Three opportunities facing today’s leaders and how to leverage them

Friday, December 4, 2015 - 16:46

Guest post by Roma Gaster

Our business landscape is constantly flexing and adjusting to market and economic fluctuations, the latest technology and changing regulations. Today’s leaders not only need to respond to short term challenges, they must simultaneously plan for the medium and long term growth of their organisations.

In organisations which continue to be governed by the bottom line, the pressure to deliver in the short term most often takes precedence. As a consequence of an unrelenting drive to deliver, leaders and teams across the system get caught in a cycle of reactivity – which can show up as command and control, fire-fighting, avoidance or fix-it mentalities. Typically in these situations, short term problems may appear to be “fixed” however it’s the longer term sustainability and cost to the business that is often ignored or not measured.   

Leaders caught in the reactive cycle tend to focus on the shorter term and as a result they often overlook the interconnections between situations and problems and find it hard to keep a focus on the bigger picture. This in turn compromises their ability to explore alternate solutions and to make strategic decisions that take into consideration the short, medium and long term consequences. 

Generally, our most effective leaders explore ways of turning challenges into opportunities. They are able to manage their own reactive behaviours and in the process become more adaptive to change and more agile in their decision making capabilities based on multiple time horizons and broad stakeholder interests.

Here are three scenarios in which effective leaders leverage challenges into opportunities.

  1. Increasing Competition

There’s no denying competition has fiercely intensified in past decades. It is something our clients regularly site as a key challenge. Instead of focusing on the threat that increased competition poses, organisations and leaders intent on creating a sustainable future through ‘competitive advantage’ see competition as an opportunity.

While leaders tend to have less control over external forces, what can be influenced and developed in the face of increasing competition, is leadership effectiveness and organisational culture. There is compelling evidence, which we’ve seen show up with our clients, that when leaders, work as an aligned collective coalition it can have a positive impact on a team and on an organisation’s performance outcomes.

Competitive advantage based only on products and services can be replicated by competitors. In our experience, we’ve seen there is competitive leverage when organisations instead focus on creating the conditions for collective leadership and engagement, both of employees and customers, to flourish. When purpose, vision, values and strategic direction are truly shared and when people are aligned and engaged, a unique organisational culture develops. This essence, or DNA, is hard for others to replicate.  

  1. Changing expectations  

Often today’s leaders are accountable to multiple stakeholders including the Board, their team, customers, peers and others. Our clients report that they face multiple expectations, which may change from group to group.

Under the weight of these expectations, leaders can worry about how they will be perceived if they don’t prioritise bottom line results or tackle immediate problems. Fear becomes the driver of behaviours – either subtly or overtly. Fear of not meeting the expectations they have set for themselves and the expectations of others, at the expense of focusing on long-term objectives, relationships and innovation.

In our experience, effective leaders are more able to overcome their fears by developing self and systems-awareness. These leaders tend to understand the underlying assumptions and motivations which drive their internal coping strategies – many which produce the opposite result to what is intended and needed.  These leaders learn to consciously manage their reactions to stress and pressure and, in turn, become more choiceful and more flexible. As a result they are able to focus on what really matters – results balanced with relationships for the greater good.

  1. Increasing Complexity and Ambiguity

As global issues and the business marketplace become ever more intertwined, they leave in their wake an increasingly complex landscape. Thanks to market volatility, demographic changes, technological advancements, and shifts in customer expectations, today’s leaders must adapt and develop effectiveness at least at, if not ahead of, the pace of escalating complexity.

We’ve found that the old ways of training our leaders is no longer enough to help them cope with the increasing complexity we are facing. Without cultivating new ways to navigate uncertainty and ambiguity, they remain problem-focused rather than purpose, vision and outcome-focused, struggling to make effective decisions in the face of mounting pressure and crisis.

In our experience, leaders who develop an adaptive and interconnected relationship and systemic approach to dealing with ambiguity and complexity are able to see what others don’t see - for example, the big picture of the organisation in the context of multiple time horizons and multiple expectations. An agile and flexible mindset will enhance a leader’s capacity to embrace the unknown and solve multiple problems simultaneously. This kind of effectiveness can be developed.

Though today’s organisations have many challenges, they are also ripe with opportunities to develop individual and collective leadership. When leaders are supported to go beyond their own limiting stories, beliefs and assumptions and develop broader and deeper complexity of mind, they are more capable of serving the organisation, stakeholders and team members who rely on them for effective leadership – especially in times of increasing complexity, ambiguity, volatility and uncertainty. The leadership imperative is to turn these challenges into opportunities and assist others to work with others to collaborate and produce the desired outcomes.

About The Leadership Circle

The Leadership Circle is a unique leadership framework and development system which builds the competencies and capability of leaders through supporting them to evolve their complexity of mind to match the complexity of the environment. The Leadership Circle provides methodologies, certification programs, workshops, and assessments backed by research, that provide a pathway to evolved and effective leadership. With over 900 consultants in Asia Pacific and more than 3,500 globally, and clients across all industries, The Leadership Circle is supporting leaders to meet the challenge of escalating complexity by raising awareness and through sustainable business leadership practices.