Leadership is critical for the future of nations, organisations and individuals. Much has and will surely continue to be written and reflected upon the topic of leadership. In my humble experience being a leader is essentially about unlocking individuals’ best potential and keeping and sustaining relationships that must absolutely work out for the benefit of the collective.
In that sense, a leader’s role consists mainly of:
- Juggling strategic trade-offs while managing the “good chaos”, which in turn entails
- Successfully striking a balance of diverse groups’ expectations and goals.
Considering the above mentioned terms and references, which should be a leader’s main attributes? Irrespective of being a female or a male, in today’s world aspiring managers cannot expect to become respected and accomplished leaders without demonstrating and or training honesty/authenticity/humanity, communications skills and resilience in the face of obstacles.
The “good chaos” refer to the many intertwined and complex factors a leader must wisely consider. These factors can be defined as endogenous and exogenous. A traditional SWOT analysis is a useful tool to identify, distinguish and manage these factors. However, the important aspect to retain is these can either be endogenous factors, which are typically simpler to cope, and exogenous factors which can be more difficult as they represent events and/or circumstances beyond the leader’s direct control. Why “good chaos”? It is crucial that a leader approaches tough backgrounds with a positive, flexible and candid mindset. As it is well known, working in the context of a pandemic exposed several “new” challenges for leaders. For instance, relocation of resources, acquiring equipment, adjustment of logistics, as measures to create the required conditions for remote work appeared, to a certain extent, easy to implement as part of organisations/institutions’ BCP/BRP (Business Continuity/Recovery Plans). Moreover, leaders were left with the “heavy duty” of having to adequately learn to mitigate the weaknesses and risks exposed by the advent of working in the context of an unprecedent crisis, such as social isolation, organizational cultural disconnection, family disruption, and others, which are in essence more human and socially related matters, and for which one-size-fit-all approaches are certainly less applicable.
With my teams we practice frankness and realism above all, “do not keep problems in a drawer”, I tell them, “not only that won’t sort them out, but will instead make them bigger and at some point, they will start to show”. Nonetheless, when a leader demands that level of honesty, her/him must also inspire an equally strong degree of trust. “Problems and conflicts will occur, its inherent of the human existence and the evolution of civilisations and societies”, its often stressed during our department meetings, “what makes the difference, is how we deal with them”. This, in my view, is where emotional intelligent skills are crucial. As both the “commander in chief” and spokesperson of a team, a leader needs to exercise self-awareness and self-regard regularly. Ultimately, a leader is responsible for providing the tools and guidance to overcome the challenges experienced by the team, thus she/he must be vigilant, attentive, supportive, confident, vulnerable, open, inclusive, and reliable. As a two way street, trust is a key factor in the communication process among all intervenients. While team members must feel comfortable enough to convey their ideas, concerns and feedback, leaders shall also create a safe and responsible environment for honest dialogue to take place.
“BRIDGE GAPS, DON’T DIG HOLES?”
As a leader one is usually entrusted a vote of confidence to offer direction and accomplish a vision. In that regard, a leader’s key success factor is its ability to manage individuals and teams of individuals, which can also be her/his main Achilles’ heel. How to address this polarity? Important literature on leadership states that understanding the problematic is the first step towards developing an effective action plan to resolve it. In my experience, a leader ought to account for the unexpectant and the outliers. In exercising adaptive leadership and adjusting its practices to
the challenges presented by a context increasingly marked by VUCA World characteristics, it is critical for a Leader to bridge gaps rather than dig holes. How can this be attained? An ability to embrace necessary change without missing the targets, and a predisposition to foster constant and constructive dialogue with the different stakeholders, in my experience is a “formula” that often works. What does that mean, in practice? Turning, once again, to the working in the context of a pandemic example, as an event deemed of “low probability of occurrence and high impact”, leaders are suddenly confronted with having to make mutually exclusive decisions. In this case, honest, timely and clear communication across the board is fundamental to i) avoid unrealistic expectations; for ii) readjusting key performance indications due to significant changed assumptions; and iii) prevent exacerbating difficulties for the groups already under considerable pressure.
As per the above, in an ever and fast evolving world, socially, technologically, and fortunately also environmentally, the concept of leader has clearly and necessarily changed as well. The traditional and old-fashioned perception of a leader, as an unapproachable, strict, threating individual was replaced by the coach, contributor and champion change agent. Studies and experience has proven that this human-focus rather than deliverables-focus mentality is contributing to improve the organisations/institutions/ society’s quality of interactions, values, and development while paving the pathway for the generations ahead.