Adapting to today’s leadership challenges
Question legacy management theories, learn from what works, and keep your people motivated
As we hopefully return to more familiar ways of working, as a leader, how confident are you? Whether you lead a team, a department or an organisation, what adaptations will you have to make?
We are still here because we have managed to adapt to the Covid era, but what adaptations will we have to make for what comes next? During the pandemic we adapted our management style, meeting protocols, technology usage and other elements, but we know this will not be enough.
A (partial) return to the office will require more retuning of how we lead our people. Leaders will need to start with new perspectives and understanding where the changes accelerated by Covid will take us. Are we confident we can adapt at speed?
If we lead a large team or company, our first challenge is increasing complexity, which is slowing us down. In this new normal, all leaders face the immediate challenge of recreating many things (again) in our organisations at speed.
However, it is our duty as leaders to keep our organisations self-renewing and evolving. Our businesses have changed a lot and will change again. We don’t yet know what tomorrow will look like, but we must ensure we develop the capabilities to make it happen.
Another big challenge is our existing systems and theories — our big ideas about who we are and what we do, and how we do it. We built most legacy management theories on an assumption of stability, and most organisational models are still too dependent or focused on traditional business lines.
The fact is, there is no more stability. In most cases, existing approaches are now too slow, and if we lead as we did previously, we risk opening the door to more agile competitors who could make us obsolete.
Every organisation’s challenge will be unique. Their leaders and how they lead now will require individual considerations. The required transformations will have to come from within, and a much greater willingness to experiment will be necessary. There is no single winning or proven theory or system. The best leaders can do is look around, identify practices they think fit their situation, adapt and experiment with them.
How will you need to adapt how you spend your time? During the pandemic, we spent our time firefighting or focusing on high-value opportunities. What have we learned from this? I recently attended a talk by the CEO of Fujitsu Western Europe, who spoke about transforming his organisation to become faster and more customer-centric. He shared he now had to spend 50% of his time enabling the work of critical and innovation teams. Half of his leadership efforts had to be adapted to get the results he wanted.
Have you as a leader considered how you will adapt how you use your time to meet new demands? Have you considered how you will need to reform your team or organisation, and the leadership support they will need? Have you considered how you can make your team/ organisation agile enough for a continuously changing market?
How confident are you about balancing the needs of your individual people and the needs of the organisation as we go forward? Many people will be returning to the office reluctantly. How will this change their jobs and the satisfaction they derive from them?
It may be tempting to disregard these questions in an emergency, but leaders at any level cannot do that forever. How people feel now has a huge impact on leadership and management. As leaders, we cannot blindly apply policies.
I think we are entering a period in which all leaders really must remain students of management. I don’t mean studying old theories, or the latest bestsellers, but experimenting and sharing evolving practices. We must learn from what works, not what is marketed. This means accepting that what we have learned may not be relevant to the future. However, the good news is that our leadership experiments do not have to be big: we can start small and go from there.
Another important lesson Covid has taught us is that now there are no change programmes. There is no transformation finishing line. We are leading and adapting in an era of never finishing/perpetual transformation, where the goal is to ensure we can confidently and capably lead adaptation and changes. We must ensure that what works is adopted and adapted, and that what doesn’t work provides us with a learning opportunity.
All of this is difficult because most leaders are not comfortable with ambiguity. We like things organised. However, we must now be very pragmatic. We must accept that it will require creativity to make things work and solve problems we have never seen before.
Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC — Southeast Asia’s Lifelong Learning Center. She can be reached by email at [email protected] or https://www.linkedin.com/in/arinya-talerngsri-53b81aa. Talk to us about how SEAC can help your business during times of uncertainty at https://forms.gle/wf8upGdmwprxC6Ey9