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Resilience: Leadership skills for our increasingly complex interconnected world

Interconnectedness and complexity

Covid 19 and more recent ‘Black Swan’ events bring home the complexity and interconnected nature of our reality. They shift our understanding of what is meant by interconnectedness and how this plays out. For example, between the public and private sectors; between governments globally; between national governments and their financial sectors, their health and other public services and their business community more generally. They invite us to consider a more enlightened approach and to look at the heart of what really matters in business.

The resulting crash in our stock market attests to the misnomer that business success can be measured solely in terms of continuous growth and bottom line. It is the time to speak openly about businesses role in terms of improving society by creating organisations that people want to work for, the people want to do business with and that people want to invest in for the longer term. In effect, to aspire to make this world a better place by reaching its fullest potential through the limitless possibilities of its people.

Fresh thinking and enlightenment

Fresh thinking is required if we are to respond to the challenges that increasing complexity and interconnectedness requires. It helps to invoke a biological perspective of organizations as organisms in search of sustenance co-existing in a symbiotic relationship with their environment. The ease with which sustenance can be won relates to how rich and abundant the resources are relative to the requirements or needs of the system. This relatedness, the one to the other, is then a living dynamic relatedness that is complex, changing and vital at all times.

A biological paradigm suggests that organizations, being shaped by their context, are an integral part of all co-creation. In our Enlightened Organization, you would therefore come to see that:

·      It’s purpose is unique and potentially limitless and often paradoxically more easily answered by listening in to the context and what might be required of it in the word;

·      It is not simply the sum of its outputs and perhaps has a broader purpose, which is to enable their context and the people operating within it to fulfil their potential in the world;

·      Barriers between competing elements within the business can be destroyed and replaced with a sense of common work to be done;

·      Diversity and inclusion bring challenges, conflict and debate all of which are critical resources within the organization;

·      Being intricately connected to the world around it would be best to follow a simple rule whereby you treat all stakeholders ( including, for example, customers, suppliers, competitors, governments and distributors) that you interact with as part of yourselves, and in seeking the best for all parties involved, then your organizations would benefit the most; and

·      That the real purpose of the organization is only achieved over time and that a longer-term perspective will create success in both the longer, as well as the shorter term.

ESG and transformation

ESG philosophies have, in part been nudging our thinking in this direction, advocating that we measure corporate legacy and impact by reference to ‘Environmental, Social and Governance’ factors. These philosophies have been gaining some traction within the European business community. At times, maybe, more by way of lip service than any new thinking. That is, prior to the arrival of Covid 19. For example, many of my clients were already setting targets to reduce corporate air travel or the printing of paper. But few were thinking of revolutionary alternatives that would enable this, such as holding all meetings via TEAMS or Zoom or requiring digital board/meeting packs. Covid has changed their thinking and capability overnight. And these clients have all been rising magnificently to the occasion.

So, we know that the business community does have the capability to transform. The question now is what else will be required for it to continue to do so in a way that meets the changing demands of its operating environment?

Letting go of the illusion of control

A biological perspective helps us also to recognise a simple raw truth, that organizations do not hold any existential right to continue to exist. They need to adapt and work with their context if they are to survive. Covid 19 is certainly testing that reality for many businesses at this time. Margaret Wheatley, the scientist, provides some insight here on our heretofore illusion of continuous growth and control. She puts it thus:

‘Chaos’s role in emergence of the new order is so well know that it seems strange that Western culture has denied its parts so vehemently, In the dream of dominion overall all nature, we believed we could eliminate chaos from life. We believed there were straight lines to the top. If we set a goal or claimed a vision, we would get there, never looking back, never forced to descend into confusion and despair. This belief led us far from life, far from the processes by which newness is created. And it is only now, as modern life grows ever more turbulent and control slips away that we are willing again to contemplate chaos. Whether we explore it dynamics through new science or ancient myths, the lessons are important. The destruction created by chaos is necessary for the creation of anything new.

Adaptive leadership: the skills required

The significant themes emerging for organizations today are about interconnectedness and complexity. Each needs to differentiate their organization by reference to ESG philosophies or some other indicators of responsiveness and ‘Trust’. They can only ever succeed in this to the extent that they are led and managed accordingly. It follows that leaders and managers for the future need to be able to let go of the illusion of control, be fully present and authentic and develop their continuing capability to:

·      See more clearly the overall context in which they are operating;

·      Source and nurture the core purpose for their business;

·      Contain the anxiety and complexity for others;

·      Establish a culture of openness, dialogue and responsible behaviours;

·      Build collaborative relationships both within and beyond their industry sector because resilience can no longer be designed at the level of any individual business;

·      Engage the hearts and minds enabling strategies and the future to emerge;

·      Enable quality strategic conversation throughout every level of the business including the boardroom; and

·      Promote disagreement as an asset as well as being able to ask better and better questions. What could I know, should I know and that I don’t know ? Just what am I missing here ?

Leaders taking up their role

Covid 19 is a travesty. But perhaps within that a wake-up call for business leaders, inviting them to take up their role in helping to develop the enlightened and resilient organization. We are already seeing organisations adapt and deliver incredible transformations during these very challenging times. The invitation now is to consider what else will be required for it to continue to do so in a way that meets the emerging future/the new normal for your business.

Our work at Enlightened Organization’s focuses on helping leaders to

·      Become more fully conscious of the part you play in co-creating the whole;

·      Develop the skills outlined above; and 

·      Become more confident and accountable for what it is that you provide in your role.

What legacy do you want to leave behind for yourself, your organization and your wider community of stakeholders?