There are common causes of leaders failing under pressure. Typically it is poor self-awareness, often coupled with vanity or ego. It most often occurs in leaders who believe they know better and don’t seek advice, let alone act upon it. You will have seen it in narcissistic and psychopathic leaders who fall back on expediency when under pressure.
Unfortunately, expediency is rarely the most effective solution. What is needed is sustaining your credibility as a leader, especially in difficult times. Your credibility is pivotal to better engaging with your staff and customers. To better communication with those you engage with and to a better understanding of that communication and subsequent action. One clear action that signals your credibility is how you spend your time.
Another action is how ethically and authentically you behave. Do you live the values you espouse? Are you kindly, accepting, and available to those around you? Do your decisions stand up to critical scrutiny and demonstrate resilience, despite difficulties encountered? How do you deal with disappointment? Do you get back up and start anew? Do you set high expectations for yourself and others?
These things and more add up to being a more credible, more adaptive leader. It is what is required today, where the biggest challenge for leaders is managing change in complex systems.
Reflecting on complexity, I was interested to read that Dr Douglas Board, senior visiting fellow, Cass Business School commented in 2014 that “ research points us to focus more on leadership as a complex social, political and intuitive process.” I believe this to be the case. It is more likely the greater the complexity develops. The past ten years has seen the growth of volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous working environments and the likelihood is that this will continue much longer.
So, how is a leader to maintain their credibility, while at the same time become more adaptive? An answer lies in continuously learning from the challenging circumstances you encounter. While this might sound like common sense, it is remarkable in my experience how often leaders underestimate the value of challenging contexts.
To deal with them effectively, you should be prepared to abandon old skills, knowledge, and behaviours that no longer suit the modern environment. Adopting a more adaptive approach is the key to thriving in challenging circumstances.
Central to that adaptive approach is how well you learn and how agile your learning is. Recognising core beliefs and practices that are not supporting you in new environments is the starting point. For example, it is no longer sufficient to be focused just on results. You need to be looking for new trends and patterns, spotting emerging opportunities, and challenging your assumptions and testing their validity.
How do you do this? As a leader, you have to be an active learner. You should be open to new opportunities. You should demonstrate unfettered curiosity. You have to be willing to reflect and engage in this consistently and regularly. Most of all, you must have the desire to change.
I firmly believe that to thrive as a leader in our modern environment being adaptive is key. Learning to adapt is pivotal and developing more active and effective learning will help you immensely.
What do you think? Are you an agile learner and leader? What else might you do to lead in complex situations?