We've all been there: you invest in a leadership training program and hope to see the promised results. But, months later, nothing has changed. Meanwhile, your team is still struggling with communication and collaboration issues.
Did you know that only 50% of leadership training programs yield the desired results? That's a pretty startling statistic, and one that should serve as a wake-up call to any company looking for increased productivity, better employee engagement, and reduced turnover. The reason is simple: Leadership development programs don't always deliver the ROI they promise because they're often designed in isolation from your organization's specific needs.
We all know that leadership training programs are not a one-and-done deal. They require continual reinforcement and upkeep to be effective. But why do they fail in the first place?
It's not just you, it's pretty much everyone else too. Leadership training programs have traditionally failed because of a few key factors. In this blog post, we will share all that can go wrong so that you can create more effective leadership programs by focusing on what matters most to your business. This way, when it comes time for evaluation at the end of your program, you'll know whether or not it was worth investing in.
Factors that contribute to the failure of leadership development programs
If the system does not change, it will set people up to fail. Research in the 1950s found that most supervisors regressed to their pre-training views after a while. The only exceptions were those whose bosses practised and believed in the new leadership style the program was designed to teach.
Training programs do not facilitate organizational change. Even well-trained and motivated employees are unable to apply their new knowledge and skills when they return to their units which are entrenched in established ways of doing things. In short, individuals have less power to change the system surrounding them than that system has to shape them. Organizations need “fertile soil” in place before the “seeds” of training interventions can grow.
When organizational change and development efforts are championed by senior leaders then training gains the most traction. That’s because such efforts motivate people to learn and change; create the conditions for them to apply what they’ve learned; foster immediate improvements in individual and organizational effectiveness; and put in place systems that help sustain the learning.
Organizations are systems of interacting elements: Roles, responsibilities, and relationships are defined by organizational structure, processes, leadership styles, people’s professional and cultural backgrounds, and HR policies and practices. All those elements together drive organizational behaviour and performance. If the system does not change, it will not support and sustain individual behaviour change—indeed, it will set people up to fail.
The effectiveness of any manager depends on the clear strategic direction that they have from the top management. Many companies consistently struggle with unclear direction on strategy and values, which often leads to conflicting priorities. This creates confusion and dissipation of valuable resources. When senior executives themselves don’t work as a team and are not fully committed to a new direction or acknowledged necessary changes in their behaviour, it is quite difficult to expect the rest of the managerial team to be able to deliver effectively. The problem then is more about the incongruence between what they learn in the training program and what they see on the ground in their organisation.
Sometimes a top-down or laissez-faire style by the leader prevents honest conversation about problems. Employees hesitate to tell the senior team about obstacles to the organization’s effectiveness. This, coupled with a lack of coordination across businesses, functions, or regions due to poor organizational design and inadequate leadership time and attention to talent issues can create an environment where performance will be hindered, no matter how good the training program is.
Hence while developing leadership programs, it is important to start at the top, ideally through a coaching intervention. Coaching of the senior executives will help bring clarity on the strategic direction and values. This can then be cascaded down to the next few layers through group coaching and training.
By addressing management practices and leadership behaviour that shape the system before training individual employees, leaders create a favourable context for applying the learning. The systemic changes encourage—even require—the desired behaviours.
Too many training initiatives rest on the assumption that one size fits all and that the same group of skills or style of leadership is appropriate regardless of strategy, organizational culture, or CEO mandate.
Context is key. One size does not fit all. Many organizations invest in off-the-shelf programs or send their managers to academic leadership courses offered by well-respected universities without considering the real impact and results they are looking for. While these can be great for the individuals in terms of their personal brand building, it does not serve the purpose for the organization. Companies need to ask themselves what the desired outcome is and how a program will relate to specific organizational goals.
Often, leadership training programs are offered as a one-and-done approach. In other words, you attend a 2-day training and that is the last you hear of it. But while a one-and-done approach satisfies the need to do something, it ignores a critical fact: leadership behaviours and new habits are developed over time. Leadership development is all about creating good leadership habits. As we know habits cannot be changed just from attending a 2-day class.
Effective leadership development needs to be constructed as a learning journey that unfolds over time. But not only this—it should incorporate continuous coaching to help observe and reinforce good habits. It should also provide opportunities for skill practice and application. Nothing can replace on-the-job training and giving real-time feedback.
To ensure success for your team, combine professional development with coaching or mentoring sessions focused on practical application.
So, there you have it – some of the key reasons why your leadership training program may not be delivering the results you are hoping for.
Becoming a more effective leader often requires changing behaviour which also means adjusting underlying mindsets. Identifying some of the deepest, “below the surface” thoughts, feelings, assumptions, and beliefs is usually a precondition of behavioural change—something that’s often missing in leadership courses.
Companies can avoid the most common mistakes in leadership training and increase the odds of success by first doing the groundwork of creating fertile soil for desired change, establishing clarity about strategic direction and values, matching specific leadership skills and traits to the context at hand; embedding leadership development in real work through coaching and mentoring interventions that investigate the mind-sets that underpin behaviour.
For designing effective leadership development programs in Singapore and India, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Based on my inter-disciplinary work in leadership development, social and cognitive psychology, coaching, and my own experience as a leader and a coach, I have designed a model for leadership development that can prepare leaders to handle this VUCA world in a more deliberate, self-assured, and successful manner. I call it the CARES Model of Leadership.
I talked about leadership credibility and being adaptive in the previous two blogs and in this blog post, I will talk about being resolute.
The dictionary meaning of ‘Resolute’ is ‘being admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering’. A resolute person has the courage to act with conviction in the face of uncertainty and risk.
In this VUCA world where there is constant change in the environment that we operate in, there can be many distractions, disruptions and disappointments. You may start the year with a well thought out plan but something could derail it completely – like the current pandemic for instance. How do you respond to that as a leader? What gives you direction? What keeps you going? These are some questions to ponder over to understand your style of thinking, decision-making and the strength of your resolve.
Leaders who are hesitant about doing the hard, but right, things will often fall short of getting the organizational results they desire. They may get pulled in different directions at different times and end up giving confusing signals to their employees. By not making the hard choices, they may even encourage their teams to stay within their comfort zone.
For instance, if a leader finds it uncomfortable to have difficult conversations with key employees who have a huge bearing on the performance of the organization, it is but natural that the outcomes will be compromised.
Another instance could be when a leader recognizes the need to develop new offerings to meet the changing needs of the market but finds himself or herself not ready to take important decisions about the allocation of precious resources to it, then the organization will find itself losing out in the medium term.
Being resolute is essentially having the courage to do the hard things day after day because the end results matter. In the environment that we operate in, if you as a leader are not resolute, your organization may not be able to take the necessary steps to stay relevant over the medium to long term. Is that something you want? I’m sure the answer is no.
I believe that being clear about your purpose and the purpose of your organization is the essential starting point for dealing with changes in the VUCA world. There are many paths to take to get to your destination but unless the destination is clear, you are unlikely to get there.
The second aspect of being resolute is to be sharply focused on your destination at all times while remaining flexible in your ability to respond to changes. Many things will compete for your time and attention as a leader. Not getting distracted by things on the margin will require discipline and focus on what matters. This is what will keep your organization on track and moving towards its destination.
The third aspect of being resolute is to remain steadfast and unwavering, which means that when faced with challenges and hard knocks, you as a leader, don’t give up on your destination. You stay resilient and determined to move towards your destination.
Basically, you need to work on three areas:
When I talk of purpose, I am talking at two different levels – one is your purpose as a person and as a leader and the second is the purpose of your organization. Having clarity at both levels can really boost your ability to live your purpose and achieve success. Let’s talk about your purpose as a person – What gives your life meaning? What gives you a sense of fulfilment? What brings out the best in you? What makes you feel engaged and challenged meaningfully that while doing it you lose track of time? To figure out your purpose as an individual, it is important to know your values, motivators and your strengths.
What are values? Your values are the things that you believe are important in the way you live and work. When you don’t know what your values are, then you’re essentially taking on other people’s values and living other people’s priorities instead of your own. Let’s take an example. If you value transparency and open communication but work in an environment where people don’t share openly, you will feel really uncomfortable. If you value integrity but believe that to succeed in your business you need to adopt unethical ways, then you will find yourself not being able to work towards success. You will experience a sense of dissonance. Becoming aware of your core life values can help you make decisions that are aligned with your values. This will make it easier for you to make choices in life and at work. So take some time to reflect on what your core values are.
Next, to figure out what motivates you, explore why do you do what you do? What kind of activities inspire you the most? What kind of things are you willing to struggle for? What makes you feel alive? For different people, different things motivate them. For example, some people are motivated by a sense of achievement when they overcome challenges, others are motivated by how people around them perceive them, and yet others are motivated by a sense of power or control over their own destiny or over others.
If you enjoy solving technical challenges but find yourself spending all your time and energy on managing others, you may feel drained and lacking in motivation. If you value being appreciated but your organization prefers to only reward you financially, you will feel demotivated despite doing well financially. Finding out what motivates you can help you choose to focus on what energizes you. So, figure out what motivates you.
Finally, your strengths are things that come naturally to you. Because they come easily to you, sometimes it can be difficult to identify and you might take it for granted. You might have strengths that you don't even realize are strengths, such as empathy, a can do attitude, or the ability to learn things quickly. The best way to figure out your strengths is to reflect on your successes and identify what within you helped you be successful. You can also ask your colleagues, friends and family about what they think your strengths are.
Once you know your values, motivators and strengths, see the overlaps between them. This can help you figure out your purpose. Your purpose is basically what you want to do with your time that is important for you and that you’re really good at. Articulating your purpose and finding the courage to live it is the single most important developmental task you can undertake as a leader. It is the key to accelerating your growth and deepening your impact as a leader.
Once you have clarity about your own purpose, articulate the purpose of your organization. The purpose of an organization can be distilled in its mission – why the organization exists – what problem does it solve for whom and how. However, having a mission statement that exists only on paper and not in the mind and hearts of the employees is of no use. Try to articulate the purpose of the organization in simple, personal language that anyone can understand and that employees can relate to and take pride in.
For instance, look at Google’s mission - To organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. Another example is that of TED Talks – it’s as simple as – spread ideas. Yet another example is Kickstarter - To help bring creative projects to life. Such a simple and yet powerful organizational purpose can align employees and help you as a leader focus on your destination. While strategies and organizational structures keep changing in response to market changes, the purpose of the organization tends to be enduring and can keep organizations on the right track. So, that’s all about getting clarity of purpose.
Directing attention toward where it needs to go is a key role of leadership. Leadership talent lies in the ability to shift attention to the right place at the right time, sensing trends, emerging realities, and opportunities. As a leader, your field of attention—that is, the particular issues and goals you focus on—guides the attention of those who follow you, whether or not you explicitly articulate it. People around you make their choices about where to focus based on their perception of what matters to you as a leader.
This ripple effect puts an extra load of responsibility on you as a leader. You are guiding not just your own attention but, to a large extent, everyone else’s as well. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, after having been ousted in 1984, he found that the company had a plethora of products— computers, peripheral products for computers, twelve different types of Macintosh. The company was floundering. His strategy was simple: focus. He decided that instead of dozens of products, they would concentrate on just four: one computer and one laptop each for two markets, consumer and professional. He saw that deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do. And the rest is history.
Being able to focus on what is important is the hallmark of a resolute leader. So, take time to reflect on where your attention is and how it’s impacting your organization. Choose to focus your attention on the organizational purpose and you will see everything fall in place.
Every leader faces adversity. The test of your leadership is not whether you will face challenges but in how you will respond to them and how quickly you can put them behind you. Your strength is not developed in adversity but rather it is revealed in adversity. The strength that gets you through adversity is developed over time and is a kind of maturity factor of your leadership. As a leader who is resolute, you will not back down in adversity but will see it as just another milestone in your growth as a leader.
So how can you build this kind of resilience? In this VUCA world when crisis, industry volatility, societal shifts, or workplace pressures result in stress, it’s time to think about how to increase your resilience: the ability to bounce back from obstacles and setbacks. As a first step, it’s helpful to identify those situations in which you feel overly pressured. What triggers those feelings? Once you figure out what situations trigger stress, you can examine your thoughts about the situation.
Reframing the situation is a great way to deal with stress effectively. Reframing requires examining a situation from a different perspective and asking what else could be going on. For example, if a valued staff member resigns, you might focus on the loss, or you can choose to reframe it as a chance to hire new talent. There are some basic questions you can ask yourself: “What are the benefits of this situation?” and “What might my interpretation of the situation be missing?”
It is also important to get enough rest so that you’re physically in a good condition and feel energetic. If you’re not physically fit, your body and mind are already not in a position to cope with stress. Adequate sleep can result in enhanced attention and creativity — 2 capacities needed in positions of leadership. If this is not something that is possible for you to follow, you could also explore activities like walking, mediation and mindfulness.
Learning to focus on the positive aspects of any situation can also help build resilience. Researchers have found that when people are in positive states of mind, they think more broadly than when they’re in negative states of mind. Positive emotions can build sources of resilience that you can have in reserve when facing adversity at work. You need resilience not just at work, but also in your personal life. Having this sort of inner strength is helpful for all that life can throw at you
So, there you have it – why it’s important for you as a leader to be resolute and how you can become more resolute by working on getting clarity of purpose, focusing your attention on what matters and building your resilience.
Resolute leaders know how to navigate through adversity, have the discipline to lead themselves and others, built relationships with people around them, and have a clear view of where they want to go. When your values are aligned with your vision you can proceed with confidence in knowing that today can be good and tomorrow can be even better.
In this VUCA world, with constant change in the environment, there can be many distractions, disruptions, and disappointments. How do you respond to that as a leader? What keeps you going?
To experience a complimentary coaching session to explore how you can develop adaptive thinking, click on the Request Consultation button above.
I talked about leadership credibility in the previous blog and in this blog post, I will talk about being adaptive.
Being adaptive means having an ability to change to suit different conditions.
I use the term adaptive to describe people or leaders who are flexible — they don't lose their cool when plans change quickly and they are always willing to learn new ways to do things. Being adaptive helps you as a leader to sail along in today's ever-changing world.
Charles Darwin had famously said - “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”
While he was talking about evolution, the same applies to the business world. An organization that does not respond to changes in the market will not survive in the medium to long term. The organization’s responsiveness in turn depends on the leader’s adaptability.
One of the key roles of a leader is to define the strategy for the organization. The traditional approach to strategy, however, actually assumes a relatively stable and predictable world. The goal of most strategies is to build a lasting competitive advantage by establishing clever market positioning or assembling the right capabilities for making or delivering an offering. Companies undertake periodic strategy reviews and set direction and organizational structure on the basis of an analysis of their industry and some forecast of how it will evolve.
But given the VUCA world that we operate in now, companies and leaders are grappling with issues like:
What companies are realizing is that sustainable competitive advantage does not arise exclusively from position, scale, or just technical superiority but it stems from organizational capabilities that foster rapid adaptation. Instead of being really good at doing some particular thing, companies must be really good at learning how to do new things.
What will help companies survive and thrive in this VUCA world is the ability to read and act on signals of change. The ability to experiment rapidly, frequently, and economically—not only with products and services but also with business models, processes, and strategies. Most importantly, the ability of the company and its leaders to unlock their greatest resources—the people who work for them.
I believe it is how we think. Our behaviour is a manifestation of our thinking. When faced with unpredictable change, how do you think? Are you afraid of losing what you have? This is called being prevention-focused. Or are you excited by new possibilities of positive outcomes? This is called being promotion-focused.
We tend to be either prevention-focused or promotion-focused.
Prevention-focused people see their goals as responsibilities, and they concentrate on staying safe, protecting what they have, and avoiding mistakes.
Promotion-focused people, on the other hand, see their goals as creating a path for growth or advancement and concentrate on the rewards that will accrue when they achieve them.
So you see, when we are prevention-focused, we’re afraid to make mistakes and this makes us reluctant to step out of our comfort zone and it keeps us stuck. When faced with change, it makes us focus on the potential obstacles and raise objections such as
All these reactions are reasons we give ourselves for not moving forward. Moreover, how we react to failure says a lot about our approach to the rest of the team. Do we look for who’s responsible for the failure or do we look for the lessons learned from the failure? If we look for who to punish then we are encouraging people to stay safe and not make mistakes – thus making them more prevention-focused.
On the other hand, if we focus on what lessons can we draw out from the experience and then come up with a better solution, we will encourage innovation in the organization. For this to happen, you as a leader also need to be willing to talk about your missteps and the lessons you have learned. By focusing on what opportunities are emerging out of the changing scenario and how to make the most of it, we will be energized to move ahead.
So that brings us to the question of what can help up become promotion-focused.
To my mind what can help us deal with change and uncertainty successfully and become promotion-focused is adaptive thinking.
It is the ability to “recognize unexpected situations, quickly consider various possible responses, and decide on the best one.”
So first, it means that you should be able to recognize the signals of change. Also, you need to develop a way of thinking that enables you to pause before you react, consider all possible options, evaluate these options and then choose the best possible way to act, and do all of this very quickly.
If you have well developed adaptive thinking, you will not be overwhelmed by all the information overload that comes with uncertainty and change. You’ll have curiosity about your environment and will be able to make sense of disparate data, see patterns, experiment and deduce the possible direction of the trend.
Firstly, learn to scan your environment constantly, build networks across different domains, understand what’s happening in different markets and regions and be really curious about the emerging developments.
It is no wonder that successful leaders are well read and well networked. They’ve figured out how they learn best and apply that to make the most of the time they set aside for learning. Whether it is through books or podcast or videos or talking to a mentor or coach, they know what works for them and use it to learn rapidly and continuously. They also use their networks to gather information and then connect people across networks thereby increasing their influence. By developing this curiosity and willingness to learn, you will be able to strengthen your ability to gather signals from the market proactively and hence be better prepared to deal with the changes.
The next thing is to develop divergent thinking that will enable you to come up with various options for the same problem. Divergent thinking is the capacity to find relationships between ideas, concepts, and processes that, at first glance, don’t appear to be connected. You can use tools like brainstorming and Edward De Bono’s six thinking hats to practice coming up with multiple out-of-the box ideas. Being in a positive frame of mind can help you get more creative ideas. Also, encourage people around you to think creatively and laterally, thus creating an environment where new and innovative ideas are stimulated.
The third step is to evaluate the options that you generate to pick the one that you think will give the best outcome. This requires critically examining the underlying assumptions and careful reflection and probing of the problem through many lenses before taking decisive action. Avoid getting prematurely locked into simplistic go/no-go choices. Force yourself to zoom in on the details and zoom out to see the big picture. What can help you further is to invite perspectives from diverse stakeholders. If you use these techniques, you are bound to get better and better at strategic decision-making. It’s important to have patience, courage, and an open mind.
So, to develop an adaptive mindset, simply do these three things regularly – scan your environment, encourage divergent thinking and evaluate options critically. This kind of thinking is a mental muscle that gets stronger as you practice more.
In an increasingly turbulent environment, business models, strategies, and routines can become obsolete quickly and unpredictably. As a leader, you need to be able to experiment quickly and economically. To do this, you need to create an environment that encourages knowledge flow, diversity, autonomy, risk taking, sharing, and flexibility as this is where adaptation thrives. In your organisation, encourage coming together of modular units that freely communicate and recombine according to the situation at hand rather than have permanent silos. Create a culture in which inquiry is valued and mistakes are viewed as learning opportunities – and this needs to start from you before it trickles down to the rest of your organisation. The success of your organisation depends on your ability to be adaptive.
In an earlier post, I had introduced the CARES model of leadership development that I have designed for preparing leaders for success in this VUCA world. Being Adaptive is an essential part of leadership for the VUCA world.
Being adaptive means having an ability to change to suit different conditions. I use the term adaptive to describe people or leaders who are flexible — they don't lose their cool when plans change quickly and they are always willing to learn new ways to do things. Being adaptive helps you as a leader to sail along in today's ever-changing world.
In an increasingly turbulent environment, business models, strategies, and routines can become obsolete quickly and unpredictably. As a leader, you need to be able to experiment quickly and economically. To do this, you need to create an environment that encourages knowledge flow, diversity, autonomy, risk taking, sharing, and flexibility as this is where adaptation thrives.
The success of your organisation depends on your ability to be adaptive.
What is credibility? Credibility is simply the quality of being believed or accepted as true, real, or honest. Personal credibility is about trust, respect, and being believable. A leader’s credibility is typically defined in terms of the degree of employee confidence, belief, and acceptance towards the leader.
While personal credibility applies to everyone in the workplace, it is especially important for leaders. Why is that? Because, if your employees do not believe in you as their leader, you just cannot be effective as a leader. Under these circumstances, employees will simply comply with rules but will not work towards the common goal and will not put in their best efforts. Their morale will be low and customer service will be poor.
Lack of leadership credibility creates employee distrust and disengagement thus impacting the reputation of the organisation and also its profitability. Studies have shown that the credibility of the leader influences employee engagement which in turn impacts the organization's productivity and performance.
While credibility has many facets, in most cases it is judged simply by comparing what you say with what you do in your day-to-day behaviour. Leaders that say one thing but do another won’t have the authenticity and credibility that’s essential to be an effective leader in today’s VUCA environment.
But being trustworthy is not the only contributor to your credibility as a leader. The other very important component of credibility is the perceived competence of the leader – i.e., people’s faith in your knowledge, skills, and ability to do your job and get the job done as a leader.
Employees form such opinions or perceptions not just through direct interaction with you but also through indirect observation of your actions and performance. And these perceptions are extremely important in this hyperconnected age, when vast amounts of information about you is easily accessible in the public domain.
So basically, your credibility as a leader is important because employees want to have the assurance that when you are managing them and assessing their performance, you are yourself competent and trustworthy.
To assess the level of your leadership credibility in your organization, you need to ask yourself these questions and honestly reflect on your answers:
If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” then you have a leadership credibility gap that you need to work on.
While there are many factors, let’s talk about the six key behaviours that undermine your credibility as a leader.
Research shows that employees seriously question the competency of leaders who fail to take action or ignore problems. This is especially true when it comes to problems that impact the sustainability of the organization.
One of the key roles of a leader is to make sense of the operating environment and take strategic decisions about the future of the organization. When you are seen as not fully clued in to the operating environment and lack vision and clarity about the future direction of the organization, you quickly lose the respect of your employees.
Leaders who make promises without making any effort to fulfil them, really erode their credibility. For example, if you keep saying “I’ll get back to you,” but never do so, it impacts your credibility. Many leaders tend to over-promise even if it is with good intentions, but when it comes to the crunch they can’t deliver what they promise. Your employees will believe your promise and expect you to fulfil them. If you can’t offer what you promise then you will quickly lose credibility as a leader. Another behaviour that undermines your competence is giving contradictory information. The contradictions might come from different people on the leadership team or even from the same person- but it confuses employees and makes them suspicious.
When leaders create confusion among employees and other stakeholders by distributing incorrect or misleading information or they misrepresent the facts, it can really undermine their credibility. Sometimes leaders do this without even realizing and sometimes they may do it intentionally to paint a rosier picture, in the hope that it will motivate employees – either way, it results in people getting totally confused at best — and suspicious at worst.
Research shows that self-serving behaviours can undermine employees’ trust in their leaders. These include bending the rules to privilege yourself or your close associates, making decisions based on your self-interest rather than what’s best for the organization, urging employees to make sacrifices while wasting the organization’s resources on perks for yourself, and taking credit for the achievements of others. Even if you don’t act unethically yourself, you can suffer a serious loss of trust if you permit colleagues to act unethically. You must uphold high ethical values to protect your organization and your people, or your followers and key stakeholders will lose faith in you.
Leaders who treat their employees as expendable or tend to openly ignore the opinions of employees and key stakeholders are perceived as untrustworthy and hence not credible. Leaders can damage their credibility when they ask for information and reports that don’t seem worthwhile or that they don’t review and act on. Such requests can cause confusion as to what the organization’s priorities are, and the employees may feel resentful about what they see as a waste of their time.
So, these are some specific behaviours that erode your credibility as a leader. What is interesting is that even though leaders lose credibility when they display incompetence or untrustworthiness, employees are much more tolerant and forgiving of an incompetent leader than they are of an untrustworthy leader. They believe that incompetent leaders can at least try to become more competent, whereas untrustworthy leaders can’t easily become more trustworthy.
What positive actions can you take to strengthen your credibility over time?
Credibility isn’t something that you just gain as you step into a leadership role. There is a process to gaining trust and dedication from your employees, which then leads to credibility.
Here are five specific things that you can do to build your credibility over time:
This is very different from simply stating a strategic vision or setting performance targets and then just going about business as usual. It involves mapping out, in detail, how the organization will achieve its goals in the medium to long term.
Having a sophisticated knowledge of industry trends and clear ideas about how the organization should respond to them can really build your credibility as a leader. You can also actively predict and prepare for upcoming changes. For example, by making strategic investments in new technologies or markets. These will really enhance your perceived competence.
When you work consistently to improve organizational structures and processes and maintain financially sound operations, your credibility as a leader soars. Eliminating unnecessary reporting structures and careless spending, establishing new strategic roles, or investing in technology that improves operational efficiency or business effectiveness are some actions you can take to build your credibility as an action-oriented and competent leader. Don’t shy away from taking tough decisions.
Leaders are perceived as trustworthy and credible when they communicate and behave in a consistent manner. To begin with, this means making decisions that aren’t contradictory. But it also means behaving in a way that aligns with the promises (both explicit and unspoken) that the company makes to employees and other stakeholders. By pre-emptively looking out for stakeholders’ needs, you can prevent stakeholder conflicts and organizational crises, as well as gain the trust of your employees and other key stakeholders.
Be clear about your values and the organization’s values so that employees and other stakeholders can see why you do what you do. The culture of the organization flows from the top. If you want your employees to trust you, you need to start by showing that you trust them. If you want your employees to be open to change, be change-ready yourself. Basically, know that your employees are observing you minutely all the time and if you want them to behave in a certain way, they need to see you doing the same. Demonstrate your values in how you talk and act to establish credibility and authenticity as a leader.
So, there you have it. Why credibility is important for leaders – because your success as a leader and the success of your organisation depends on it. Credibility stems from your perceived competence and your trustworthiness.
Credibility takes time to build, but it can be torn down in seconds. You don’t need a big scandal or mess up to destroy your credibility – it’s often the little things that you do over time that can add up to destroy your credibility. So, keep your promises, do what you say you will, give credit where it is due, acknowledge mistakes, don’t talk about others behind their back, don’t withhold information, don’t belittle others, be consistent and be accountable.
As a business leader in the 21st century, you face persistent changes in the business environments in which you operate. The diversity, intensity, and rapidity of these changes create volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, which challenge you on ways to lead effectively as what methods worked in the past seem inadequate to deal with this environment. VUCA refers to this operating environment that is constantly changing in conflicting, dramatic, and relentless ways to produce leadership and organizational challenges.
Each letter of the acronym VUCA represents a type of change that we need to identify to cope fully with the environmental unpredictability.
Our world is volatile — things change, change quickly, and for reasons beyond our control and cause instability.
It is uncertain — we lack full and confirmed information and hence gaining conviction about future outcomes becomes ever more challenging.
It is complex — we can never know the interaction of the multiple variables we must consider, let alone how to integrate them effectively.
It is ambiguous — the same data can yield multiple and often competing interpretations and lacks precedence making it difficult to move ahead.
Globalization and technology have and continue to fuel the VUCA dynamics through increased innovation, interconnectivity, and digital revolutions, which, in turn, give rise to new and nimble competitors, who operate globally to transform customer expectations radically and thus produce organizational turmoil. The current turbulence has baffled leaders due to its novelty and because the proven approaches of the past have been inadequate in the VUCA-world.
The VUCA world obstructs a leader’s ability to understand, to decide, to communicate, and ultimately to act decisively — which is actually a precondition for effective action in business.
It’s natural for leaders to react differently to this environment. Some have become so distracted by the volatility and constant change that they have stopped planning and are just trying to react to events.
Others have become so intimidated by the uncertainty and ambiguity that they don’t act for the fear of making a mistake. Still, others try to do everything they possibly can in this complex environment and don’t end up focusing their efforts in any one direction.
Only a few leaders have been able to fight through all the complexity and uncertainty and chart a way forward for their organizations. They have managed to impose their will on such complex environments and succeeded where others haven’t been able to do so.
In fact, a study by DDI in 2015 had shown that only 18% of leaders were capable of leading in a VUCA world! I haven’t come across any update on this study in recent times but I believe that the percentage may have moved only marginally. If you ask me why I don’t think leadership development in the last few years has really focused on developing the specific competencies to deal with this VUCA world.
So, what are the leadership traits or competencies that would prepare them to be successful in a VUCA world? What would help them to thrive where others flounder?
Based on my inter-disciplinary work in leadership development, social and cognitive psychology, coaching, and my own experience as a leader and a coach, I have come up with a model for leadership development that can prepare leaders to handle this VUCA world in a more deliberate, self-assured, and successful manner. I call it the CARES Model of Leadership.
CARES is an acronym for
C – Credible
A – Adaptive
R – Resolute
E – Emotionally Intelligent
S – Sense-making
Let’s look at each of these aspects as to why it is important for a leader in the VUCA world.
Why does a leader need to be credible to be effective in the VUCA world, or actually under any circumstance? As a leader, credibility lets your employees see you as a dependable source of reliable information and for fair, effective decision-making. This information could be on a day-to-day basis or on those occasions when it's most critical. If you have credibility with your team, you will earn their mutual trust and respect. This would enable you to align them with the goals of the organization. Without credibility, there cannot be a culture of trust and shared goals. So the creditability of the leader is of prime importance, especially in a VUCA world where you need the team to trust you to lead them in the direction that you want them to go.
To welcome change is to be adaptive. Adaptive describes people who are flexible — they don't lose their cool when plans change quickly and they are always willing to learn new ways to do things. Being adaptive helps you cope with the volatility and uncertainty and sail along in today's ever-changing world. Clearly being adaptive, flexible, agile, and adaptable is paramount in a VUCA world.
Developing and articulating a clear view of the future in today’s increasingly complex environments demands that leaders make judgments about the future — something that entails risk and could be wrong, and there could be significant consequences. Successful leaders are those who can overcome those doubts and act to prepare the organization for success in the future.
I am calling this trait Resolute because it refers to someone who is purposeful, determined, and unwavering. A resolute person has the courage to act with conviction in the face of uncertainty and risk. Be able to manage their emotions and be decisive even with limited information.
As we discussed earlier, dealing with uncertainty, volatility and ambiguity can be emotionally challenging for any leader. Unless you are able to manage your emotions on this roller-coaster, you might end up burning out really fast. Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, as well as recognize and influence the emotions of those around you.
Emotionally intelligent leaders are aware of their own emotions and intuitively aware of the emotions of others. This self-awareness also helps them to manage their emotions when dealing with stressful situations. Their social intelligence enables them to lead with empathy and factor in emotions when presenting information, or otherwise engaging with their people. Leaders set the tone of their organization. If you lack emotional intelligence, it could have more far-reaching consequences, resulting in lower employee engagement and a higher turnover rate.
The primary function of any leader is to point the way ahead. This requires vision — the ability to see something significant about the future that isn’t readily apparent to others. Today’s VUCA environments are tough on leaders. The more volatile and the more ambiguous the environment, the harder it is for leaders themselves to come to grips with the situation, let alone articulate a clear way ahead.
Sense-making is the action or process of making sense of or giving meaning to something, especially new developments and experiences. Sense-making is how we make sense of the world so we can act in it. A person with highly developed sense-making can tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty. They have the ability to be able to know enough, even from limited information, to be able to make a measured and appropriate decision. The ability to spot existing or emerging patterns is one of the most if not the most critical skill in decision-making. Hence, it is self-evident that sense-making is a key competency for leaders to succeed in a VUCA world.
As a business leader in the 21st century, you face persistent changes in the business environments in which you operate. VUCA refers to this operating environment that is constantly changing in conflicting, dramatic, and relentless ways to produce leadership and organizational challenges. The VUCA world obstructs a leader’s ability to understand, to decide, to communicate, and ultimately to act decisively — which is actually a precondition for effective action in business. The CARES model for leadership development can prepare leaders to handle this VUCA world in a more deliberate, self-assured, and successful manner.
- Sonali Sinha
Why do you need to stay relevant? What makes it important for business leaders to stay relevant, especially in times of crisis?
Well, the current COVID-19 situation is very telling about the times that we live in. While many businesses have been moving towards becoming more active online and using technology-backed tools to be more agile, this COVID-19 situation has really pushed companies to literally switch how they work within weeks, even days. Businesses that were not able and ready to make this switch have suffered tremendously during this period.
But at the same time, some businesses have made the transition quite smoothly and have been able to keep the business running remotely with employees working from home. This has been possible not only because of their use of technology-backed tools but also because of their ability to rejig their operating model quickly. More importantly, this has been possible because of the leaders at the helm.
In this post, I will share four specific steps for you to take to innovate your way out of this crisis. So, read on!
COVID-19 is a test case for leadership. While the leader’s primary responsibility is to keep the team safe, cohesive, and productive, what should the leader be focused on in the midst of a global disruption like this? I believe that every crisis is an opportunity for innovation. Crises present us with unique conditions that allow innovators to think and move more freely to create rapid, impactful change.
We are seeing this already playing out. Around the world, beermakers and distilleries have shifted production to hand sanitizers. In Italy, a start-up engineering company began quickly using 3D printers to create the valves used in ventilators. Fashion businesses are producing protective gear, gowns, and other supplies for hospitals.
When we look back to this health crisis, I am sure we’ll see the impact it had on innovation in many sectors – be it medical devices, healthcare processes, manufacturing and supply chain innovations, collaboration techniques, education, and so on. Service businesses in particular are likely to see a lot of innovation in how services are created, packaged, and sold.
If you believe the world will go back to being what it was before the pandemic, I’m afraid you are sadly mistaken. Once customers, businesses, and employees are exposed to a certain way of operating, it will be difficult for them to go back and work as if nothing changed. Actions taken during the crisis will shape how companies perform in the long run. Some companies may even continue to pursue opportunities first identified during the crisis.
A very important point to remember is that reputations are built — and lost — during times of crisis. Companies that are demonstrating good citizenship by helping with shortages, or by making major donations, are probably hoping that consumers will remember their actions when the economy returns to normal.
Companies that treat their employees or customers badly during a crisis will face major challenges rebuilding when the storm has passed. Similarly, if leaders in business segments fail to lead the way in terms of innovation and customer service, it is inevitable that other competitors will emerge with better products or platforms.
Eventually, how a business responds to such vast and dislocating change depends on how the leader views the situation – as an opportunity or as a disaster.
So how have you and your company tried to innovate and adapt during this time of crisis? How are you trying to stay relevant in the market? In the next segment, I’m going to talk about some specific approaches that you can adopt to manage this crisis and opportunity for innovation.
So, we were talking about how important it is for leaders and businesses to reinvent and innovate during a crisis. But remember, rapid change is an ongoing process – not just linked to a crisis. Change emanates from changing customer expectation, entry of new players in the market, the introduction of new-age technology, socio-economic factors, new laws, and also changes in executive management or structural transformation of organizations. A crisis only accelerates the pace of change. So these approaches that I am going to share now are relevant, whether you are facing a crisis or not.
One of the key leadership challenges in day-to-day organizational life is inspiring engagement and generating momentum towards the goals of the organization. This becomes even more important in times of crisis as there is a big jump in the nervous energy present in the workforce. Leaders who can harness this energy and focus it on a clear purpose in resolving the crisis will be able to lead the team to success. They will be able to tap into a wave of new ideas, as individuals feel compelled to share insights, they normally would keep to themselves. They will be able to lead their team from fear to a clear shared goal. After all, courage is defined as the ability to overcome fear for a good purpose. In this way, a crisis has the potential to create the organizational courage to take action in support of a purpose that would be unthinkable in times of calm. Also, know that this constant effort to get the team aligned around a purpose will pay dividends even in normal times.
When organizations want to find opportunities to innovate, they usually bring in an external consultant to get an outside perspective and fresh ideas. A crisis can actually play that role very well because it brings to the fore the vulnerabilities and problem areas in the organization which may have been ignored earlier in the drive to keep growing the way things are. When a crisis hits, we are compelled to confront the truth about whether our systems work or not. They make us question our disaster recovery plans and business continuity plans. Being able to zoom out and see things for what they are can suddenly throw up opportunities for operating more efficiently or serve our customers better. A crisis is a good opportunity for you as the leader to give a hard look at why you do what you do and whether you do it in the best possible way.
Organizations, over time, tend to fall into a familiar and predictable way of operating. The very rules that help the organization become more efficient can keep it from evolving and responding rapidly to opportunities thrown up by change. A crisis changes all that. Companies are forced to do away with bureaucratic overheads of review and approval and allow for fresh thinking to be applied quickly to address the challenge. So, how are you responding to this crisis? Are you still trying to stick to the old and familiar ways of taking decisions? If yes, then, believe me, the organization is in for some rough times. What you need right now is for communication to move upwards and downwards and sideways without any barriers of hierarchy because through these communication channels, you get valuable inputs for your strategic decision-making.
A crisis brings with it a lot of uncertainty and anxiety. This can lead to a paralysis of action as leaders and team members grapple with their worries about losing out on things that have been important to them thus far. But dealing with a crisis demands movement and change – the pace of ideation, decision making, and implementation all increase dramatically. If a leader gets trapped in focusing on how to protect what they have rather than identifying what opportunities the crisis is throwing up, they will remain stuck in the present – or an analysis paralysis situation. On the other hand, if leaders choose to focus on quickly creating experiments, seeing what happens, and experimenting some more, they will encourage the freedom to test different thinking, to fail fast, to learn, and to move forward – in short, to innovate.
So there you have it – four approaches to help you innovate and stay relevant despite a crisis. These are
#1 Align around a Purpose
#2 See Systems from Outside In
#3 Shake Up the Organization
#4 Create a Bias for Action
Times of crisis present incredible opportunities for learning and growth. It is a time for experimenting with new technologies and approaches to operating your business. We don’t know how long this coronavirus crisis will continue for or how it will impact our economies and businesses but if we use it wisely as an opportunity for innovating, for learning and growing, we will come out on the other side stronger and more agile.