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How Do Leaders Thrive In Constant Turbulence?

If you feel like me, it seems that it wasn’t just the recent festive season that has been making things seem busier. The whole world is moving faster. A.T. Kearney’s ‘Turbulence Index’ shows that our operating environment is nearly twice as volatile as it was a decade ago. We are experiencing more frequent volatility in energy prices, share values, food prices, foreign exchange rates and commodity prices.

So how do we lead most effectively in such a turbulent world?

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6 keys to thriving in constant turbulence

Firstly by ‘Realising we’re not in Kansas’, as Dorothy said to Toto. We are unlikely to return to long-term stable conditions or steady global growth for some time. So leaders must appreciate this more complex environment, loaded with ambiguity and uncertainty and faster change.

Second is ‘Reading the tea-leaves’: observing and interpreting the pressing changes and emerging trends across markets, government, industry, society and the natural environment. Learning to discern surface and structural changes, and to infer accurately what changing opinions mean, can develop a prescient leader. With those insights, leaders can assess the level of turbulence they are experiencing today. And by considering how changes might unfold they can anticipate the future level of turbulence.

Calibrating the strategy’ means fine-tuning the organisation’s strategic aggressiveness to the level of turbulence. Imaging a multi-national organisation that is consolidating in one country in recession, chasing growth in some expanding markets, and aggressively innovating to thrive in hyper-competition in their home market. Three degrees of strategic aggressiveness each matching local conditions.

Thriving on change’. When leaders develop their organisation’s appetite for change, they prepare them for whatever strategy emerges. If external conditions escalate from being ‘placid’ to ‘rapid change’, leaders and people across the organisation can quickly appreciate how things have changed and then transition to a new way of operating.

The fifth key is ‘Fine-tuning the culture’.When leaders embrace that volatility demands agility, they begin to develop the creativity of their people and empower them to take more independent action. This means eliminating the negative effects of the ‘survival’, ‘power’ and ‘order’ orientations of their culture, developing constructive ‘achievement’ orientations and promoting collaborative styles.

Finally we must realise that we individual leaders come and go, but ‘leadership’ endures when the leadership culture is developed. So the final key is ‘Developing leadership agility’. For example, if leaders in an expanding market operate from a traditional ‘controlling’ mindset, their methods are likely to stifle growth. And ‘achievers’, driven for short-term results, may not be able to support long term investment in team collaboration or in the creative risk-taking required for innovation. But when an innovation culture is empowered by collaborative’ leadership, magic can happen.

Peter Follett