The well-worn roads to success have all but disappeared

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Have you ever considered how much of the typical approaches to leadership and management rely on predicting the future?

These approaches are a hangover from localised and stable markets, industry protections and large, often government owned monopolies. This all reinforced a belief in the stability and order of things. Next year’s journey was pretty-much the same as last years; and so we got out our map, made plans and set up systems to steadily track progress towards our targets.

Sure, there were a few diversions, competitor incursions and bumps along the way; but not much we couldn’t either predict or work around using our experience from past journeys. Over time the management philosophy and approach shifted towards efficiency and control, to creating five-year plans and budgets and structured program management systems. We became settlers not pioneers and we might have come to believe that this was the only approach.

This all worked pretty well…well, up until recently…

We’ve all become more interconnected in an increasingly dynamic and unpredictable world (aka VUCA). The need to change and adapt is now continuous and accelerating. Further, just as the path to enormous financial growth and HBR fame can be rapid; the slide into financial or moral bankruptcy can be just as quick.

The more complex and dynamic the environments that we operate in, then the less reliably we can predict the (outcome) future. Clearly articulated visions, pithy value statements, audacious goals and meticulous plans aren’t enough when an international downturn hits, a new app takes out 25% of our market or an incident goes viral and damages our brand …

Traditional and vertical development process

In increasingly complex environments we need to confront the reality that what worked spectacularly well last year might be exactly the wrong approach this year and further that motivating and engaging the team to blindly follow the plan may just get us there quicker.

It might seem a paradox but the more complex our environment then the more we need to manage the present reality - relying on past success or betting the farm on one improbable future is no longer enough.

This shift in focus also means that the cultures we promote and the way we develop our people to lead into uncertainty is due for an upgrade.

Traditional executive development and coaching programs focus on changing styles and behaviours. They don’t improve the quality of thinking and are best suited for static environments. Have a look around; behavioural approaches also underpin most change management, culture change, business improvement and employee engagement efforts!

We’ve all been busy teaching people how to behave and not supporting them to think, learn and collaborate in more sophisticated ways.

Just a few signs that your organisation could benefit from including a vertical development approach include:

  • The rate of responsiveness is too slow to meet the changing external Tenvironment
  • There is a tendency to oversimplify and issues (symptoms) reoccur
  • Important perspectives aren’t considered when decisions are made
  • Leaders are spectators and are surprised (offer excuses?) when plans don’t work
  • Once you develop a plan, you only talk about actions and due dates
  • There is a flavour of the month, silver bullet approach to improvement

The environments that we operate in today require a more pioneering approach, where teams actively sense, respond and learn their way to success. This is far deeper than running design thinking workshops or extolling the virtues of a growth mindset. We need a complete rethink of how we define the work of leaders and how we develop these leaders.

It all starts with the quality of our thinking. Vertical Development approaches identify and specifically build the skills that lift the capability to think in more sophisticated ways. The result is individuals and teams who can sense, respond and lead in a VUCA world.

If it’s time to rethink your approach to leadership development, culture change and coaching, we’d love to chat.

Talk to our team today

Brendan Smith