"Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better."- Harry S. Truman
Peace of mind, KFC’s secret recipe and the longevity of a modern leader in today’s VUCA world are probably some of the rare things that one cannot find on Google.
The hard business knocks of the last few years and the complexities of the working environment have heaped new demands on the modern leaders. This new, VUCA environment now necessitates broader, and more novel skills than ever before. People want more from their leaders —reassurance and redirection, empowerment and solutions, emotional openness, and unshakable confidence. A handful of strategies like learning to delegate, honing communication skills, and building momentum quickly can help leaders score early successes. However, modern leaders need much more than a handful of strategies — they need to understand and confront the conflicting demands of the VUCA world, and adapt to the shifting business realities that require new behaviors, attitudes, and skills consistently.
While it is true that the job of a leader in modern times has become tougher and multifaceted, for someone who wants to ace the role, they can boost their chances of sustained success by adopting the four dimensions of modern leadership that offer crucial guidelines for preparing and surmounting the challenges inherent in today’s leadership roles.
Adaptive Challenge Management
In today’s swift pace of change, most teams are in a chronic state of crisis which often generates crisis behaviors in people like working long hours, casting tasks aside and depending on the leadership to generate solutions to challenges. Although leaders need to restore equilibrium by mobilizing solutions to such challenges, the mark of modern leadership lies in tactfully holding the environment through a sustained period of disequilibrium and in discerning the adaptive challenges from the technical ones while conceiving solutions. While modern leaders need to mobilize solutions for technical challenges, they need to be equally good at mobilizing people to face adaptive challenges, which requires social learning. Thus, the key to managing adaptive challenges lies in steering team members to learn new habits, modify their values or priorities and alter the work methods. But since it requires individuals to take responsibility to learn the new ways, modern leaders need to shift gears from being responsibility-takers to being responsibility-developers by being constructive question-givers and act as people’s guide-on-the-side. To aid the required social learning, modern leaders should focus on behavioral redirections, reward progress as necessary, and generate bonds between cross-functional teams.
Ambiguity is the emerging design of today’s business landscape. Market conditions, customer experiences, transformational technologies define the current business norms, which too will change. This alters the nature of leadership in modern times. While former leaders aced by divining the future through their clear visions, the mark of modern leadership lies in effectively navigating through ambiguity. Ambiguity refers to the lack of precision and the existence of multiple meanings within the conditions that surround us. It is not only crucial to embrace the possibility of not understanding how the pieces fit together but also trusting these pieces to come together because they are rooted in deep layers of observation and insights. Since the quantum and speed of changes keep increasing, ambiguity navigation needs to be a second nature to modern leaders. A good start is by acknowledging that ambiguity navigation requires working towards reducing ambiguity and staying productive even when uncertainty is unavoidable.
To reduce ambiguity and stay productive, modern leaders need to create new habits and distinct patterns by being agile, observant, and responsive.
They need to rethink assumptions, learn the unsaid, ask questions to get deeper meaning, collect information, solicit feedback, take on multiple perspectives, develop a systemic vision, and create different plans to iterate their way toward the future. By accessing broad spectra of data and opinions, modern leaders can orchestrate the activities of an entire ecosystem and make wiser choices.
Rapid commoditization of Artificial Intelligence is converting our workplaces into hyper-automated zones, thus reducing human dependencies. However, this act of cognifying the human world offers its own challenges. Simulated interactions with devices are swiftly replacing meaningful interactions with other humans, which may eventually deplete people’s emotional intelligence — the key difference between humans and robots. The mark of modern leadership lies in emotional conservation at the automated workplace, which necessitates modern leaders to redesign jobs that complement automation as well as conserve work zones as human-centered pods. They need to foster a climate that values emotional expressions free of insensitivities or fears of consequence, and encourage expressions of emotions both positive and negative in appropriate forums, listen empathetically, embrace the positive ones and skillfully channel the negative ones towards constructive ends. Emotional conservation also demands modern leaders to be graceful while tactfully managing individual and collective emotions, and also understand both sides of contradictory issues without succumbing to cognitive dissonance. This, in turn, will give the modern leaders a distinct advantage in times of digital transitions.
Where new digital technologies like social media, mobile, and analytics are advancing rapidly on the economic scales, digital fluency of leaders acts as a differentiator. Digital fluency refers to the state of being at ease with digital technologies, demonstrating the technical, social, legal, and moral understanding that enables individuals to be successful and safe in a digital world.
Digital transformations across the world have made digital fluency a business imperative for modern leaders.
For this, modern leaders need to sculpt their positive digital identities and effectively facilitate digital transformations for the organization by learning and actively engaging themselves on various online platforms to accelerate and expand their reach to others. They will need to consider their digital profiles and digital interactions carefully and aim for consistency in their values and profiles. Digital fluency also demands modern leaders to leverage digital disturbance to catapult their team’s relevance by investing in building internal capabilities and grooming their teams through digital academies. By prudently coordinating digital initiatives, modern leaders can continuously advance their and their organization’s digital competitive advantage.
In today’s business world of ever-accelerating change and evolving ideas, modern leadership ushers leaders to effect change through other people rather than make things happen themselves. Modern leaders will last as long as they are committed to continual renewal, are meaningfully engaged in the business prospects, and are creating long-term value for their organization.