#FitForVUCA: The Leaders With A Chance To Change

One of the key reasons why it takes so very long to see the new ways of work become the norm in today’s world and why some companies will simply not be able to survive in this new VUCA world is “management resistance” – the leaders’ resistance to change and denial of any disruption danger.

With reasons floating between complex and ever-changing social structures, hefty amounts of impostor syndrome and a lifetime of fear-based command-and-control, it’s little wonder that higher levels of the echelon everywhere struggle with this new world. 

Nowadays, companies everywhere say the expected things, declare the expected strategic objectives, offer the expected sound-bytes but are effectively no different than 20-30 years ago mentality and core culture-wise, due to how their leadership is unchanged in their hearts of hearts. 

As a result, change-theatre, Agile-by-numbers and cargo culture abound, while leaders not only shun the concepts and don’t have a kanban board but don’t even have a to-do list much less a joint one they believe in and are burning to bring to life.

Companies with leadership teams that have Psychological Safety and are truly functional and able to create together with honesty, courage, passion and in the absence of impression management, are few and far between and those who have it and create in an Agile fashion, are easy to spot as they constantly win. 

The few that stumbled upon this magic were chiefly natively digital and their culture evolved this way then there’s a handful who were not, but worked at it. Worked at having leaders who ooze courage and learning and are leading through being truly inspiring servants – a killer combination of intensely helpful and highly passionate and invested individuals you can’t help but follow. 

We live in an age where terms such as “purpose”, “heart”, and “empathy” are finally no longer viewed as Friday-afternoon hippie topics of the week but they are finally proving their worth as lasting competitive advantage. Boards no longer can afford to ignore the discussion around the future of work and numbers are starting to be attached to every previously-thought-of-as-soft topic from changes in skills to changes in leadership to prove, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that all other preoccupation is futile if these topics are not kept at the forefront of everyone’s agenda and not worked on systematically and with serious commitment. 

These days, thankfully, instead of books on how to keep your employees in check, airports are laced with volumes on how leaders are to eat last, lead from the heart and care about culture codes. This is an extraordinary shift and one that’s impossible to ignore welcomed but insufficient in and of itself. 

While we have genuine take-off and societal buy-in for ideas around leadership 2.0 today the shift was mighty slow – after all the first models to suggest we have to change the way we think of work in the knowledge economy date back to the 70s and 80s and the first discussions of leadership mindset change are as old and yet business schools have continued with preaching the same models of management, companies kept employing and promoting people in the same hierarchical structures and big 4 consultancies carried on making light of big changes and encouraging the leadership status quo by not shaking anyone into the realisation that their current way of thinking is not sustainable.

We all know the hallmarks of unsustainable “management not leadership” styles. The inflexibility, the fixed mindset, the sequential nature of the thought process, the aversion to risk and therefore learning and curiosity, the willingness to sanction initiative out of fear, the suppression of ideas and the generalised lack of courage resulting in anything from mild discomfort and lack of progress to paralysis and terror. We see it in our managers today even if they happen to be of the enlightened kind, and we see it in ourselves at times too, if we are honest. 

How could we not? The “norm” is the result of tens of years of working in a certain way and holding a series of precepts in high regard while refusing to question either their morality or their effectiveness.

The key is not to magically wake up this Monday wanting to be the kind of inspirational leader who brings people along out of sheer excitement for building together and in turn builds on that excitement in happy teams of secure, open and supremely helpful other leaders, but to want to put in the work to eventually get there. 

From an individual’s point of view, a multitude of personal motivations come into play before this big of a departure from the years of unquestionable command and control habit can happen – leaders have to want to change because otherwise their organisations won’t be able to win but admittedly, for some, the good of the enterprise is simply not important enough and for some others the time frames don’t make sense – they don’t plan to be in the game long enough for that winning to matter. While I cringe when we speak about changes of guards at a management level where some theories suggest large scale change can only happen once most of the current executive team has retired, and convinced as I am that many execs have the ability to create a Psychologically Safe management team and reignite their own passion spark, the reality is that the good-will to make that happen is a sine qua non condition and in some cases, that simply isn’t there.

From an organisation’s perspective (and beyond the esoterical general sense of the denominator, for the actual drivers of the company – be they a CEO, board or other kinds of Superheroes), this change in mindset can and should be much more intentional. 

In lieu of talking about culture changes as these nebulous topics placed somewhere between open-plan offices, diversity quotas and less printing on Tuesdays, they need to become a lot more surgical about the concept of teams to see pivotal change and that includes -and perhaps should start with- executive teams. 

Are they a team? Are they a team that can be open and vulnerable with each other? Are they devoid of impression management enough to communicate effectively if not to create together? Are they made up of emotionally intelligent, inspiring, servant leaders? Are they made up of truly Agile, flexible, resilient and mighty passionate individuals working together as one? 

It’s only after enough “yes”s on the topics above that any structure has any lasting chance to change and that’s a reality we can’t ignore anymore. 

The good news is that counter-intuitive as it may seem at times, people honestly want to do well and bring their full, human, useful and open self to being an executive, if we only gave them the opportunity to shine, contribute and build. Much as this would leave us without a collective big-bad-boss villain, most execs are absolutely capable of the jump from manager to leader and in general of change and welcome the chance, so let’s give it to them and therefore, to ourselves.

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