How do you view your role as leader? A simple question, with profound implications
for a leader’s day-to-day conversations and activities. This question has never been so critical as
it is now, in the VUCA environment experienced by many leaders today.
In a previous blog <link> we looked at
the challenge of developing leaders in a VUCA environment, one that is Volatile
- Uncertain - Complex – Ambiguous. In
this blog, we’ll offer two analogies for the role of leader that can describe
two different outcomes when leading others in a complex and uncertain world.
Tanker, or Armada?
It’s natural for many leaders to see their
role like a captain on the bridge of an oil tanker, deciding overall direction,
giving orders to the crew, with clear lines of authority and controls for
problem solving and escalation. Seeing their
role in a mechanical way like this focuses
attention on running a ‘tight ship’ however what happens when the business
needs a significant change in direction or there’s a need for quick, responsive
Instead, what if the role is seen as leading
a collective ‘armada’ of vessels, guiding overall direction and coordinating
the activities of interdependent units, teams or individuals? Creating a capable and agile workforce
requires the leader to focus less on their own expertise and ability as they begin
to accept they cannot know or control everything. The leader can instead focus effort on developing
the capabilities of others to think for themselves, anticipate and resolve
issues as they arise, share knowledge and information, and create greater
responsiveness in the face of change.
This analogy reminds us of the need for
leaders to shift their perspective from a mechanistic
to a systemic focus that helps the
business deal with the complex uncertainties of a VUCA environment. Those familiar with the work of Gareth Morgan may recall how he proposed a range of
organisational metaphors that can help leaders look in a different way at the
context in which they lead others. As
Gareth himself puts it:
"One of the most
basic problems of modern management is that the mechanical way of thinking is
so ingrained in our everyday conception of organisations that it is often
difficult to organise in any other way"
Reflecting back on the ‘armada’ analogy, the
following questions may help you think about your own role as leader:
What limits your
team’s ability to rapidly innovate as circumstances change?
What can you do to
enhance information sharing, workflow, and co-operation within the business?
In a VUCA environment,
what are the main skills and qualities you could demonstrate as a leader that will
build greater confidence, capability and autonomy in others?
One potential response to the third question
is coaching. If you're familiar with
coaching, you’ll sense the value and contribution of this as a mind-set as well
as a set of skills for leaders seeking to develop greater awareness and
responsibility in others - an essential capability in a complex and uncertain VUCA
In future blogs we will continue to share
further insights into what leaders can do to respond to the complex challenges
of modern working life. If you would
like to find out more about our approach to developing leader, team and
organisational effectiveness please contact us <link>