Leading into and through Disruption

by Brian Brittain on February 5, 2018


Brian Brittain Consulting DisruptionThe pace of change is accelerating, and Digital Transformation (big data, internet of things, AI, etc.) is the primary engine accelerating this pace in businesses and organizations.

More and more of us are becoming, or are already overwhelmed by a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) reality and finding it increasingly difficult or impossible to assimilate these forces and respond appropriately to them. The digital technology changes impacting business and organizational work environments are one of these major disruptors.

While the fundamentals of good leadership remain mostly unchanged, this digital transformation means that a change of emphasis is required in the role of leaders going forward. Organizational leaders should feel responsible in their role to help their people “absorb” and respond appropriately to disruptive change in a productive manner.

Because of the pace of change being brought on by digital transformation, members of the workforce will need to have increased agility, while remaining well-grounded in who they are and what they need to do. Increased agility will require being socially vigilant in sensing the new signals impacting their world. Once these signals are perceived, there is a requirement to courageously call them out, so they can be collectively addressed and responded to in an agile manner. Turning a disruption into an opportunity, through high quality conversations leading to effective alternative strategies and actions, is a huge competitive advantage for future success and sustainability.

An important role of senior leadership is to design and lead effective teams, groups, and organizations that will support these alternative strategies and actions. Individuals need to feel they belong to and identify with those defined communities, because as individuals we are all in over our heads in a VUCA world, and all of us are smarter than any of us.
Senior leaders need to focus their efforts on two critical strategies:.

1. Build high trust communities (culture, teams) that nurture bonds of trust between managers, subordinates, and co-workers across functional walls. In this environment, workers are enabled and accountable for their own personal development applied to their drive to continuously improve their ability to navigate quickly and effectively through disruptive change. High trust communities enable high quality conversations that respect deep listening but are also direct, candid, and lead to innovative outcomes. These communities need to be of a size that allow to feel a sense of belonging. This is a critical counter-force to globalization which has done wonderful things for trade, but has dislocated many people from their identities and “tribes”. As more and more people feel lost, dislocated, alone, lacking meaning, senior leaders need to provide a safe productive place for people to identify with and appropriately express their personal agency through creative ideas, as well as express their care and respect for each other.

2. Provide a learning culture and platform that allows workers to develop their personal resilience in the face of increasing disruption, and see disruption as an opportunity and not just a threat. This is where vertical development plays a huge role. While horizontal development, or adding new skills and tools to the toolbox, is important, vertical development goes beyond – helping employees look at their mindset (the toolbox itself) and see if it needs to be upgraded to better adapt to work life as it is today.

Leaders need to personally address the lens they use to make meaning, and then help their employees look at the lens they interpret reality through. To do this there is a need to address the outdated and distorted stories (that form habits, beliefs, assumptions), discard them, and rewrite more useful inner narratives, that help build our own resilience and absorptive capacities to be agile and productive in the face of disruptive change.

We all need to know where we belong, who we are, and what is expected of us. Once that sense of identity is in place, then we need to understand disruption as a part of life, and it can be what makes us feel alive. Disruption, rather than to be feared and avoided, can be the impetus for self-reflection and assessment, leading to personal and organizational development. Senior leaders need to design and create the conditions for these attitudes and behaviours to thrive in.

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