We live in an unpredictable and fast-moving world. The type of leadership that worked in the boom times (anyone remember those?) just doesn’t cut it during periods of uncertainty, says Cirrus head of engagement, Jenny Perkins.
Despite factors such as the economic downturn, the pace of globalisation, and changing demographics, many organisations have been slow to adapt their style of leadership. And while many accept in theory that rigid, centralised, hierarchical structures no longer work, they can be very difficult to shift. All too often, we revert back to the comfort zone of leading the way we always have. After all, it’s worked in the past. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely to carry on working in the future.
But just how can we change our style of leadership to become more agile, more collaborative, more connected? And what can senior leaders do to devolve leadership responsibility more and inspire others to change?
I have worked with many clients to help ‘disrupt’ ingrained leadership styles and encourage the kind of adaptive behaviour that enables leaders to embrace change and the opportunities it presents. At Cirrus, we do this by creating learning opportunities through highly disruptive experiences. This may involve disturbing equilibrium by taking leaders far away from the workplace and challenging them in unusual situations. At times like this, learnt behaviours often just don’t work – leaders are forced to consider new ways of working together. It’s all about learning to feel comfortable to feel uncomfortable. We disrupt normality, and this creates breakthroughs in changing behaviour.
Sometimes we take corporate clients to work with voluntary organisations. They are set challenges which require them to collaborate with people they don’t know, with few resources, and an initial lack of shared understanding. The corporate leaders have to reinvent their ability to influence and collaborate with others. At other times we take leaders from large and long-established businesses to work with digital start-ups or into developing countries to see their products being used in local markets. Whatever sort of disruptive experience you choose, it should take your leaders out of their comfort zones and kick start a new, more connected way of thinking.
Often, disruptive events have a huge impact on leadership style and can really change the way an organisation operates. Cirrus CEO Dr Simon Hayward writes about disruption in depth in his book, Connected Leadership, and quotes Tanith Dodge, Director of HR at Marks & Spencer, who describes disruptive learning as “an exciting, if sometimes challenging, journey” and credits it with, “helping us to create a new mind-set among our leaders and managers which in turn is leading to new ways of working.”
Becoming more adaptive is all about increasing agility and the ability to respond to rapidly changing market forces and customer needs. It also tends to increase the rate of innovation – something pretty much every organisation would like to see more of.