Learning to lead through adaptive challenges

fractal-757816_1280I am listening to my group of participants as they share their updates on their leadership projects. Their projects are scoped from the challenges that their teams and organisations are facing.

Leadership skills cannot be tested out in the classroom. It must be developed, practised and honed in real life, real time situations.

There is no one way or right way of exercising leadership so it is important that those participating in leadership development programmes are exposed to a range of styles, concepts, frameworks… equipping them with a toolkit and the flexibility to use the most appropriate to the context and audience.

The group is made up of leaders from healthcare organisations and intentionally diverse, ranging from medicine to finance. Why intentionally? It enables the group to gain breadth and depth of insight and perspectives across the whole organisation and functions. This promotes appreciation of each other roles and challenges and encourages cross fertilisation, collaboration and building of networks and relationships…

As they talk, a common theme is emerging….redundancy, reorganisation, restructuring, disbanding of teams and departments, formation of new teams…it’s messy, chaotic, uncertain, ambiguous, complex, fast paced …..

This is not exclusive to healthcare, most of you will recognise the VUCA world in which we now work.

By the time the last person shared his update, I can sense the energy in the room slowly dissipating. The stress and the frustration of working in such environments have seeped into the room.

How do you lead effectively in this environment? Where change is the norm, where the challenges are complex and woven into other departments, organisations and sectors? The stakeholders are diverse and the environment is constantly shifting. There are no easy answers or a clear pathway to a solution.

 Some of the ‘hows’ that emerged include:  

Being objective by gathering evidence and data on what is happening. Taking note of the patterns, nuances and interrelationships that exist

Recognising that by exploring new ways of working/ practices/ possibilities, the message given is that what is current, is ineffective and / or not working

Acknowledging that this will have an adverse impact on those who have worked and invested in what is current

The above means honouring and paying attention to what is good in the current situation

This requires understanding of other peoples’ perspectives and giving them a voice

It means putting forward your evidence for change and listening to their concerns and reservations

This requires being sensitive to people’s feelings and emotions and dealing with the tensions that arise

Building trust, influence, relationships and consensus, enabling staff to commit and take shared responsibility for the process and outcome

It is becoming clear that leadership is not about one person telling others what to do. It is a process that takes places across a network of people who are aligned and committed to a new direction/ practice/way of working….

It’s not about having one style but a set of styles in your tool kit which you can flex depending on who you are speaking with and the context.

As they discuss how they are developing and its impact, the energy seeps back into the room. There is hope that these challenges can be tackled; there is inspiration from listening to each others’ stories; there is a realisation that they can make a difference and a dawning that they they are changing. Some of these include:

Having their assumptions and beliefs challenged with a resulting shift in attitudes and behaviours

Developing their own internal compass and using this as a guide

– Being much more emotionally aware and sensitive with their staff

Getting comfortable being uncomfortable with uncertainty and complexity

Appreciating that experimenting allows you to test things out and if it doesn’t work, you can try again

The power of pausing, stepping back, seeing the bigger picture, the interconnections and reflecting

–  Receiving positive feedback on their behaviours

We are nearly halfway through the course and I can see subtle changes in how they how they speak, their renewed passion for what they do, the desire to improve their workplace, to be seen as an effective leader…

The foundations have been built, the real work now starts….

Image via Pixabay


About verawoodhead

I'm an executive coach, leadership facilitator and learning & development consultant working with managers and leaders to develop the skills and behaviours to inspire performance and drive results; achieve promotion ; make successful career changes, be resilient and thrive at work. Within organisations, I help to facilitate better conversations, design learning interventions which deliver practical and lasting solutions aligned to business strategy and goals. Connect with me on Twitter @verawoodhead
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