I read a post by Michael McCune on Gartner’s blog about thought leadership and it resonated really well with me. In the post, he talks about the importance of original thought provoking content. Content that deepen’s someone’s understanding of their own challenges and how to solve them by sharing an insight that is either original or is non-obvious has significant impact.
I agree with his analysis and also the kind of impact that he shares this can have on someone’s behaviour (Buying or otherwise). The challenge with this is that creating content that can have this kind of an impact is neither easy not can be produced en masse.
And every brand wants to continue to publish at a pace that is unparalleled in the industry. And most of what is being published is SEO optimised and rehashed content. If my experience with corporate content producers is anything to go by, this same problem exists within the organisation as well.
Most leaders don’t have time to think deeply about anything. The calendars are packed with back to back meetings. All the focus is on execution and improving productivity. People who execute well are the one’s who get promoted to leadership positions. And when they become a leader, they continue to focus on finding things to execute on.
So, you may wonder whats wrong with this focus on execution. In a stable environment and a predictable market, this is what gets you ahead. You win the market through executing flawlessly.
However, we are no longer in a stable environment. We are no longer in a market that behaves predictably. There is a lot of complexity and chaos. Every day we face problems that are more like the cloud than like a clock. This means that just flawless execution is not enough. If we do flawless execution of the wrong thing, we can get grounded extremely productively.
In this scenario, it is critical that as leaders, we have the time, intent and the skills, to slow down, to notice what’s happening around us. It is time for us to find different ways to gain insights on what could potentially emerge from the environment that we are active in and what would it mean for us and our teams.
It doesn’t stop there. We then need to be able to share these insights in an engaging and thought provoking manner with our teams. We then need to facilitate a discussion around the insight and check in with our teams on their perspectives about the insight and the conclusion that we have come to. It is quite possible that their view is very different from ours because of the differing vantage points.
As leaders, we then need to be able to take all of this in and potentially chart a path, ideally with our teams, that we need to go on. All of this requires us to be able to think clearly, deeply and creatively, which we then need to be able to communicate in way to spark conversations (sometimes) or create alignment (this is something that most of us know really well), depending upon the situation we are in.
And this in my opinion is thought leadership for leaders. In this short video, I talk about a model that can help create high performance leaders in a chaotic world.
A model for high performance leadership in chaotic or uncertain conditions:
The model has 7 components that leaders need to get good at. Let’s quickly have a look at them one by one.
I believe if there is anything that can either have a significant limiting or a broadening impact on leadership, is their mindsets. Carol Dweck wrote the seminal book on Mindset in which she talks about how “Growth Mindset” is so much better than having a “Fixed Mindset”. This is one perspective to look at mindset from, a foundational view.
There are other ways to think of mindsets. I believe there are many mindsets that we can have and switch between (and each one of them could have a growth and fixed component to it). I have identified at least 9 such mindsets, when I think about leading in a chaotic environment
As leaders, each one of us needs to create a repertoire of tools that we go to for at least three key areas of our leadership – Tools for thinking, Tools for individual productivity and tools for team productivity. There are many tools that are available for each one of these tasks and I believe that if we are already a leader, we might already have a fairly good repertoire of these tools, except for the tools to think.
Self & Social Awareness:
No leader worth their salt can become a good leader without have a good degree of self and social awareness. However, I include it in my model, just so that we don’t ever forget that leadership is an ongoing journey of self exploration and is all about those whom we lead.
So, it is imperative that we continually work on getting better understanding what makes us tick and what doesn’t. The same way, the dynamics within a team continues to emerge as the environment changes (new employees coming in, stresses from the market, individual going through stressful periods in their personal lives or anything else that could potentially change the dynamics). So, we cant take anything for granted.
Sense Making (or Decision Making) :
This is the internal reflection that we need to do as leaders to become situationally aware of what’s happening and how we need to respond. This is the process of reflecting on what is happening in the environment, what is it that we are trying to achieve, what do people involved want (from us and from the situation), depending on all of this what is the right mindset to be in and what tools would help.
This internal processing (and sometimes externally, with your team) is the sense making process, which is critical in a chaotic and uncertain situation. There are many models for sense making including the Cynefin framework, which I have realised is a great model to understand the situation and which can then guide everything else from there.
Once we have made sense of what we want to do, there are only two things that we need to do. We need to communicate the decisions through one of the three mediums – write (emails, documents, etc), speak (1-1 meetings, team meetings, etc) or present (town halls, external stakeholders, etc).
It is important that we continue to enhance our communication skills on all the three mediums. We use these mediums to either inform, influence or engage the people we are communicating with. Understanding what we want to achieve through our communications is the first step in getting more impactful with them.
Apart from communicating, as leaders we interact with our teams and other stakeholders. Each interaction can be different based on what we are trying to achieve from the interaction. In my experience, there are 6 roles that we can take as leaders, which can inform and influence the kind of interactions we have.
We can interact with people as a coach, a teacher, a friend, a mentor, a mechanic or as a mid-wife. Each interaction is clear in the purpose and how we are to think and behave in the interaction.
In conclusion, I can only say that leading has always been a tough job. The accelerating pace of change and emergence of significant trends (that can create significant headwinds or tailwinds) means that the job of a leader is that much more difficult and critical.
Either ways (if done well or done badly), the impact we will have on our organisations and the teams that we lead will be outsized, just like the pace of change we experience. So, it is our responsibility to ensure that we do everything in our hands to get better as leaders and try to ensure that we are positively impacting our organisation and those whom we lead.