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Change is hard – I’ll be ready tomorrow

August 13th, 2016

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by Keith Coats

Having breakfast with a CEO recently and talking about organisational change, he came out with the memorable line, “change is hard – I’ll be ready tomorrow”. It wasn’t a personal reference but rather the unspoken response he seems to encounter from his senior leaders at every turn when it comes to the organisational change he knows is necessary and that cannot be delayed.

Living in times of exponential and ubiquitous changes demands a lot of both leaders and the organisations they lead. Being ‘futurefit’ is not a matter of strategy but rather a matter of culture. Developing a ‘futurefit’ organisational culture is the way to ensure that you stay ahead of the curve. This means knowing how, when and what to change.

But what does this all mean for you as a leader? How do you lead in such times?

Of course there is no simple answer to that searching question but here are three pointers for you as a leader that are worth noting.

1. Experience is overrated. In a world in which the challenges that leaders are encountering are nothing like those previously encountered, the past offers little help in finding solutions. This is what Ron Heifetz of Harvard refers to as an ‘adaptive challenge’. An adaptive challenge can be defined as, ‘knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do’ and as such, any solution requires ‘new learning’. In an adaptive challenge even the problem itself requires ‘new learning’ – or it needs to be defined because the very nature of the problem is not immediately apparent. It is about getting to the ‘real problem’ – and the first step demands thorough diagnosis.

The danger is that too many leaders believe that they can solve adaptive challenges through their own – or the companies, experience. To say experience is overrated is not to imply this nor is it to be dismissive of the past; it is merely saying that tomorrow’s challenges will not be solved by yesterday’s solutions.

2. Questions are the answers. Smart leaders ask a lot of questions and I would go as far to say that the quality of the questions you (as a leader) are asking will determine the quality of the solutions and strategy going forward. Questions serve to open the conversation and thinking. They invite others into the conversation and as we get more used to asking them – and more comfortable, so too will we get better at ‘holding’ them, engaging with them and strengthening the process towards new learning and solutions. Do a ‘questions audit’: At your next meeting, pay attention to the number and quality of questions being asked.

3. Adapt or die. Smart leaders understand that they need to become an ‘adaptive leader’. They know that they need to build organisational cultures that are agile, nimble and responsive and they are preoccupied with how best to do this. Well, the short answer is: It starts with you. You need to be an adaptive leader; you need to model what this looks like and by so doing, give permission to others to follow suite. It is about becoming ‘futurefit’ and as in any attempts to ‘get fit’ – hard work and discipline is required.

Unlike the many ‘magical’ or quick-fix solutions being offered to get in shape physically – becoming futurefit is not something that can be achieved overnight but it is possible and is attainable when given an intentional focus. It will require both a mind shift as well as behavioural practice before it roots and becomes something that is recognisable.

Leading in today’s context is tough and it is not going to get any easier. The kind of organisations that we have built from the past will resemble little likeness to those that will stand in the future. There are too many things changing for us to really believe that what has got us here will be sufficient to get us to where it is we need to be. Technology, societal value shifts, globalisation, new threats and opportunities and a host of other forces and elements will ensure that our current ways of managing our enterprises will have to change.

Recognising this reality and shaping the future is the leader’s responsibility. It is your responsibility and a fair question to be asking is, ‘so what are you doing about it?’


CoatesKeith Coats is an Academy speaker and co-founding partner of TomorrowToday Global. A futurist and leadership expert with global experience as a presenter, facilitator and author, Keith shares his experience with audiences around the world, helping them understand the leadership response to a global context of change, complexity and uncertainty. More at http://keithcoats.com/

The Academy for Chief Executives is a leading executive coaching and mentoring organisation working with business leaders and their teams throughout the UK.

Member companies collectively turnover £3.5 billion per annum and on average employ 75 people each.

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