A new decade brings a time to reflect on what has happened and what next?
This blog is in the context of a rapidly changing world with climate change now mainstream and not an add on in many leaders’ minds. Are we at a tipping point of words into to fix our planet before it is too late? Inspired by the Royal Society of Art (RSA)’s future of work research, I write this blog to feed into forthcoming debates about the purpose of people and planet.
Why this matters now
We in the UK and globally are at a pivotal moment in our future – environmentally, politically, socially, economically and technologically. The new decade prompts us to question whether current leadership styles are enabling us to keep up with the fast pace and dynamic nature of change that internal and external stakeholders are demanding?
There is increasing pressure on businesses and all types of organisations to raise their game – more for less and deliver faster and of a higher quality. The pressure on staff and leaders has never been as intense. We’re seeing day to day stress causing burnout with costly consequences for people’s wellbeing. Are leaders addressing this with a sticky plaster or looking for the root causes to prevent it occurring? We need to find solutions fast in order to catch the waves like surfers and ride safely to the beach to avoid drowning!
How are we placed to lead?
Who are we linked to both internally and externally and what are paradigms we are operating in? I am a geographer who studied systems-thinking in the 1980s and have always seen building alliances and networks which are critical to internal and external learning and progress. Systems-thinking is becoming more and more popular as a mechanism for gathering pace with urgency. The need to understand who we are and our connections and system(s) is part of our ability to navigate within our own organisations and wider; on our planet.
We need to think emotionally about the future as well as with evidence. In my career to date, showing emotion was something which was often under-valued and potentially carried stigma. In training as a coach and learning from my clients, I have realised that decisions are often made emotionally (based on an analysis of evidence and progress). Maybe this is a good time to reflect on how you lead and what values you have to underpin your decision making process.
Ideas for leaders
Here are some ideas to stimulate thinking about some steps which could help leaders and organisations be fit for the next decade:
- The need to collaborate, innovate and adapt. This requires continuous and rapid learning – the faster, the better. New modes of leadership are needed. What are the key characteristics of leadership to enable organisations to ensure they are fit for the future? Is the pace of learning keeping up with the pace of change?
- Leadership style is being challenged by younger staff and by the needs of your external customers, clients, partners and the planet. What worked yesterday is not likely to work tomorrow. Employees want more autonomy, power-share, flexibility and to feel valued. We see that many younger people want to work for companies with a purpose beyond profit and look for congruence between their personal values and those of the employer.
- Having a purpose and leading with values which is embedded in an organisation’s culture has the potential to enhance staff energy, motivation, productivity and wellbeing. How can leaders be role models to younger staff; moving beyond traditional top-down approaches to avoid stifling innovation and personal growth?
- Thinking differently about the employee and their experience. Many organisations are not only focussing on customer experience but now looking internally at their own systems and culture to assess their people’s internal experience. People are often an organisation’s greatest asset. How are leaders influencing the design of employee experience which looks at the roles, tools, surrounding environment of their people and culture in which they operate?
- Delegation. What do leaders need to change to avoid burnout and negative stress and to have the space to look up and out at the whole system, beyond the day to day, and predict what is coming over the horizon? How often do leaders critically assess whether they are working in or on the business? Which tasks can they let go of and empower and trust others to run with?
- Inclusion and diversity. Innovation often comes from a diverse set of perspectives, opinions and desires. How can diversity be genuinely embraced not just because it is a moral obligation but because it makes business sense. Have you and your organisation taken the time and allowed the space to listen to diverse views? Do you have a process to digest and integrate these into decision making?
- Connected leadership. There is a realisation within and across organisations that going it alone will not meet the demands of the future. There appears to be an increasing need to create partnerships across organisations and sectors in order to respond to customers and employees’ needs in a timely and cost effective manner. How do leaders respond to this and is their internal and external network adequate?
- Team dynamics like flocks of birds. What are the demands for effective internal and external collaboration? Are teams able to form and disperse around tasks and projects like flocks of birds flying in formation, changing direction together and in harmony? The future of work is about leveraging skills and capabilities across departments and upskilling existing people and teams rather than recruiting new people to promote a sustainable practice. How are leaders embracing and supporting this shift in workforce?
- Technology. With the rise in technological disruption and increasing development of Artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, how are leaders embracing the working smarter not harder mentality? Do leaders fully understand the implications of tech and how it can improve efficiencies at the same time as being able to manage the disruption it brings?
So what next?
There are many forum and debates to spur action and not words. Davos has inspired new thinking on sustainable business and companies are declaring now what their net zero carbon targets are for this decade and beyond. Who are you inspired by and what is your passion? How will you lead differently in the next decade? Are you ready to embrace change and can you inspire those in your team, organisation and wider system to work with you on that journey?
I hope that this has at least stimulated debate. Give yourself time to reflect and write down what question you want to ask yourself to improve your leadership in 2020? If you feel brave, please share your question to stimulate others and their thinking.