Posted by News Express | 23 May 2016 | 2,683 times
Today, we continue our discussion on the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous nature of today’s socioeconomic world and the impact it has on businesses, economies, politics and our general life. Our main objective is to explain how individuals and organisations seek to deal with VUCA situations, so we continue the measurement with a number of engagement themes, thus:
Adaptive leadership tactics for operating in a VUCA world is outlined as follows:
For Volatile Situations – Communicate clearly and ensure your intent is understood.
For Uncertain Situations – Get a fresh perspective and be flexible.
For Complex Situations – Develop collaborative leadership and stop seeking permanent solutions.
For Ambiguous Situations – Listen well, think divergently and set up incremental dividends.
For a more intensive and varied knowledge sharing and discussions, and questions relating to your individual specifics, be at any of our intensive, participatory and interactive entrepreneurship, financial and wealth creation business training programmes. You will do well to get in touch with us for details and plan to attend.
. . . Drawing lines in the sand . . .
Both leaders in this study are managers of others, leading client-facing teams. The first, a seasoned veteran of the field who had joined the organisation in the mid-2000s, functioned as a team leader with responsibilities for business development, client management, and overall engagement delivery. This manager’s reputation for being a straight talker, a quick decider, and for having a strong sense for the “numbers” of the business, quickly rendered him a more senior role among his peers on the larger management team. Moreover, his steady ability to provide clarity and direction was popular with his direct reports and made him a charismatic team leader.
This manager always seemed to have a clear explanation for things; to ask the straightforward questions of more senior managers when necessary; and to have an action-oriented bias that focused his team strongly on results. The combination of these qualities had a significant impact on this manager’s ability to deliver above his target a few years ago, and led the organisation to increase the size of his client base and to raise his salary accordingly. He seemed on his way to bigger things.
With the onset of the recession, the organisation’s business environment became increasingly turbulent, with some clients cancelling or postponing contracts while new opportunities required more economical models. As was the case for many companies, the business environment following the recession transformed into a “new normal” that became increasingly reflective of the conditions of the VUCA world – new, exciting, and challenging opportunities combined with much more severe turbulence in terms of client expectations, pricing constraints, emerging competition, and greater complexity all across the acquisition and delivery of services. It was clear that the organisation would have to flex dramatically to adapt to these new and fluid market conditions and that its leaders would need to pave the way by demonstrating an ability to adapt themselves. The new COO was the embodiment of this style of leadership, providing a vision but empowering managers to broadly interpret it across their teams; restructuring the organisation to provide for increased collaboration while encouraging competition; and openly embracing the new complexity and ambiguity in the market.
. . . Failure to Adapt . . .
During the COO’s first several months, this manager emerged as quietly skeptical of the new strategic direction and of the organisation’s perception of changes in the external business environment. He started resisting the need to adapt, retreating instead to the apparent safety of tried-and-true business models. He clung to past measures of success and failure despite evidence that some were no longer applicable or, worse, had become roadblocks to future growth. He also refused to learn new skills, acting as if the new tools introduced by the COO were unnecessary even to target a new, more complex set of client opportunities that were presenting themselves.
Once open to many other employees in the organisation, he began to divide them into “friends and foes” while steering his team in its own direction within the larger organisation and actively discouraging collaboration. Seeing the world through a distinctly black-and-white lens, he argued that “ambiguity” was being used to mask problems that could be solved by bold, decisive leadership and that the real way to lead in the VUCA world was to draw some lines in the sand and stick to them. What had once been conversations turned into one-way diatribes, as the manager seemed bent upon demonstrating that he had the answer for everything.
Despite mentoring, this manager, who has since moved on from the organisation, basically became an oar rowing hard the other way. For a time, his ability to focus attention on legacy clients in the “tried and true” business model helped meet revenue goals, but this masked how the failure to adapt to new skill sets and more complex client situations would eventually erode the team’s topline performance. Team members, initially energised by this manager’s clear, declarative, top-down leadership style, gradually became confused about direction and disconnected from others in the organisation. The manager’s sharp-edged “us versus them” stance put most of the team in difficult situations, eventually causing many to become part of the “them” as well. Lapsing into constant “tell” mode, he basically stopped listening to anyone except the echo chamber provided by close allies.
What happened to this particular manager? Was it just a question of a bad fit; the kind of thing that could happen in any organisation? The answer is “yes” to some degree, but in a larger way, the real issue was this manager’s unwillingness to adapt to the increasing turbulence faced by this organisation. The heart of this, in the eyes of many in the company, came from a fear of failure, which undergirded the refusal to want to change, to try new approaches and learn new skills, and to accept that the world has become a much more turbulent, complex place where some leadership styles were now outmoded. Was this manager self-aware? Colleagues did sense some inner struggle on his part at times, but in the end, it seemed as if his ultimate point of self-reflection was to tell himself he was always right.
We will continue with this business story and training material next week.
•Lawrence Nwaodu is a small business expert and enterprise consultant, trained in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, with an MBA in Entrepreneurship from The Management School, University of Liverpool, United Kingdom, and MSc in Finance and Financial Management Services from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University Netherlands. Mr. Nwaodu is the Lead Consultant at IDEAS Exchange Consulting, Lagos. He can be reached via email@example.com (07066375847).
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