The future’s in the air
I can feel it everywhere
Blowing with the wind of change
– Wind of Change, The Scorpions (1990)
Over the last three weeks I’ve been involved in a variety of events and conversations about leading and managing in today’s world. A couple of weeks ago, at the Canadian Management Consultant’s one day conference, Todd Hirsh talked about the current economic situation, the global economy and Canada’s role in it. In her presentation, one of Deb Yedlin’s messages was Canada’s need to improve our learning so that we have the ability to compete in the global economy. They both carried the message of global interdependence and the multiplying effects of multiple interconnected major forces of change – globalization, urbanization, demographic and of course, technology.
Last week, I attended a members Lunch ‘n Learn discussion about diversity in boardrooms held by the Institute of Corporate Directors. The conversation in my group quickly moved from talking about gender and ethnic diversity to diversity of thought as the valuable addition to organizational leadership. A very strong voice in the group declared that diversity is important but cannot usurp the importance of considerable C-suite problem solving experience in boardrooms. The expressed belief was that solving the complex problems organizations face today requires that experience and the knowledge gained from it. The message I took from this conversation was that all of us working in leading roles must step back and assess whether or not we have the ability and skills required in a world of disruptive change. In his book, Deep Change, Robert Quinn talks about the difference between incremental change where leaders feel in control and have the potential to return to the way we did things and transformative change, where there is no return and requires surrendering control.
Yesterday, I was involved in a conversation about a new leadership team moving in a direction that was being undermined by a long term management team determined to protect their interests. Managers’ roles are to ensure the efficacy of transactional activity and when they don’t, things can go badly wrong.
They are the guardians of the culture that has brought the organization to its current level of achievement. Cultural change requires a disruption of the basic assumptions that underlie stated values, norms and acceptable behaviour and artifacts. Left undisturbed those basic assumptions will continually support restoration of transactional level activity to its normal state.
In a world where certainty, predictability, clarity and simplicity are absent, leaders must let go of personal success and focus on organizational success. They must create a culture of creativity and innovation. To do that, they must also let go of the notion that they know the answers, listen to and involve others, inspire a shared vision and purpose, and enable and empower people. Quinn likens transformational leadership to “walking naked into the land of uncertainty”.