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Supporting leaders in turbulent times

Penny de Valk (CEO of the Institute of Leadership & Management) summed things up at a recent conference when she said ‘Leadership today is about thriving in ambiguity’. 

The rate at which organisations are currently changing or being required to change is astonishing.  Driving forces include the impact of global events on national and local business, the fragmentation of organisational structures, and the revolution in communications.  These all require businesses to redefine their definition of success and evolve to operate in new and complex ways. 

Such significant change brings uncertainty and the need for even greater leadership.  So how can leaders be developed and supported through the challenges that such turbulent times bring?

Two important aspects must be addressed:

The first is attitudinal and involves helping leaders cope with the ‘fog’ that surrounds them and their organisation.  Such ‘fog’ requires leaders to be able survive (if not thrive) with considerable uncertainty and ambiguity.  Developing a mindset of collaborative working, of managing complexity, and coping with rather than necessarily solving problems is vital.  Only then will leaders be able to drive themselves and their teams forward.  Suitable development could include carefully crafted business simulations that recreate the challenges of dealing with complexity and help them become more comfortable with there being no clear rights or wrongs.   

The second is making sure leaders recognise the need to instil trust in people around them; trust is enabling (it reduces anxiety), motivating, and productive.  An annual survey by the ILM and Management Today revealed that being trustworthy is a subtle combination of being principled, honest, competent, and importantly, treating people equally.  Furthermore, the better you know your line manager, the more likely you are to trust them; relationship building is key.  Helping leaders become even more emotionally intelligent is a priority.   

The conclusion that must be drawn is that despite economic pressures, organisations need to make sure they are continuing to develop their leaders and, more importantly, developing them in the right way.