Turbulent Times Part of New Normal

Leadership during turbulent times

Innovation is the cornerstone for surviving and thriving in today’s world of  V.U.C.A, Volitivity, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity; or what I describe in a white paper of the same name, The New Normal 2.0.  To not be aware of nor respond to the seismic changes in our economy, demographics, buying patterns and workforce demands is a recipe for disaster.  We all know of companies that failed because they didn’t respond to these market changes.  Others, like Apple and Google brought fresh life into their industries because they made innovation a part of their business strategy and values like tolerance, collaboration and flexibility found their way into business practices.

We all know of companies that failed because they didn’t respond to these market changes. 

Companies should re-examine, redesign, removed or improve upon every aspect of their business.  Some companies have seriously taken on this challenge of reinvention while others have not.

However, there is one part of almost all U.S. businesses that has changed quite a bit: Leadership.  Just look at the number of books on Amazon about leadership and you’ll know I mean.  Our fascination with power and prestige of leaders is fueled by a concern that being a good leader is not only hard, but rare.  We seem to be grasping at straws trying to figure out what leadership should be.

And then there is the responsibility of the follower that seems to be absent from the literature.

Today’s leaders are instructed to be agile, flexible, cooperative and intuitive

Today’s leaders are instructed to be agile, flexible, cooperative and intuitive; traits perfectly in line with creating innovative companies.  These traits have become the core of numerous models that define leadership as being a servant, an authentic person, a coach, a mentor; an individual who provides “appreciative inquiry” or reaching “level five status” on top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

While I applaud all of these new models, and many others not mentioned, I think we have incorrectly devalued some traditional characteristics of leadership.  Leadership isn’t just about a set of behaviors. Leadership is a structure on which behaviors can be effective.  Much of that structure has been diluted or overshadowed by any new leadership behaviors described as  “flavors of the month.”

I’d like to see more emphasis on structure. We should be asking: does the leader work under a clear and compelling mission and set of strategies? Do they know the goals they are accountable for? Are they and everyone else on their team clear of their roles and responsibilities? Do they know who is ultimately in charge of each project for function? Are they certain how work gets handed off and is there a clear escalation process for issues? Do they have a good structure for how they run meetings and make decisions?

Pressures to put out fires, doing a lot more with a lot less, and a relentless focus on cost-cutting also contribute to being more reactive and less reliant of structure.  Because of, not despite these pressures to innovate and achieve short-term results, we should not devalue or abandon sound structure.  A leader without a solid structure is just an employee with good influencing skills.