Relentless change. Pressing global challenges. Mounting societal expectations. The world today’s leaders are operating in is fundamentally different from the one previous faced by previous generations. Amy Walters Cohen explores how leaders can shake up their approach and raise their game to the next level
At least a dozen megatrends are radically reshaping the world of work and the world we live in. High inequality, hyper-connection through social media, rapidly advancing technology and climate change are all converging and interacting to create a highly complex environment. For many leaders, this environment can feel like being stuck in a washing machine. You’re continually bombarded with disruption and unprecedented challenges, with no time to pause or take stock. This isn’t going to change – we’re entering a new era of business, so how can leaders become future-fit and learn to thrive?
Research shows that leaders who are winning awards for being future-thinking, innovative and disruptive, have one thing in common: they are very good at thinking in paradoxical ‘both-and’ ways. Specifically, future-fit leaders tackle tough decisions and sustain high performance by embracing five paradoxical mindsets, namely:
- Ruthlessly caring – they are highly performance focused and care deeply about people. They are willing to make the tough decisions necessary to sustain performance and they stay compassionate no matter what
- Ambitiously appreciative – to achieve ambitious goals they know they need to be relentless and determined, while at the same time they believe it’s important to keep perspective and value their own and other’s wellbeing
- Confidently humble – they inspire others to have confidence in them (in their strategy, their vision, their decisions, and in their overall ability to deliver results), whilst at the same time show humility, acknowledging their limitations and harnessing the expertise those around them
- Politically virtuous – they act in a way that is aligned with their values and always aim to do the right thing at the first opportunity, whilst at the same time show shrewd political ‘savvy’, leveraging influence and making practical compromises based on the specific context of certain situations
- Responsibly daring – future-fit leaders embrace the responsibility they have for making a difference and safeguarding the business, whilst at the same time appreciate the need to take risks, drive innovation and disrupt the status quo.
These five mindsets present a big ask to leaders. So how do you begin the journey of becoming ‘both-and’ on multiple fronts? How can you unfreeze and expand how your leadership habits?
Reflect on your ‘winning recipe’ for leadership
To be able to embrace the five mindsets, you first need to understand where you’re currently at. Over time various habits, assumptions and ways of thinking and behaving as a leader will have set in. Certain ways of doing things will have proved successful, been rewarded and consequently sunk-in to become your ‘go-to’ approach.
Furthermore, leaders do not exist in a vacuum; the sector, culture and environment of an organisation will be heavily impacting the way you lead and your perception of what good leadership looks like.
To start the journey towards becoming future-fit, take a few moments to think about how you currently lead, reflecting on each of the mindset elements: Which of the paradoxical elements do you tend to embrace more strongly? Which of the paradoxical elements feels like a ‘weak spot’ or less prevalent in how you lead?
Shake it up and start experimenting
Once you’ve reflected on each of the mindset elements, drill down into one specific area where you think embracing it in more depth will have the biggest impact on your current work life and performance.
- What’s being ‘low’ on this element currently costing you? What impact is it having on your own or your team’s performance?
- What is it about this mindset element that feels uncomfortable to you?
- What do you fear is at risk if you embrace this mindset element more?
Explore how you could start to recalibrate:
- How could you integrate this mindset element more into your leadership?
- What part of who you are, or what you value, needs to shift or expand? And how?
- What benefits could that unlock?
- What would it require in terms of skills and actions?
Finally, commit to a small experiment:
- Think of a situation coming up, where embracing one of the paradoxical mindsets could help enhance your performance
- What small action, behaviour, or way of approaching the situation could you experiment with?
Embracing new ways of thinking and operating as a leader isn’t easy (especially when you’re highly successful and with a strong track-record of performance). After all, no one likes to change what seems to have worked in the past. However, to thrive in the future and amidst the complex, fast-changing environment of the megatrends, you need to keep your leadership approach supple and all-embracing.
Amy Walters Cohen is the author of Ruthlessly caring: and other paradoxical mindsets leaders need to be future fit, published by Wiley. She is the head of research within one of the largest professional services networks in the world, responsible for delivering rigorous, cutting-edge thought leadership insight into pressing business issues. With nearly 10 years’ experience working in applied psychology, she has led an array of research projects and generated fresh insight into topic areas that include the future of leadership, digital transformation, the future of learning, hybrid working, 21st century career development, organisational culture change and team performance in a disruptive age. Cohen is also a visiting lecturer at the University of Bath