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Turbulence ahead: Why it’s time to be bold in your leadership

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HRD thought leader and Hack Future Lab founder Terence Mauri sets out why the biggest risk to leadership is not turbulence itself, but leading with yesterday’s mindsets, obsolete frameworks and out-dated assumptions about the world.

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The late father of management thinking Peter Drucker famously said: “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not turbulence itself, but to act with yesterday’s logic”. Now, as we embark on another year, what better time for business leaders to step back and reflect on their leadership? What parts are enduring, emerging, and eroding and how does this translate into navigating a restless future in 2022 and beyond?

When navigating the future of work, it is obvious that fear and uncertainty are still dominant. There is The Great Resignation (record levels of employees quitting their jobs), The Big Quit and The Great Reassessment (2/3 people rethinking their purpose at work). There’s also The Turnover Tsumani, The Attrition Supercycle, The Hybrid Paradox (what’s our workforce hybrid strategy?) and the Race to Reskill (one of the best ways to outpace the forces of disruption is upskilling/reskilling).

It’s no wonder 78% leaders are reporting record levels of burnout, mental exhaustion, and anticipatory anxiety about the future. Anticipatory anxiety and performance are like oil and water – it’s a performance and innovation killer.

Bold leadership

When you’re operating at the edge of uncertainty, context is key. Leaders must strengthen their context-setting, direction setting and pace-setting capability to ensure talent creation and enablement. This means context over control; autonomy over rules; speaking up over silence; and simplicity over complexity if you want to stay ahead of the change curve.

One of the clearest signs of bold leadership is rethinking your assumptions and updating your opinions. To be future-fit in 2022 and beyond, leaders must avoid strategy, transformation or culture drift. Instead, they must choose a path of continuous learning, experimenting and putting purpose to work: embracing an iterative growth mindset over a bureaucratic-fixed mindset.

Bold leaders will be those who take bold action in the face of adversity and scale challenger cultures that are human-led, intentionally diverse, psychologically safe and built for speed. Metrics matter too. New World DNA leaders care about return on intelligence rather than return on investment, and are redesigning workflows that are growth-led and match talent to value.

Bold accelerators

Below are some of the bold accelerators leaders should consider for the upcoming year and beyond:

  • The curiosity to learn: evolving as the world evolves.
  • The courage to unlearn: the word ‘unworlding’ or ‘reworlding’ means letting go of all the outdated ways of thinking and being open to new possibilities.
  • The clarity to focus: building cultures where talent is empowered to solve the biggest problems.
  • The conviction to decide: deciding future trends and their implications on strategy.
  • The compassion to care and co-create: it is possible to win with empathy.

A change in perspective is worth 80 IQ points

Albert Einstein wrote: ‘You can‘t use an old map to explore a new world’. A change in perspective is worth at least 80 IQ points in a world where the best way of staying relevant is by accepting two fundamental truths:

  1. Competitive advantage is temporary and eroding faster.
  2. You are either a disruptor or the disrupted.

New research at Hack Future Lab analysed one hundred companies across different sectors to identify their top leadership priorities in 2022. The results found:

  • 93% are embracing some level of hybrid work
  • 74% of companies are doing process automation
  • 50% of companies are doing process reimagination
  • 25% of companies are transforming their operating model
  • 21% of companies are launching business model transformation
  • 17% of companies have plans in place to scale new leadership, culture as accelerant and enterprise-wide mindsets

There’s a huge knowing-to-doing gap in business, with 84% of leaders reporting culture, talent and leadership inertia and 23% of employees reporting they have mentally quit the job but haven’t resigned yet (Quit & Stayers). For more analysis on these inflection points take a look at BrightLine Initiative’s important work on leading perpetual transformation. Their studies show that over $900 million dollars a year is wasted on failed transformation efforts and 2/3 transformations don’t achieve their goals.

The winners of tomorrow will make reimagination at the core of their growth strategies. Leaders will be able to pivot from ‘one thing’ workforces (narrow talent density) to ‘anything workforces’ (agile, adaptable learners and doers), where work is project-based and closely aligned to enterprise value.

For employees, the future of work should mean more choice, opportunity and meaning and will shift from traditional ‘I’-shaped careers moving up company career ladders to ‘Pi’-shaped and ‘X’-shaped careers (stretch, breadth and depth) that look more like career climbing walls.

Reimagination is the new execution

Everything starts as an act of imagination, but to sustain for the long-term leaders must harness bold reimagination. Reimagination is the human force that can create a new reality.

I believe that leadership is the most powerful platform for unlocking value and human potential (profit maximisation AND meaning maximisation), yet only a small pool of organisations such as DBS, Gloat, Moderna, Orsted, PayPal are making bold moves across three imperatives:

  • Who we are: Strengthen purpose, culture as an accelerant, and the value of values.
  • How we decide: Speed and simplicity, zero distance to the customer, and closed-to-open strategy.
  • How we grow: Hyperscale, inclusive growth, DEI and sustainable leadership for the long-term.

If there’s a final call to action that I can offer every leader: make 2022 the year that you do something radical because leadership is never finished. Culture is never finished. Learning is never finished. Make it the year that you turn uncertainty into action, fight complexity with simplicity, adopt new agile ways of leading and working and say goodbye to the status quo.

Drucker was right. Turbulence is not the biggest threat itself. Make 2022 the year to fortify courage of heart, boldness of ideas and attention to care.

Terence Mauri is founder of Hack Future Lab, a global management think tank, HRD Advisory Board Member and a leading management thinker on the future of leadership.

Bold leadership

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