The military coined the acronym VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) a number of years ago, to describe an increasingly unpredictable landscape both globally and locally.
Margaret Heffernan draws upon tales from the military to illustrate her talk, as well as corporate organisations. She describes efforts at Sandhust, for example, to develop new skills ‘give people time to learn and to make mistakes’, and to understand how to unlock talent.
The key message is that the future has become impossible to predict and that therefore organisations need to be more innovative and responsive. They need people to notice what is happening, and to be prepared to act. This can be difficult in an organisation burdened by hierarchies and bureaucracies.
How does leadership need to develop in response to this need?
Whist we might crave the superhero leader who can swoop in and save us, the reality is that problems have become too big even for Superman. New tools and mindsets are needed.
Creativity and innovation requires a culture of safety. It must be ok to make mistakes. Leaders need to create the environment in which everyone can flourish – Margaret Heffernan describes it as gardening. Less caped crusader, more Monty Don.
Build trust - Stephen Covey describes how individuals and organizations that have earned and operate with high trust can experience a "dividend" that is like a performance multiplier, enabling them to succeed in their communications, and decisions, and to move with incredible speed. A recent Watson Wyatt study showed that high trust companies outperform low trust companies by nearly 300%!
Foster collaboration between teams and individuals – complex challenges are rarely solved by solitary individuals but critical thinking in groups is a sophisticated process, supported by a willingness to work together. Kathleen Hogan is working to replace the competitive culture at Microsoft with a more collaboration environment and drawing on the work of Carol Dweck (Growth Mindset) – a culture of learning and development.
Steve Jobs, with a stellar list of achievements to his name, was most proud of the teams he created.
What goes around comes around! Brathay has been supporting groups of people to build trusting , collaborative relationships for nearly sixty years. These are not new ideas, perhaps what is new is the scale of the challenges we face in our organisations and societies, and this BBC programme underlines the need for leaders to recognise this and adapt their leadership to develop to create solutions to these challenges.