How The Call For Specialisation Is Narrowing Our View
There was a time many years ago when general management skills were the be all and end all. If you brought broad vision into many different functional and operational pieces of an enterprise, you could write your own ticket and your career trajectory was both assured and rewarding.
In recent years, however, the call for specialisation of management and leadership skills has led many executives to dig deeper and deeper into the practice of a certain functional role, perhaps within a market niche or even still, within a very specialised industry space.
During one conversation with a highly experienced and globally informed organisational consultant, the dialogue turned to the notion of specialisation - not with an eye toward how leaders are discovering new efficiencies and innovations, but, rather, how specialisation has led to some losing their ability to focus on the big picture.
In today's world of work, and especially in the realm of the global management executive, it would appear to some that we're collectively pushed to know more about our own operating environment and less about how it might apply in others. Specialisation, he surmised, is moving us to know less and less about the organisational construct, the people around us, and the opportunities that exist beyond our individual focus.
As a result, what beckons is a meaningful loss of perspective on how one function and what is learned down to its most minute of details, might engage and transform another.
The takeaway? At a time when executives have been incentivised to bring and demonstrate specialist knowledge, it may just turn out that general management perspective is what companies need most, especially when the specialists plumb the depths and seek other views on what their work really means and what it might achieve.
It is clear that the issue of Sustainability is part of a collective awareness within civil society, business and politics, which strives to respond to these paradigm shifts and the resulting contradictory injunctions. How do we reconcile the need for immediacy, reinforced by the expansion of digitalisation, with the long-term reconstruction? How do we instil a shared value at the time of a new era marked by individualism?
These transformations profoundly modify the fundamental principles of our society and tend to define new balances, such as developing our business models towards a tripartite balance "People, Profit, Planet", or paying more attention to gender stereotypes.
Diversity and Inclusion are founding principles of a more sustainable business model, and even if they encompass several components, including that of gender equity, it is obvious that good intentions are not enough. The principle of reality still bears witness to this in France, with so few women in leadership positions.
The introduction of quotas at board level, and soon within management committees has surely started demonstrating its virtues. But doesn't strengthening a company's performance in the deployment of its "Sustainability" imply the development of a new, more balanced leadership model that upholds both feminine and masculine values? Wouldn't promoting women's values be an additional performance lever? Is it not time to design a woman leadership model, similarly to the way the men leadership model that has prevailed so far?
In the continuation of their first study conducted in 2020 on the definition of a "Sustainable Leader", TRANSEARCH Paris wondered about the feminine components of a new sustainable leadership, its assets to support the tall orders of Sustainability, the actions to be taken and the challenges to be met to promote sustainable parity.
Admitting Failure (And The Lessons It Provides) A Key Test Of Leadership Capacity
Beware the executive who can't describe their biggest business failures and who doesn't harbour some emotion about them, whether in the form of profound disappointment, frustration, regret or gratitude, perhaps.
While it may seem counterintuitive or selfishly counterproductive to any executive being interviewed for what could become their next management career opportunity, the collective insights of executive talent masters suggest getting the candidate to open up about their business missteps and what they learned from them - assuming they did - is a critical prerequisite for determining whether the individual is poised for success in a new leadership role.
Experience, is, after all, a great teacher. Imminent business decisions may summon the wisdom of smart manoeuvres that led to past glories, but they must also surface the lessons of poor judgments and outright flubs so they aren't repeated.
Executives unwilling or unable to detail at least one bad business decision during a recruitment interview actually relate volumes about their ego and lack of self-awareness, as do those who find themselves likewise challenged by an inability to spread the praise for excellent outcomes widely.
Of course, the real challenge of failure as set against today's contemporary business pressures is not only to learn from it but also to avoid the loss of energy and confident contemplation that can impinge on sensible decision-making.
In some sense, the lessons of failure are most instructive if leaders retain them in their collective memories, but also forget them just long enough so they don't become obstacles to personal and organisational growth.
Whether you're starting a venture from the ground up or pivoting to something new, the quality of the people driving that momentum will define its success. In an area as new and nuanced as Psychedelic Medicine, getting to the right leadership team needs to be a priority.
The right talent in the exciting and competitive space of Psychedelic Medicine will mark the difference between those ventures that struggle to survive and those that thrive.
Agility and its companion, learning, represent a journey, not a destination: a journey covering three Territories, (T1 - instruction, T2 - exploration, T3 - play); a journey dependent upon the right leadership; a journey punctuated by inherent discontinuity.
The three scenarios portray how learning unfolds in virtually every walk of life. Much as one might peel an onion, beneath agility and learning lies individual and, by implication, the team's mindset: how each of us interprets the world - the mental model we access to define reality. Our assumptions about work and organisational success frame our behaviour.
To survive in the white-water we have entered demands culture savvy and, above all else, an ability to quickly appraise and respond to the ever-changing world around us. The new reality? Personal survival is ultimately about how resilient and agile we are as a leader. And resilience isn't simply about "bouncing back." It means coming out of a world shaking event like COVID-19 even stronger.
The journey from T1 to T2 and then on to T3 is not for every organisation. Those operating within a commodity-type market, where the value proposition is exclusively drawn out of the price of the product or service, often decide that a T1 organisation is an appropriate fit with a business model built around being the low-cost producer. Managing a group of young software engineers on another continent and a T1 approach may be the way to go. Operating a mine in a developing country where the work population is poorly educated and/or where they lack a common language, then T1 may well be a sound decision.
This does not mean that all T1 businesses eschew empowerment and employee involvement. Through an ethos of continuous improvement and employee development (instruction), a number of leaders have pushed the T1 model to the very edge of what is possible ("enlightened" T1). The dilemma being, because such organisations are very slow to change they are ponderous competitively. The very antithesis of agility.
The process organisation and beyond
A good many organisations (e.g., Toyota, 3M, Google) have evolved, what can best be described as, a "parallel structure" - organisation forms where, although the day-to-day work gives little opportunity for initiative (T1), time is set aside to allow front-line teams to redesign the business process that contains the work being undertaken (T2), and/or are given the opportunity to help create tomorrow's product/service (T2/T3).
Other business sectors have little choice but to move to an organisation form dominated by T2 and beyond. Here we start to find a far more engaged and fully contributing employee. Teams who, as the culture moves into T3, start to self-organise. Organisations that embrace innovation and reinvention as an extension of the freedom to act that a T2 or T3 culture affords. Businesses where the design of the organisation (structure) mirrors, given the choice, how people would choose to work together.
Customers vote with their feet
The ultimate arbiter of organisational effectiveness is the marketplace. Where the value proposition is based on a compelling customer experience, where the business model means the product or service must be continuously reinvented, or where access to intellectual capital defines market success, a T1 way of working will not deliver the level of innovation, organisational agility, or speed of responsiveness needed. Artificial Intelligence/robotics will change this assumption in the future but, as a simple economic reality, T1 work, everything else being equal, sooner or later migrates offshore to a low-wage economy.
Not so fast! The need to be close to the market, tax advantages, security, transportation costs, and a host of other reasons often mitigate against moving offshore. The T1 organisation isn't a throwback. It isn't obsolete. Indeed, even in advanced economies, in more than a few business sectors, it is still the dominant form - and from our own work with clients, far more prevalent than you might think. Microsoft, Apple, and Google get all the publicity but, in truth, they are outliers.
The journey being described (T1 to T2 and, where needed, to T3) is not a journey every organisation will want to embark on, and it is equally not a rite of passage that all leaders are capable of charting.
There is no substitute for inspirational leadership, someone who:
Takes people where they otherwise would not go;
Employs the head, empowers the hand, engages the heart and enriches the spirit;
Builds a great team;
Creates tomorrow in the room today;
Is skilled in orchestrating "change".
To those core attributes add resilience, digital savvy, coaching mastery and all that is implied by the word 'focus'.
Here the waters are somewhat muddied by a past body of work defined as "change management". Its origins lie in a time before digitalisation, before ongoing disruption, before today's blazing speed of change and before the need to continuously reinvent possibility. Still an overriding theme in many organisations and, no doubt, invaluable in the past, it is a body of work that needs to be revisited.
Push technology aside today at your peril. That is not to suggest - as many appear to do - that digitalisation/technology/AI, etc., are, on their own, a source of lasting competitive advantage. Culture is a dynamic system and technology an integral part of that system. Culture is the stage - technology one of the lead players. And sitting in the audience? The ever-vigilant customer.
The resilient nature of culture is that it is essentially a series of deeply enshrined habits. And changing a habit doesn't happen overnight. Culture will thus, especially in the short term, always have primacy. For that reason, launching new technology into a culture that doesn't fully support it is a pretty good way to destroy value. For example, although AI has the potential to move the business to a whole new level, implementation is lagging expectations.
In introducing breakthrough technology, organisations need to similarly start with a rich and compelling 'why'. For an intervention that will, literally and irrevocably, change their lives - higher productivity, faster response times and/or a greater understanding of who buys the company's product and/or service are, on their own, a tough sell to the typical employee. Motivation without meaning is change without commitment.
And what does a great 'why' sound like? A group of young executives in a bionics company were asked why they do what they do. They answered, "To make the wheelchair redundant". Where do I sign up?
None of this takes anything away from the value of a holistic template (model) - one that captures how all of the various elements of change come together. Indeed, the further you venture into the upper levels of management, the greater the degree to which learning how to learn comes to the fore. Provide that map but recognise that leaders must lead. Acknowledge that leaders, real leaders, do lead!
Leadership is evolving to tackle the complex challenge of implementing an environmental and societal transition from a "People / Profit" model to a "Planet / People / Profit" model.
A recent study by TRANSEARCH International Paris, based on interviewee testimony and the analysis of "leadership competencies" from TRANSEARCH International's proprietary tool, reveals the core leadership skills of a Sustainable Leader.
"Leadership: Moving Beyond The Crisis" is a complementary book series, specifically aimed at enhancing how leaders respond to times of crisis.
The books cover concepts such as how to come out of this crisis stronger, culture, leadership agility and learning, what makes great teams. Also included are essential skills to enable us to start having conversations about moving forward while taking appropriate actions.
Part One, Coming Down the Mountain, looks at how to come out of this crisis stronger:
The Three Stages of Crisis
Letting Go of Our Past
Following a Script From a Different Century
The New Normal
Coming Down the Mountain
Why Culture Matters
Appendix one: 3 X 3: Crisis, Culture and Change
Mindset Assessment: Will You come Out of This Crisis Stronger?
The Culture Conversation
Recognising, as we move forward, how important organisation culture is, Part Two outlines the Culture Conversation:
The Culture Carriers
Look, Listen, Learn
The Building Blocks
Culture Is A System
Is the Organisation Managing Its Culture?
What Makes the Business Special?
One Culture or Many?
Strategy Versus Culture
A Team of Teams
Without Leadership You Ain't Got Much
The Orxestra Change Model
Leadership, Learning and Agility: The Way Of The Dolphin
Part Three explores the need for leadership agility and what that implies: Leadership Agility and Learning - The Way of the Dolphin:
Agility is a Way to Think
Bass and the Shark
Agility and Speed of Learning
The Way of the Dolphin
Assessment: How Good a Coach Are You?
Great Organisations Are Built Around Great Teams
Drawing on the reality that tomorrow's organisation will be a team of teams, Part Four examines what it means to be an outstanding team - Great Organisations Are Built Around Great Teams:
Who We Were is Who We Are
It's All About Culture
Organisational Lessons from Nature
The Organisation of Tomorrow
Building a Great Team
When the Trees Get Bigger and the Forest Gets Deeper - It's Time To Sharpen Your Saw
Part Five moves beyond leadership as a philosophy and drills down into essential skills - When the Trees Get Bigger and the Forest Gets Deeper, It's Time to Sharpen Your Saw:
Are You The Leader They Need?
Assessing Your Organisation's Leadership Balance
If Ever There Was a Time to Listen - It’s Now
The Listening Tree
To Lead Is To Care
50 Ways To Say You Care - In a Covid World
If You Are Not Living Your Own Story, You Are Living Someone Else's
Download your complementary copy of "Leadership: Moving Beyond The Crisis" from TRANSEARCH Downloads.
Tomorrow's Leaders Are Comfortable With Ambiguity
There are points in time when the more we know, the more we realise how little we know. We are in such a time. The future role of robotics/cobotics, the nature and design of tomorrow's corporation, the potential impact of medical breakthroughs and how tomorrow's technology, generally, is going to shape the endeavour – arguably, the most innovative creation our species has ever achieved – that we call "the organisation" remain, at best, "uncertain". If you think you "know", take an aspirin, lie down and hopefully the feeling will pass.
"Anticipation" is to identify that which can be expected. We don't really know what tomorrow holds other than … to expect the unexpected. Furthermore, the scope and nature of change that lies ahead isn't like passing through bad weather. It's akin to being engulfed by a hurricane that is merely a harbinger of the even bigger storm front that lies ahead.
"Comfort with ambiguity" is being comfortable with being uncomfortable. It's the art of not knowing but, when necessary, making the right decision anyway. It's far less about being right than it is doing the right things. It's about interpreting the organisation's values as a springboard for action and providing the freedom to move beyond what has been – not as a restrictive set of rules.
There is a well-established relationship between entrepreneurship and comfort with ambiguity. It's called risk. Recognising a great idea, relentless focus, a results-driven mentality and real-time awareness are the mark of the entrepreneur. As is avoiding, what Jeff Bezos calls, "day 2 stasis." Day 1 leaders keep the customer at the centre of everything they do, are quick to embrace meaningful trends, are paranoid about the bottom line and fail fast and move on. Most leaders see rejection as a setback. Entrepreneurs view it as just one more step on the road to success. Above all, successful entrepreneurs know how and when to say no. Corporate executives manage risk … entrepreneurs live it every day.
There is also an important team dimension to comfort with ambiguity. As a long-suffering child of the perceived need for rigid hierarchy, it has long been assumed that the team worked for the team leader. "Fast", "flat", "flexible", "focused" and "fertile" changes all that. Moving forward, the leader will work for the team. This implies a far subtler relationship; a bond where formal authority gives way to trust, mutual respect and the quest for authenticity. Instruction and "telling" were relatively straightforward. Followership rooted in influence moves the leader into far murkier waters. Not that there is much of a choice when technical know-how and customer insight are shared across the team. If you can't coach, you can't lead!
And the difference that makes a difference: Recognise that only those who can see what others cannot see … can do what others say cannot be done. Differentiate between those who deliver based on what is asked of them and those who show true initiative. Support the former … invest in the latter.
Tomorrow will be different. If it can be digitalised it will be digitalised. No matter what "protectionist" politicians may preach, globalisation isn't going to slow down any time soon. Tomorrow's competition will emanate from a city you have never heard of or business sector you rarely think of. And where organisational capability is widely held, "speed" becomes the basis of competitive advantage. Be bold or become irrelevant. Be tough-minded or tackle a new line of work. Be fast or be last.
In a steady state world, "bouncing back" is an apt way to describe resilience. Unfortunately, we don't live in a steady, consistent, unchanging world. Today's environment is marked by disorder, uncertainty and, where technology is involved, a pattern of change where each step is greater than the step that went before. What was frustrating is about to become even more so.
In any conversation around change, language isn't important … it's everything. With the scope and nature of change likely to become even more turbulent, resilience seen as a way to reinforce/retain the status quo isn't very helpful. Indeed, it's misleading. A more relevant approach presents resilience as adapting to the new state, reflecting on the experience and developing new ways to behave. It's a dynamic rather than a static process. It's about leading and learning … not absorbing and then acting as before.
Resilience means not only weathering the storm … but being strengthened by it. In assuming that resilience defines an individual's personal resources - as is invariably the case - we miss an important piece of the puzzle. Context matters and the right network, a support system and being around positive people make a difference. Tomorrow's successful leaders will surround themselves with people who are resilient.
Accepting the plasticity of the brain, we can learn to become more resilient. There is a link, for example, between resilience and the research on positive psychology. Conversely, for leaders who are overly anxious, risk-averse, trapped by yesterday's success, have difficulty facing adversity or are simply overwhelmed by life, resilience is spelt "resistance."
And the difference that makes a difference: Surround yourself with resilient people, provide an opportunity to assess personal resilience, make resilience a central plank in ongoing coaching and help high performers connect with and shape their own story. There is nothing more tragic than those not living their own story … because they are living someone else's.
John Ryan provides a very open, honest and personal insight into how 2020 has impacted our lives and redefined the way we work.
"When we look back on 2020, it's mostly going to feel like a bad memory. But I have to believe that the bright sides that we shape during this time will give us a good start in 2021. We’re shaping our next chapter, and I can't help but feel a little bit optimistic about our ability to deal with global problems and figure out a path forward."