We are going through a time of disruption that is fundamentally changing the way we live, work, and relate to one another. Digital interconnectedness throws in unknowns more rapidly than leaders can plan for. While leadership teams are discussing way forward, the imminent arrival of new competitors, combined with environmental and operational risks, are stretching the boundaries of work. It’s no longer just about leading with core skills, key products, best employees, loyal clients, known competitors, or the obvious business trends. Leading today requires much more than that!
The challenges of leading in times of disruption
Organizations of the future look very different from those thriving today. Traditional hierarchies, demarcated roles, inflexible rules, and processes of earlier business models are all redundant in a dynamic, diversely interconnected, and unpredictable world. At the same time, everything that is done within and outside the company socially, culturally, economically, and politically has a snowball effect on how an organization is being impacted and shaped. It’s no longer just about one leader, one organization, and one country.
Leading through classic approaches would throw businesses out of the race against new-age organizations.
The changing nature of work and the workforce
The changing nature of work, the new millennial workforce, and the future workforce demand new management and leadership principles. Leaders need to employ different skills to invoke and inspire the most creative contributions to changing work demands.
Leading in times of disruption needs leaders to think more like new-age consumers, new-age employees, and new-age creative disruptors!
The changing nature of work, workforce, and consumers are challenging the norms of organizational culture. Leaders need to aggressively take note of redundant cultural behaviours, identify relevant social and work behaviours, and re-define and institutionalize new-age work behaviours based on new-age business models.
Your organization, products, and services, as well as the way your employees interact, work, and treat co-workers and customers, must all look and feel like an amalgam of your organization’s cultural behaviour.
Leading the way forward
According to world-renowned economist Klaus Schwab, “...businesses will be more organized around distributed teams, remote workers, and dynamic collectives, with a continuous exchange of data and insights about the things and tasks being worked on.”
This suggests that leading today requires one to mobilize and harness collective intelligence both within and outside the organization. We need to shift from a hierarchical thinking and working pattern to diverse and inclusive thinking, from a top-down work approach to a flat, networked, and collaborative way of working.
The question now is, are leaders, employees, teams, and organizations today vulnerable and humble enough to cede power to others? Are they willing enough to accommodate fresh thinking, distributed team perspective, and partner with other organizations that may be established or new-age competitors—small but disruptive?
What kind of skill-sets are required, and how can it be developed?
Based on my research and discussion with leaders from different organizations, listed below are some skills that today’s leaders need to develop for effectively leading themselves and their organizations in disruptive times:
Disruptive business scenarios require leaders to harness contextual intelligence to anticipate new and hidden trends and connect the dots quickly. This compels leaders to be well networked and connected across traditional boundaries.
To achieve the above, leaders need to be more open, flexible, inclusive, and adaptive. They need to continuously integrate diverse opinions across different levels of their organizations, and also outside. It’s critical that they develop genuine humility to cede ground to others and embed multi-stakeholder spirit in their own and their organization’s way of working.
High emotional intelligence mindset
Disruptive times need leaders with a digital mindset, which requires them to be capable of establishing cross-functional collaboration and flattened work structures, as well as building a culture that breeds new ideas and creative associations.
Institutionalizing this within an organization is not an easy task and needs sheer grit, agility, high emotional intelligence, and lots of resilience. Leaders need to evaluate how they process and act on their thoughts and feelings and as a result, how they relate to themselves and to one another.
Ability to inspire trust and engagement for a shared purpose
A critical piece of leading through disruption is fostering and managing multi-stakeholders and decision-makers to harness collective team intelligence. This makes it imperative for leaders to inspire different people and teams to work towards shared goals and give it their best by fostering vulnerability-based trust.
According to Patrick Lencioni, this trust element instils confidence within teams about each other’s and the leader’s intent – that when they are being pushed or tight-spotted for a task, it’s the team’s shared purpose that is being upheld. Leaders and teams together have to work in pursuit of a collective objective, and leaders need to role model through their actions to establish trust and harness collective team intelligence.
Ability to care for physical and mental “self”
As pressures, disruptors, and decision-makers mount, the need to keep fit and calm becomes essential. It’s critical to align our thinking, feeling, and acting brain in a manner where every situation elicits constructive responses.
Identifying challenges, assimilating understandings, and responding appropriately to deal with situations, while also leading through it all requires leaders to be extremely yogic in managing their nervous system. A keen interest in mind, body, and soul alignment will be instrumental in withstanding disruptive pressures and making a way forward.
All of this is possible only when leaders take a daring look at their style of leading and re-calibrate their way of work with what’s contextually, emotionally, inspiration-wise, and mind-body-soul wise needed today. To develop a sound thinking, feeling, and acting self, they need to undergo a self-evaluation, self-leadership and physical-leadership development journey apart from developing agile strategic acumen.
Clearly, the challenges of leading through disruptive times are many. However, the eventual course that any organization will take completely depends upon the ability of its leaders to shape their organization’s way of thinking and working so that all of it together creates an empowering future for the organization and its people.
 WEF, Jan, 2019
 Ernst & Young, May, 2018
 Klaus Schwab, The Fourth Industrial Revolution
 Forbes, Sep, 2019
 Patrick Lencioni: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
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