will result in leadership obsolescence.

Muscle #9 – Take personal ownership in a crisis.

The best leaders take personal ownership in a crisis, even though many challenges and factors lie outside their control. They align team focus, establish new metrics to monitor performance, and create a culture of accountability. They stay alert to and aligned on a daily dashboard of priorities. Leaders should succinctly document their top five priorities (on half a page or less) and ensure that those above them are in accord. Review performance against those items frequently - if not daily, perhaps weekly - and make sure that leaders share this information with direct reports. Review and update your "hit list" at the end of each day or week. Set key performance indicators and other metrics to measure performance. Choose three to five metrics that matter most for the week, and have leaders regularly report back on each. Keep mind and body in fighting shape. To reliably deliver, leaders must maintain their equanimity even when others are losing their heads. Establish a routine of self-care: a healthy diet, exercise, meditation, or whatever works best for you. Stock up on energy, emotional reserves, and coping mechanisms. Leaders need to bring in sharper focus and can balance on both immediate demands to ensure survival in the short term and longer-term demands geared toward sustained growth in the future.

Muscle #10 – Push the boundaries of your own growth, be able to change yourself.

By building our physical, social, and mental fitness, we can build neural pathways that reinforce our capabilities in each of these areas and move us towards overall peak performance.

It involves considering the wider aspects of leadership health such as sleep, water intake, food, stress and rest. Taking the time for his/her own fitness is extremely important. In this crisis, people across the world have encountered profound personal and professional disruption, the status quo eliminated, and the autopilot switched off. For leaders even now, the uncertainty is frightening; the pace of change is breathtaking. But leaders cannot have it all and do it all, not now, not ever. Much like strength training, the critical lesson for leaders is the necessity of building in time to reflect, rest and recover in order to be strong for the journey. Allocate time for white space on a weekly basis, for mental harmony.

It is well known that both the frequency and consistency of exercise builds the muscle. While there is no quick fix to keeping fit, there is also no quick fix to leadership growth. Small decisions and actions performed every day form habits, often unconsciously, but determine the leader’s permanent state of being. There is a science to understanding habits; how to eliminate bad ones and start new ones. But, to grow the leadership muscle, it is self-awareness that will fuel the conscious and targeted effort to understand natural strengths and abilities, as well as what needs to improve. Bottom line, leaders need to disrupt themselves before someone or something else does it for them. The leadership lesson in this exercise is to remember that those who develop and sustain new habits will avoid the comfort of the status quo and be ready for disruption when it comes.

As per a HBR research, despite the well-known benefits, of self-care, many leaders remain resistant to the whole idea. This resistance often stems from a feeling that self-care is a sign of weakness, a feeling that they just don’t have time, or just generally rolling their eyes at the entire concept.

Leaders must constantly hone their cognitive abilities in order to plan, remember, reason, decide and adapt. According to Gilkey and Kits, such leaders continue to stimulate their brain cells by diverse stimulations such as play sports or music or have a unique bobby which engages a different ability. Direct, hands-on experiences like gardening or pottery could enable to form new neural networks.

I grew up in India and so was most of my work-life, however during my tenure in the Netherlands, I learnt that most adults do not give up sports as they graduate out of school. Everyone had one of the other sports, which kept them physically active and not finding time for it was not an option. Cycling was very much a part of their daily commute, which also gave them adequate physical activity. In a nutshell, what I am trying to convey is that if all aspects of our life are given the adequate importance and focus, we will not find reasons to justify lack of time to maintain this balance.

Many leaders want change but not always to change. As human beings we are hardwired to resist change; our brain desires predictability and our emotions crave stability. Yet in this crisis, we have witnessed the power of human nature, the ultimate adaptation machine. Whether it is crisis-induced change, failure, or disappointment, it can hurt. Much like exercise. But to avoid taking risks because of the fear of failure is not an option –leaders know that the greatest learning is found in hard times. History teaches that failure is inevitable in business. Nevertheless, leaders who learn from their mistakes and add these lessons to their personal toolkit, are better equipped to push the boundaries of their own growth and that of their teams and organizations.


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