How to Sculpt Yourself Into a Future-Ready Leader
Create a leadership mindset that encourages reflection, big-picture thinking and decisive plans of action.
Overnight, COVID19 changed the leadership menu from survival to evolving in a crisis. Leading through a crisis can feel like a heavyweight boxing championship — fifteen rounds to decide who will emerge on the other side.
Change disrupts people’s expectations of the future, reduces their sense of control and their ability to process information. In times of high stress, Daniel Goleman coined the term “amygdala hijack” to capture how you analyze and interpret behavior resulting in a fight, flight, or freeze response. Left unchecked, performance during a crisis can be compromised, placing safety, quality, and productivity at risk.
The most impactful area that you can lead is your mindset. It is a multiplier. Gary Keller, author of The One Thing asks, “what is one thing you can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” With a leadership mindset, all other decisions become more explicit.
Forward-thinking leaders reflect, think, and birth plans to ensure that the future workplace is better. They embrace a new leadership mindset. Here is how to get started.
The power of presence
Future-ready leaders are empathetic leaders and emerge when there seems there is no way out. Leaders engage with compassion during adversity, and they meet the moment with enthusiasm, transparency, and decisiveness. They hold space for themselves and their team to lead and grow despite the level of uncertainty or uncomfortableness.
Rodney O. Martin Jr, CEO of Voya Financial described how striking a balance between being supportive and challenging leadership encouraged people to step up and lead in a new way amid the crisis. Conversations shifted from leaders driving the objectives and accountability to employees determining how to make a difference while in partnership with the leader to take the calibrated risk.
Every action signals a loud message
Forward-thinking leaders signal the leadership team's values and priorities to every individual within the organization, to customers and stakeholders. The decisions that leaders make and how they communicate with employees reflect who they are and who they aspire to be. Leaders make decisions based on defined values and leadership principles to ensure that the organization is moving with the same compass and in the same direction.
Future-ready leaders keep messages clear, concise and integrate visual aids and storytelling to improve processing as people can have difficulty hearing, understanding, recalling information. People’s attention spans shrink to just 12 minutes or less to retain three main ideas.
Safety and wellbeing of your people are paramount. When a person’s welfare has been compromised, their ability to focus on work responsibilities have been compromised. Future leaders provide access to internal and external resources, including services to provide additional family support and recognition of people who support team members. They communicate to raise awareness and build in flexibility for people to be able to help employees who have been affected directly or who are caring for household members.
EY Global Leader, Mike Bertolino, says “Through the prism of people mattering most, companies should be asking first and foremost: How do l keep my employees safe? How do l keep my customers engaged? How can my company help society?” As leaders apply the lessons learned from the pandemic, a culture of care will generate long term value and influence future decision making.
Be cautious of the pessimism bias
Under most circumstances, people operate with optimism bias in that we tend to view situations favorably and believe that it will not happen to us. On the flip side, when you are stressed the reverse can occur where you develop a pessimism bias and overestimate the likelihood of negative things and underestimate the possibility of positive thoughts, especially when in the middle of a crisis. Adopting techniques such as slowing down your reasoning process, reviewing your past successes and channeling your pessimism as a motivator will prepare leaders for the future.
What can we learn from prisoners of war's mindsets?
Dr. Dennis Charney, a resilience expert, identified that strong social support is a vital ingredient to being resilient. To adopt a resilient mindset, Charney studied prisoners of wars to discover that they used “tap codes” to communicate, connect and bond with other prisoners. In today’s landscape, leaders need to be part of a group where psychological safety has been established to allow them to discuss shared experiences, share new ideas and assist in defining priorities and execution.
A long-term view
Bain and Company reported that of 130 CEOS surveyed in April 2020, 70% expressed that they are balancing communications while trying to keep employees safe and investing in how to adapt to a new reality. As part of the modern world, reintroducing yourself to your people's and customers' evolving needs is essential. By tossing old assumptions, leaders can conduct current market research accessing new insights.
Reimagining a future workplace involves reintroducing yourself to your people, customers, and stakeholders. Rethinking how you communicate requires conversations on the safety of your people and their families as a priority. When future-focused leaders ask quality questions, they illuminate the path forward. Questions such as:
- When virtually engaging your team on the other side of the continent, what will you say to them?
- How will you lead conversations with your future leaders that there will be difficult decisions to make, yet reassuring them that we are in this together?
- How will you share your decision-making process that informs your actions as you move towards a new reality?
- How do you express the leadership principles that inform your decision?
- How will a future-ready organization emerge, and what will that all mean for employees, customers, and stakeholders?
These conversations will redefine your leadership and your organization.
Agile in a fast-changing world
In ambiguous times, speed matters more than perfection. Future-focused leaders make the best decisions they can and adapt them as situations evolve. Leaders must start with an up-to-date view of the current situation, and develop scenarios exploring a range of outcomes. Implementing a traffic light model against existing initiatives with new events creates space to decide whether to stop, continue or accelerate new priorities. Organizations must revisit stages as situations change, check assumptions and biases to remain relevant and consistently engage people to prime the organization to learn and adapt as the situation evolves.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor