Leaders fit for the Future.

Leaders fit for the Future.

Lee Waller, Viki Culpin, Sona Sharratt, Paula Bradbury

The path from a successful functional role to organizational leadership is well trodden and well known. In recent years though, navigating this path has begun to require an increasingly sophisticated set of skills, as the environment in which leaders lead has become significantly more complex and fluid. With the coming era of AI – when interaction between humans and machines will be critical, the skillsets leaders require will become more sophisticated still.

The generation of leaders whose skills and outlook were honed in the pre-digital, pre-globalization age, were operating in a relatively stable environment. Computer power and the internet had made life easier, but technology had not yet brought the market and societal disruptions heralded by the tech pioneers of the early 2000s and heightened during the past decade.  

Our recent research, culminating in our report Learning to Lead in the 21st Centuryfocuses on the capabilities and skills, and the forward-looking mindset, that today’s leaders need to succeed in a world characterized by rapid technological advance, globalization, changes in societal attitudes, and market disruption, not to mention economic and political volatility. It also considers the most effective means of developing those skills – which we will touch upon here.

What Today’s Leaders Wish They’d Known

528 executives, of diverse ages and experience were asked what cognitive, social, emotional and behavioural skills they wished they had gained ten years previously, that would have most increased their effectiveness as leaders now.

In order of prevalence, these were the top five capabilities perceived as important:

Relational SkillsLeading OthersEmotional IntelligenceTechnical SkillsConfidence

Participants also described critical incidents and events that had taught them valuable lessons. These were the top five mentioned:

ExperienceFailurePersonal DevelopmentTechnologyMajor Life Events

Participants also divulged that they didn’t know enough about, or didn’t possess enough of, the following:

Technical KnowledgeTraining & EducationUnderstanding of the OrganizationLeadership      SkillsCommunication &  Negotiation

These were the top five ways participants believed they might be able to develop their skills for the future:

Learning by DoingLearning through PeopleFormal LearningExtra-Curricular LearningA Growth Mindset

These were the five things participants thought most likely to derail career progression:

Lack of Knowledge & ExpertiseLow Emotional IntelligenceLack of ConfidenceNot Adapting to New Technology Poor   Communication   Skills

The Leadership Skills Needed Today

The participants point to a number of capabilities, essential for those now learning to lead, which they wish they had acquired ten years ago. Above all else they highlight the need for strong relational skills and the ability to communicate effectively in order to lead others. Acquisition of knowledge and expertise as well the development of greater emotional intelligence and confidence were key factors.

The ability to understand and adapt to new technology was a priority stressed by many. The importance of learning from failure and the value of feedback were also highlighted, both being seen as confidence-boosting (and confidence being something a great many participants wish they had had more of, earlier in their careers).

To operate effectively in a volatile, fast changing environment, two other key capabilities were suggested by the research. First, the need to have a ‘growth mindset’ – one that enjoys a challenge, seeks new opportunities and constantly seeks to learn. And secondly, the importance of ‘learning agility’ – which can be defined as curiosity and the ability to adapt well to change and new ideas. Both these capabilities, which rely heavily on learning from experience and from the evolving environment, are capabilities which embrace and welcome innovation and change, and are thus clearly essential for leadership success in the 21st Century.

Acquiring Skills and Learning to Lead

In our research we found that the development being offered needs to be tailored, both in terms of seniority and gender. Younger leaders and less senior leaders emphasised a need or preference for formal development, whereas older or more senior leaders emphasised on-the-job learning.

The 70:20:10 principle – the idea that development comes 70% from on-the-job experiences; 20% from feedback from colleagues and the boss; and 10% from formal training – may need rethinking. In today’s fast paced environment, where keeping up-to-speed with the latest knowledge, technologies, and expertise are key, formal development may have a greater role to play. For the younger participants, formal development came out as the top theme, with first line and middle managers reporting education and training as the most valuable factor supporting their career success.

L&D professionals should consider offering more formal development opportunities directed towards junior and middle level roles within organizations. Whereas to develop older and more senior leaders, emphasis should be placed on identifying experiential, on-the-job learning opportunities and coaching.

Gender differences were also present here, in terms of the skills participants considered important to future success. Perhaps counter-intuitively, female participants were more concerned about a lack of emotional intelligence while male leaders were most concerned about a lack of knowledge and expertise.

Conclusions

A number of lessons can be drawn from our research: the importance of relational skills to performance throughout a leadership career; the need for a growth mindset and learning agility; and the ever-present need to up-date knowledge, and adapt to new technology; the importance of experiential learning; and the need for formal development – perhaps more than is generally given.

Learning these lessons successfully relies of course on individual application – with the support of L&D professionals tailoring learning. Paramount even to that though, is organizational culture. An organization able to address these issues is one that encourages the development of agile learning and growth mindsets by developing a culture that fosters trust, respect and psychological safety, supports risk taking and entrepreneurial behavior, and emphasizes continuous learning.

Playing the infinite game.

Playing the infinite game.

From Simon Sinek’s “The infinite game”.

If there are at least two players, a game exists. And there are two kinds of games: finite games and infinite games.

Finite games are played by known players. They have fixed rules. And there is an agreed-upon objective that, when reached, ends the game. Football, for example, is a finite game.

Infinite games, in contrast, are played by known and unknown players. There are no exact or agreed-upon rules. Though there may be conventions or laws that govern how the players conduct themselves, within those broad boundaries, the players can operate however they want. And if they choose to break with convention, they can. The manner in which each player chooses to play is entirely up to them. And they can change how they play the game at any time, for any reason.

Infinite games have infinite time horizons. And because there is no finish line, no practical end to the game, there is no such thing as “winning” an infinite game. In an infinite game, the primary objective is to keep playing, to perpetuate the game.

If we listen to the language of so many of our leaders today, it’s as if they don’t know the game in which they are playing.

My understanding of these two types of games comes from the master himself, Professor James P. Carse, who penned a little treatise called Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility in 1986. The more I looked at our world through Carse’s lens of finite and infinite games, the more I started to see infinite games all around us, games with no finish lines and no winners. There is no such thing as coming in first in marriage or friendship, for example. We can beat out other candidates for a job or promotion, but no one is ever crowned the winner of careers. Though nations may compete on a global scale with other nations for land, influence, or economic advantage, there is no such thing as winning global politics. No matter how successful we are in life, when we die, none of us will be declared the winner of life. And there is certainly no such thing as winning business. All of these things are journeys, not events.

However, if we listen to the language of so many of our leaders today, it’s as if they don’t know the game in which they are playing. They talk constantly about “winning.” They obsess about “beating their competition.” They announce to the world that they are “the best.” They state that their vision is to “be number one.” Except that in games without finish lines, all of these things are impossible.

When we lead with a finite mindset in an infinite game, it leads to all kinds of problems, the most common of which includes the decline of trust, cooperation, and innovation. Leading with an infinite mindset in an infinite game, in contrast, really does move us in a better direction.

The game of business fits the very definition of an infinite game. We may not know all the other players, and new ones can join the game at any time. All the players determine their own strategies and tactics, and there is no set of fixed rules to which everyone has agreed, other than the law (and even that can vary from country to country). Unlike a finite game, there is no predetermined beginning, middle, or end to business. Although many of us agree to certain time frames for evaluating our own performance relative to that of other players — the financial year, for example — those time frames represent markers within the course of the game; none marks the end of the game itself. The game of business has no finish line.

In a finite game, the game ends when its time is up and the players live on to play another day (unless it was a duel, of course). In an infinite game, it’s the opposite. It is the game that lives on, and it is the players whose time runs out. Because there is no such thing as winning or losing in an infinite game, the players simply drop out of the game when they run out of the will and resources to keep playing. In business, we call this bankruptcy or sometimes merger or acquisition. Which means that to succeed in the infinite game of business, we have to stop thinking about who wins or who’s the best and start thinking about how to build organizations that are strong enough and healthy enough to stay in the game for many generations to come. The benefits of which, ironically, often make companies stronger in the near-term as well.

Victorinox, the Swiss company that made the Swiss Army knife famous, saw its business dramatically affected by the events of September 11, 2001. In an instant, the ubiquitous corporate promotional item and standard gift for retirements, birthdays, and graduations was banned from our hand luggage. Whereas most companies would take a defensive posture — fixating on the blow to their traditional model and how much it was going to cost them — Victorinox took the offense. They embraced the surprise as an opportunity rather than a threat — a characteristic move of an infinite-minded player. Rather than employing extreme cost cutting and laying off their workforce, the leaders of Victorinox came up with innovative ways to save jobs (they made no layoffs at all), increased investment in new product development, and inspired their people to imagine how they could leverage the brand into new markets.

In good times, Victorinox built up reserves of cash, knowing that, at some point, there would be more difficult times. As CEO Carl Elsener says, “When you look at the history of world economics, it was always like this. Always! And in the future, it will always be like this. It will never go only up. It will never go only down. It will go up and down and up and down… We do not think in quarters. We think in generations.” This kind of infinite thinking put Victorinox in a position where it was both philosophically and financially ready to face what for another company might have been a fatal crisis. And the result was astonishing. Victorinox is now a different and even stronger company than it was before September 11. Knives used to account for 95% of the company’s total sales. (Swiss Army knives alone accounted for 80%.) Today, Swiss Army knives account for only 35% of total revenue, but sales of travel gear, watches, and fragrances have helped Victorinox nearly double its revenues compared to the days before September 11. Victorinox is not a stable company—it is a resilient one.

In the infinite game, the true value of an organization cannot be measured by the success it has achieved based on a set of arbitrary metrics over arbitrary time frames. The true value of an organization is measured by the desire others have to contribute to that organization’s ability to keep succeeding, not just during the time they are there, but well beyond their own tenure. While a finite-minded leader works to get something from their employees, customers, and shareholders in order to meet arbitrary metrics, the infinite-minded leader works to ensure that their employees, customers, and shareholders remain inspired to continue contributing with their effort, their wallets, and their investments.

Players with an infinite mindset want to leave their organizations in better shape than they found them. They play to keep playing. In business, that means building an organization that can survive its leaders.


From The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek, published by Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2019 by Sinek Partners, LLC.
How you sleep is how you live.

How you sleep is how you live.

Sarina, a high-level executive, recently left me an urgent voicemail message, “I am utterly exhausted and yet I wake up at 3 a.m. every night. My head starts spinning through my ‘to do’ list or the things I didn’t do well or the things I wish I had said. I try to go back to sleep but it’s a useless effort. I finally give up and get up, but it means another day of feeling tired. And I know I’m not doing my best work. Can mindful leadership training help?”

Sarina was suffering from what I call the 3 a.m. Wake-up Call from her brain. And she was asking if there was a way that mindful leadership training could “block the call.” Does this sound familiar to you? It certainly was something I struggled with for many years. No matter how hard I tried, I simply couldn’t make myself go back to sleep when my mind started racing. Little by little, my resiliency was lessening until it felt that I was using every bit of my energy just to make it through the day. I was always feeling tired. When I did manage a good night’s sleep, it was striking how much it changed my experience of the next day. I was not only more alert, I was more patient, clear and creative.

Learning to sleep well moved to the top of my list. I did not want to take sleeping pills. I needed a healthy, long-term solution. Thankfully, by this time I was deeply involved with the development of mindful leadership training, so I began to experiment with a simple practice each night. Little by little, I began to sleep more restfully and for longer periods of time. There are still times when that 3 a.m. call rings but I now know how to answer it in a healthy way.

If you are ready to sleep better, try these simple steps:

3 Mindful Steps to Better Sleep

1. Remove all smart phones, tablets and computers from your bedroom. They don’t belong there. Seeing an email or social media post just before bed, or knowing that distractions are only inches from your head, can fuel the busyness of your mind.

2. When you settle into bed, bring your attention to the feeling of your breath. Feel your breath stretching the muscles in your chest or belly, feel the release. This is not an invitation to think about your breath or control it. Just feel the sensations.

3. When your mind starts to get busy, bring your attention back to the sensations. Let the thought that pulled you away go for now and redirect your attention back to the gentle movements and sensations of your breath. It is important that you be patient with yourself. Redirecting your attention is simply part of the practice and it does not matter how often you need to redirect your attention. Just be intentional about letting the thinking go (for now). It is as if you are saying ‘not now’ to your thoughts and worries. Now is a time to sleep.

Be consistent with this practice, using it each night that your sleep is interrupted. It may take some time to train your mind in this way but the benefits for your health and happiness are worth it. Happy dreams!

Spur Innovation.

Spur Innovation.

Your business needs it, you ask employees for it, you incent them to deliver it, but in the end, do you really get it? I’m talking about innovation. When the Conference Board queried CEOs in 2018, it found that one of their most important concerns was “creating new business models to adapt to disruptive technologies.”

Unfortunately, many companies, even those with innovative histories, struggle to keep up with the torrid pace of change in their industries. This past fall, for instance, Starbucks, an organization widely regarded as nimble and forward-looking, announced a restructuring, with CEO Kevin Johnson emphasizing the need to “increase the velocity of innovation.” Established businesses have trouble innovating for many reasons, including siloed structures, fuzzy strategies, inadequate talent, and not enough funding. “Softer” factors also come into play, for example, a team or corporate culture that fails to give employees the time and space they need to think creatively.

How do effective leaders overcome these hurdles? I’ve spent the past decade studying creative bosses, such as filmmaker George Lucas, hedge fund guru Julian Robertson, and fashion magnate Ralph Lauren, who not only innovate but also create work environments in which everyone else does too. When I advise leaders on how to bring some of the same behavior into their organizations, I emphasize that it’s OK to start small. And one of the first tools I recommend is a group exercise I call the “change notebook.”

Here’s how it works: At your next team meeting, pull out a pad of paper, turn to an empty page, and divide it into three columns. Each one corresponds to a question relevant for innovation:

  1. “What is the existing practice/the recipe for success/the way we’ve always done it at our organization?” Jot your thoughts down in the left-hand column, including the key beliefs or assumptions underlying the practice. Then look critically at each of them and ask yourself if any are on the verge of becoming anachronistic or obsolete.
  2. “What market shifts, external forces, or technologies might threaten the elements of our operational status quo?” List these in the middle column.
  3. “What can we do about these impending disruptions you’ve uncovered?” For each one, use the right-hand column to note some preemptive action you could take. Sometimes you’ll want to tweak an existing practice to render it “disruption-proof.” Other times you’ll need to toss it out and start from scratch.

When a team at one of my client companies, a midsize insurer specializing in the automobile market, ran through this exercise, employees identified a number of operational “sacred cows” — practices like designing policy parameters based on past experience, selling to customers through independent agents, subcontracting with insurance adjusters to work with customers after an incident, and putting premiums into secure investment options. Threats to the business noted by the team included self-driving cars, the growth of Uber-type services, the rise of larger insurance companies offering “one-stop shopping,” the digital customization of policies for customers, a volatile investing climate, and the company’s increased vulnerability to bad publicity on social media.

Brainstorming actions to take, executives came up with a range of options, including studying self-driving cars and their implications more closely, creating new products and services for gig-economy workers, seeking out ways to tighten relationships with existing customers, scouring their network of independent brokerages for digital innovations they might exploit, and reevaluating the company’s investment portfolio for its resilience in the face of volatility. Whether or not all of these ongoing initiatives succeed, the exercise spurred team members to break out of entrenched mindsets, leading to far more innovative results than if they had remained passive.

As you experiment with the change notebook, you’ll find that your team members become progressively more comfortable exploring new ideas, including those that conflict with the status quo, and taking action to deal with looming change before it catches them unawares. Don’t just do the exercise once and forget it; make it a regular part of your team’s workflow. Devote 15 minutes to it at a weekly team meeting, filling in a new page of the notebook each week. Remind yourselves of potential disruptions you’ve identified in the past, and then work on spotting new ones.

Over time your team will gain more facility in the exercise. Due to the structured nature of these conversations, change will come to seem less chaotic and scary, and team members will become accustomed to talking through disagreements and tough issues. If my experience consulting with teams is any indication, you’ll also get group members in the habit of pulling themselves away from daily concerns to focus on the big picture. You’ll help them internalize the notion that change, not stasis or stability, is a fundamental quality of business; eventually, this sensibility will color everything they do.

It’s easy for teams and organizations to fall into a pattern of reacting to change. But why can’t you be the aggressive, proactive ones? You can. Follow the example of the world’s greatest bosses, and take an important step toward instilling a culture of creativity, growth, openness, and innovation that your team or organization so desperately needs.

By Sidney Filkenstein

The Adaptability Quotient

The Adaptability Quotient

By Rebecca Muller | THRIVEBRAIN WAVES

An IQ can help measure your intelligence, and an EQ can help measure your emotional intelligence  but you likely haven’t heard of identifying your AQ  also known as your “adaptability quotient.” According to tech investor Natalie Fratto, adaptability plays a vital role in success, and as the future of work continues to evolve, acclimating to change can be stressful when you’re not prepared for it.

“Adaptability refers to how well a person reacts to the inevitability of change,” Fratto says in a recent Ted Talk. “We’re entering a future where IQ and EQ both matter far less than how fast you’re able to adapt.” Fratto explains that with the accelerating rate of technological change, we’re facing more change than ever before, and we can train our brains to better adapt to those changes. “Adaptability itself is a form of intelligence, and each of us has the capacity to become more adaptable,” she adds. “Think of it like a muscle… It’s got to be exercised.”

There’s no question that change can feel stressful, but Fratto says you can stave off that stress by working on how your mind processes new information. Here are a few ways to improve your adaptability quotient:

Ask yourself “what if” questions

One of the most helpful ways to cope with change is to think about what could happen before it actually happens, Fratto notes. That’s why she suggests constantly asking yourself what could possibly shift going forward in your job. “Asking ‘what if’ instead of asking about the past forces the brain to simulate,” Fratto explains. “Instead of testing how you attain information, it tests how to manipulate a situation, given a constraint, in order to achieve a specific goal.” Not only does this exercise help you prepare for future changes, but it helps your mind adapt faster to those changes if and when they happen. “Change is inevitable,” she adds. “Practicing simulations is a safe testing ground for improving adaptability.”

Become an active un-learner

When change comes your way, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed by the idea of taking in new information while “un-learning” old information, but Fratto believes this process is key when it comes to managing your stress levels. “Our adaptability is not fixed,” she notes. “Active un-learners seek to challenge what they presume to already know, and instead, override that data with new information.” Fratto recommends returning to a beginner’s mindset when you’re notified of a change, and reminding yourself that you’re entirely able to let go of old information, and absorb new information. “It takes dedication,” she adds. “But each of us has the capacity to improve our adaptability.”

Prioritize exploration over exploitation 

When you think about reaching a goal at work, you probably reflect on what has worked for you in the past, and try to mimic the same process that helped you achieve success beforehand. Fratto says this thought process is common, but it could be holding you back from adapting to potential changes. “Collectively, all of us tend to value exploitation,” she explains. “There’s a sort of natural tension between exploration and exploitation.” Fratto says we’re too focused on exploiting our current workflow, when we should be using exploration  “a state of constant seeking”  to see what’s around the corner. “Never fall too far in love with your wins,” she urges. “Our previous success can become the enemy of our adaptability potential.”