Leadership Development in a Challenging Workplace Needs a New Approach
Every day news stories, images and videos squawk like vultures over politics, catastrophes and hardship. Global leaders struggle with terrorism, poverty and hunger, infectious diseases, cyber-crime and the confusing global economy. Within organizations, managers and leaders face an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) business environment. The world also reels from disruption, the crash of oil and gas prices, economic downturns and demographic changes in the workforce with the inevitable retirement of Baby Boomers. It’s no wonder that leaders are struggling to keep pace. In our April 2016 article “Why We Have a Global Leadership Crisis and What We Can Do About It,” we described the three startling trends underpinning a global leadership crisis.
Albert Einstein once said, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” Margaret Wheatley, author of such remarkable books as Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World, says, “Most of the ways we were taught to think, to reason, to understand simply don’t give us the means to make wise decisions any more. We don’t know how to be wise stewards of the dilemmas and challenges that confront us daily. We were not taught how to make sense of a chaotic world, or a worldwide interconnected web of activity and relationships.”
Many leaders may not see the link between self-awareness, continuous development and the effectiveness of their leadership. Others who realize that their current capabilities are not enough either don’t have the time or don’t know where to seek help. Those who do look for help tend to take training, read books or take advice from others on how they can change what they are doing simply to cope with current reality. For decades, leadership development has focused on improving sets of competencies and skills, such as financial acumen, strategic thinking or project management, to improve the way leaders and managers are functioning, fixing, planning, organizing and accomplishing. This focus on the amount or quality of what leaders are doing is mostly looking externally at the results they produce. However, there is an altogether different direction to look for the leadership we need for today and tomorrow.
The direction we need to look is inward. Leadership for a chaotic world, whether in politics or organizations, begins with who we are being. Who we are being creates what we are doing and in particular, how we are doing it. Developing better leaders is about the inner journey of self-awareness, self-understanding and the realization of how others experience us. It’s about evolving our presence and how we hold conversations with others. It’s about understanding our beliefs and assumptions, our biases and habits. It’s about changing our reactivity to people and situations by understanding and managing our emotional intelligence.
The leadership that the world and its organizations now need is about humanity. We need self-understanding and a commitment to personal growth. We need more listening and less telling, shared leadership and co-creation—not dictatorship. We need authentic people who understand and balance the difference between achieving results and creating strong relationships. Our leaders have to find a new way of being so they can evolve what and how they are doing. For themselves, their families, their teams, their organizations, their communities, their industries, their countries and the world.
But if leaders turn inward for self-development, who are their guides and coaches? How do we find our beacon of light in the dense forest of leadership development tools? Well, there is profoundly good news. There are some remarkable leadership guides and coaches who have dedicated most of their lives to this very important cause.
One bright light in the leadership development world is Judith Glaser. In 2013, she published Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust & Get Extraordinary Results. Her premise, which we fully agree with, is that much of effective leadership boils down to holding effective conversations with other people and gaining their trust. This is far more challenging than we think, and it’s easy to trigger another person into an emotional reaction such as defensiveness or silence when we ignore how human brains work. Her lifetime of neuroscience research and understanding of our brain’s natural survival instincts have culminated in her Conversational Intelligence tools for leaders and for coaches of leaders. This guidance is also about a new level of self-awareness in how we interact with others. As Glaser says, “To get to the next level of greatness depends on the quality of the culture, which depends on the quality of the relationships, which depends on the quality of the conversations.”
Two other significant shining stars are Bob Anderson and Bill Adams of The Full Circle Group. Their Universal Model of Leadership is the most comprehensive, elegant and profound framework for leadership ever created. It incorporates and unifies most other leadership models and approaches, including systems thinking, emotional intelligence and authenticity. Their new book, Mastering Leadership, describes and statistically proves what competencies define effective leadership and how effective leaders create better business results. They describe a new level of consciousness (which they compare to upgrading our personal operating system) that is required in today’s VUCA world and show us how to evolve who we are being as leaders.
If your head is spinning from the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity, disruption, downturn and demographic shifts in the workforce, how do you re-learn how to succeed as a leader? Well, one starting point is to read Mastering Leadership and take the self-assessment on your leadership effectiveness. Within the whirlwind, this will give you a critical handhold. It’s a starting point for survival, for success—even for greatness.
This article first appeared in JWN Energy's online publication May 13, 2016.