LEADERSHIP: CONTEXT IN A TIME OF TRANSITION

“My barn has burned down, now I see the moon.” is a quote from Mizuta Masahide, a 17th Century Japanese poet and samurai. It could never be more true than for the present time. Over the past 80 to 100 years we as human beings have been experiencing a Saeculum – an evolvement of structures from growth to maturity, entropy and now to destruction. 

Understanding this seasonal context means there’s an onus on leaders to become aware of endings. We are moving away from everything that was familiar and, naturally, with that comes a sense of sadness. Transitioning through this we can enter the phase of the ‘the strange’. Without a sense of duration, path or outcome this can be perceived as either a void or a blank canvas. Finally, we shift our consciousness to adventure. Courage is celebrated and we passage from this winter of destruction into a spring of opportunity. 

What this means is that we have to reinvent ourselves and how we lead. We are challenged to transform from intelligence to intuition. This is heady stuff, but perhaps these questions can assist leaders with creating a self-awareness and a daring self-inventory: 

  • Do you have a support system of people who can keep you grounded? · Do you have an executive coach, mentor or confidant? 
  • What feedback have you received about not walking the talk? 
  • Do you demand privileges? 
  • Do you invite others into the spotlight? 
  • Do you isolate yourself in your decision-making process, and do your decisions reflect what you truly value? 
  • Do you admit to your mistakes? 
  • Are you the same person at home, work or in the spotlight? 
  • Do you tell yourself there are exceptions or different rules for people like you? 

These responses and readjustments will assist in the transition. You will recover and then I suggest the next step is to start reimagining different future scenarios. 

The world we lived in was complicated with repeated patterns which could be solved with mathematics, design with automation, economies of scale and efficiency where paramount. The world we’re entering is a complex one. It has patterns which do not repeat. It is uncertain. Economies of learning and robustness now become fundamental. 

In this world of complexity the only way forward is to be overprepared with constant iteration, welcome to the era of forced entrepreneurship or in this case entrepreneurial leadership. 

Resilience – Advancing Despite Adversity

Entrepreneurial leadership requires an embracing of change and a new way of doing things, but the default button for many leaders has been to hone in on being resilient. What they believe resilience to be is to just fight through it and keep on going; to just make it over the next hurdle. To just keep on talking and making sure communication is on track, they say, and we’ll get through this. 

But I think that’s the worst thing to do and I think it exhausts us to pursue old ideas to solve new and evolving issues. Firstly, resilience is important only if you’re focusing it in the right direction. If you focus it in the wrong direction it becomes pointless. 

So the analogy I use is if you’re in a house and in this house one side is burning and the other side is under renovation, you need to understand that just putting the fire out is not going to get you to where you need to go. Just focusing on the renovations and not putting the fire out will most likely burn the whole house down! 

What do leaders need to do to move forward in these taxing times? 

We need to be able to focus on one or the other, you can’t actually do both. If you do both it’s almost like being schizophrenic because you’re running trying to put this fire out while you’re doing the renovations, and guess what? You’re not doing any one of them well at all. 

Economies of scale versus economies of learning 

So what’s in the spotlight in this new world of business, is the need for new principles and new philosophical ideas because the idea of driving economies of scale in a dynamic, fast changing world is dangerous. You could find yourself in a hyper efficient business facing the wrong direction. 

Today we live in a world that requires economies of learning instead of economies of scale. It’s about how quickly you can unlearn to relearn. It’s about how quickly you pre-empt what your customers want. It’s less about efficiency and more about robustness. It’s about how many partners and collaborating teams you have around you offering as many different services and products within your field. It’ll ensure you’re as adaptable as possible for any sort of disruption. 

Today and Tomorrow Teams 

These are big discussions and I don’t think anybody has the answer but I this is what I advise audiences to do – start with unpacking resilience, as it needs to be framed in the right context. Divide yourself up into today and tomorrow teams. Make sure you have people focused on putting the fire out today while other people are planting the seeds for tomorrow. 

The most famous today and tomorrow team was set up by Steve Jobs. When he returned to Apple there was the Lisa computer. He despised it but realised that he couldn’t create a new computer inside Apple headquarters. What he did was take his top engineers and some new ones to an office away from Apple, festooned it with a pirate

flag, and they created the Macintosh that disrupted the Lisa. So, he created a tomorrow team that focused on disrupting the today team. 

If you’re in a position of leadership or if you have a business or if you’re in a position of management realize that if you’re asking your people or if even you yourself are dousing the flames while doing the renovations you’re not doing anyone any favours. Think about dividing your teams into today and tomorrow. 

New roles for today’s Leaders 

MIT recently released an article suggesting there are four roles todays leaders should fulfil: 

  1. The Conductor – co ordinating the efforts of virtual teams 
  2. The Catalyst – sparking innovation and collaboration for in-person meetings. Bringing out the best in people. 
  3. The Coach – balancing empathy with pushing people out of their comfort zones. 
  4. The Champion – advocating for their team and finding ways to position them for success. 

Plus one more … 

I’d add one more leadership role, and that is the business of You, one that will become more critical as we move into the future. You are a personal brand with skills that can be monetized. You can develop a direct relationship with your customer. You bring your own brand of uniqueness, authenticity and robust expression which should be shared as widely as possible. Ask yourself what your brand stands for, who your market is, what you are selling and how you’re positioning yourself as a thought leader. 

So, having started out as a young entrepreneur and then evolved down different paths this is how I’ve learnt to adjust and respond to this complex world. I invested more, reinvented harder, learnt to be more patient and engage with people with new skill sets. My goal was to prepare on every front while we move through this phase of uncertainty. In this time of crisis and transformation I overcommunicate with the people I collaborate with, moving with deliberation from transactional to transformational styles and shifting from a digital focus to a more virtual one. 

So, now that you can see the moon, what you may realise is that this is the time to be energised. Understanding that this phase is seasonal should bring you the calm to be creative and entrepreneurial. As old structures fall away there’s a unique opportunity for reinvention and with that the journey towards future scenarios becomes one of freedom and excitement.

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