Leadership in Times of Instability
This week’s article is by Greg Moran, a C-level digital, strategy and change leadership executive with extensive global operations experience. It is a companion to his interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled Adapting Your Leadership Skills for Uncertainty that aired on Tuesday, May 3rd, 2022.
It’s always fun to start a blog by stating the obvious. We live in uncertain times. While this is always true, the number of variables on the move and the amplitude of that change can vary a lot and when there is enough change going on, the situation can become unstable. Instability has an insidious way of leading to more instability, unless action is taken to re-stabilize the situation, or at least your place in it.
So why state the obvious? The context for the associated podcast was specifically looking at the role of leadership in times of instability. What changes and what does not change? The answers can appear counter-intuitive, but are essential and become more so as the volatility increases.
To begin, I’m reminded of a native American teaching story (hard to prove, but fits my narrative well) that I first heard from David Whyte. The premise of the story is to teach a young person what to do when they are lost in the forest. The story opens thus: “Stand still. The trees ahead and the bushes beside you are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here, and you must treat it as a powerful stranger…”. The story goes on to provide guidance as to how to recognize what is around you so that you can orient yourself and finishes with the following wonderful declarative: “The forest knows where you are. You must let it find you.”
The essence of our conversation was how to lead in high change environments. While there is more to the story, we focused in on a couple of key elements:
- Despite the pressure on your schedule as a leader, tumultuous times require an increased level of empathy for your team. I believe that to lead effectively, you have to sincerely love and wish to serve those you lead. They need your comfort, coaching and care when times are rough.
- When the going gets tough, the temptation is to abandon discipline and act fast/go with your gut. While that may need to happen in extreme situations (think crisis), it rarely serves well when you are facing adversity (not a crisis). Rely on thoughtful tools that help you make great decisions and be more disciplined than ever – measure twice and cut once.
- Rely on the principles of strategy and leadership that you already ascribe to. Rules of strategy are way more like physics than most people like to admit. As Porter outlines in his seminal piece “What is Strategy?”, multiple strategies can work, but you can’t mix and match them or you get mush.
- Pay attention to team dynamics – how you work together is more critical than ever in bumpy times. Maximize team function vs. taking a scarcity mentality and trying to prove others wrong.
- Make small adjustments frequently. When the game is changing fast, you need to adjust how you are playing the game much more frequently than you would otherwise. Perhaps a weekly cadence makes more sense than a monthly one.
The underlying assumption of this conversation is that the fundamental tenets of leadership do not change, but the mindset and practices of leadership may need to change to better meet the moment. This adaptation of technique doesn’t have to, nor should it, replace the principles that you’ve built your leadership identity around. What you must do to be effective will necessary change with the zeitgeist. There are many examples of this that we walk through in our dialogue, so if this topic piques your interest, take a listen!
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Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible, iHeartRADIO, and NPR One. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.
About the Author
Greg Moran is a C-level digital, strategy and change leadership executive with extensive global operations experience. He led corporate strategy for Ford and designed the plan that Alan Mullaly used to turn around the company. Greg held C-level IT positions in app dev, infrastructure and core banking applications at Ford, Nationwide Insurance and Bank One/JPMC, respectively. He began his career in consulting with Arthur Andersen Accenture, working across industries with 100 companies over the course of a decade. He is passionate about leadership and culture and teaches part-time on the topic at Ohio University.
Photo by Zach Lezniewicz on Unsplash