Leading Through the New Business Complexity

Leading Through the New Business Complexity

Executives reading this are no doubt aware that the world is moving fast and is more chaotic, disrupted, and less predictable than ever. This feeling it isn’t your imagination. For example, in his book, Leaders Make the Future, Bob Johansen wrote:

 

“In my 40 years of forecasting the future, the direst forecasts yet are in this book.”

 

VUCA

Johansen claimed in 2008 that we are in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) business environment, likely for the foreseeable future.

With that in mind, here is a question for you. Is your company leadership equipped, built for scale, to meet the challenges of this new business world, or will you fall behind the established leaders in your industry?

This isn’t about company size; it’s about whether or not you are going to sit by and watch your competition learn to adapt, while new entrants disrupt and destroy the competition that refuses to accept the “new” change. Think about the many companies that have become market leaders, companies that weren’t in business 10 years ago, particularly those in the tech sector. It should make you wonder.

I have a client who describes himself as feeling like a duck. When you see him above the surface, he looks good, all in control and moving smoothly along. But just below the surface, if you could see it, his feet are paddling as fast as they can to maintain, attempting to increase his momentum and keeping with the VUCA business world.

Is your company leadership
equipped, built for scale, to meet the
challenges of this new business world?

The levels of disruptive change coming at each of us as executives is unprecedented and can only be expected to grow more disruptive. We’re essentially all ducks.  Paddle as we might, as leaders we all must learn to navigate what appears to be a permanently volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world. As an executive, it really isn’t enough any longer to simply cope with this volatility and unpredictability in our world. Today we all have to learn a new level of leadership literacy, agility, and mastery. You and I as executives are either going to rise to meet the challenge or drown. This is what “normal” has become.

As an executive, it really isn’t enough
any longer to simply cope
with this volatility
and unpredictability in our world.

What kind of challenges are you and your leadership team facing? Do they that make it necessary to reinvent your business to survive in this “brave new world”? It is the challenge of leading despite—and because of—actually through the complexity of the new business “environment.” Forget the paddling; complexity can be paralyzing. It can make you feel out of your league altogether. Just like my friend who compares himself to a duck.

The Study

If that describes you, you aren’t alone. A 2010 IBM study revealed that CEOs were constantly struggling with themes of complexity and the challenges associated with that escalation. Also addressed was how do you, as an executive, develop the creative capacity in your organization. How do you “reinvent” your business while the market regularly evolves constantly. One thing I noticed, as an executive coach, was that on the very first page they described a surprising number of CEOs talking about feeling in over their heads.

None of this is going to change any time soon. This is the world that we live in.  We are going to be hit on a more regular basis with what Bob Anderson, founder and CEO of the Leadership Circle calls “waves of adaptive challenge.” In this case, “adaptive challenge” is defined loosely as a set of problems and dilemmas that seemingly can’t be solved, but must be solved. With an adaptive challenge, the problem is that for one, you don’t know you are facing one when you are, and second, your challenge can’t be solved within your current operating system.

You are literally faced with what Einstein talked about years ago when he said:

 

“The solutions to our current problems cannot be found from the level of consciousness that created them.”

 

Adaptive Challenge

This is particularly true of adaptive challenges because an adaptive challenge is a pressure that is causing us to have to evolve, and at an ever-accelerating rate.

Adaptive challenge puts us face to face with what has been described as “the leadership imperative.” That is, how do we evolve the effectiveness of leadership at the current pace of change, and at the pace of escalating business complexity? In other words, how do we develop the complexity of mind of a leader to match, or exceed the complexity of the business environment we are facing?

“Adaptive challenge puts
us face to face with what has
been described
as “the leadership imperative.”

Evolving Leadership

If the problems you are facing are more complex than you are, then you’re more than likely in over your head and feeling outmatched. But if you can evolve your own leadership complexity, your own internal operating system to be equally, or more, complex than the problem, and you can successfully lead your company through it to meet the competition head on. And isn’t leading what they pay us for?

So, if you are struggling with the question of how do you develop leadership complexity—the complexity of the mind of the executive—then look for the next blog that will focus on how leadership competencies correlate with stages of development.