Leaders face a wide array of challenges in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world (VUCA World). In my view, three biggest challenges that 21st-century leaders face are building and leading a culture of innovation, inspiring others, and leading change. In this paper, I explained these challenges as well as tools that I would like to use to overcome challenges, effectively lead teams, and increase productivity. These tools can be explained under three main topics: Creating a Climate of Trust, Facilitating Effective Relationships, and Promoting Engagement. After explained these tools, I created my personal implementation plan to enhance my personal and professional development. In the implementation part, I focused on using strategic thinking model and working on conflict resolution skills.
Three Biggest Challenges That Leaders Face Today
1. Inspiring Others
It is very important for a leader to inspire, encourage and involve his followers in the achievement of common goals. As Simon Sinek taught us in his TED Talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” no one follows a leader for the leader but for themselves. Inspiring others is about stirring up and implanting a sense of direction and meaning and enthusiasm and impulse for change. It comprises energizing individuals to make an endeavor towards a compelling vision of the future. It involves offering transparency around goals and objectives and ensuring that those who are led strive collaboratively towards a shared purpose. It also includes the provision of the necessary conditions and encouraging people to improve themselves and shoulder responsibility for individual and organizational success. (National Research Council Canada)
Inspired people are extraordinarily productive, and they also inspire people around them to strive for greater achievements (Garton). Inspired people demonstrate three key characteristics: They are substantially devoted, considerably accountable, and totally responsible. They are dedicated to meet obligations and make every effort to do their best. Inspired people are proud of their organization for how it acts in the world and they take initiatives and support others to reach shared goals (Eichenwald).
Inspiring leaders are those who use their unique combination of capabilities to motivate individuals and teams to head towards compelling missions. By inspiring others, leaders can unlock higher performance through awakening the desire and unleashing the inner power of people, not command and control (Garton). The capacity to motivate and inspire depends on leader`s ability to infuse the work with meaning and purpose for everyone involved. (Ibarra). It is very important for a leader to touch people at their deepest levels by stirring in them a sense of belonging, commitment, and persistence.
2. Leading Change
For human being change is unexpectedly difficult because it provokes sensations of physiological discomfort. Humans by nature tend to operate well in a stable and predictable environment. Paradoxically, the environment in which organizations operate is substantially volatile. Therefore, leading change effectively is one of the biggest challenges that leaders face today. The ability to tackle constant change makes the difference between success and failure. Today, executives, supervisors, and project managers have a wide array of methodologies for managing change, yet the failure rate of major organizational change is around 70 percent (Ross).
Leading change requires handling resistance with patience, managing conflicts, dealing with setbacks, listening deeply and looking ahead. Mitigating change consequences, overcoming resistance to change, and dealing with employees’ reaction to change are primary goals in leading change effectively. Since leading change involves convincing people, trust is the key factor for the success. People will only adopt and support change when they trust their leader about he will do the right thing and has the competencies to meet the new challenges. The ability to build and improve trust is one of the most important leader abilities in the new global economy. Leadership skills required to build trust involve aligning interests, demonstrating that they care about their followers, keeping their promises, connecting with others through sharing common ground, providing the right support. (Ross)
3. Building and leading a culture of innovation
Today`s competitive environment requires organizations to be highly innovative. A recent global survey by CCL found that 94% of managers believe that innovation is a key factor in organizational success. And yet, just 14% of those managers feel confident about their organization’s ability to drive innovation effectively (Vehar).
Leading innovation requires a leader to influence and inspire individuals and groups in the organization and create an environment for them to facilitate sharing ideas putting these ideas into practice (Lemus). Building and leading a culture of innovation can be challenging because it requires suspending assumptions and judgments, strengthening dialogue and promoting learning by mistake. These, in turn, will lead to continuous new ideas to emerge and improve creativity by the invention and implementation of new processes. Leaders who create and maintain a culture where every voice matters unlock far more of their followers` creative talents and this, of course, leads to greater productivity, wellbeing, and success.
Tools that I would like to use to effectively lead teams can be explained under three main topics: Creating a Climate of Trust, Facilitating Effective Relationships, and Promoting Engagement. Creating a Climate of Trust and Facilitating Effective Relationships are essential ingredients of fostering collaboration as well.
? Creating a climate of trust
Leadership is not a solo act, it is a team effort. People are willing to follow someone if they can assure that the person is worthy to trust. According to a study conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, trust was the number one differentiator between the top and bottom 20 percent of companies on the Financial Times 100 list. The more trusted people feel, the better they innovate because creating a climate of trust involves taking away the controls and allowing people to be free to innovate and contribute. In addition, trust is the most significant predictor of an individual’s satisfaction with his organization. (Kouzes & Posner)
Here are three important steps to take in building a climate of trust:
? Be the First to Trust
Being the first to trust is one of the essential phases of creating a climate of trust. Building trust is a process that begins when one party is volunteer to risk being the first to open up, being the first to show vulnerability, and being the first to let go of control. Thus, in the creation of the climate of trust, leaders should demonstrate their trust to their followers before asking for trust from them. (Kouzes & Posner).
? Be Open to Influence
Sensitivity to people’s ideas and interests is one of the key ingredients in building trust. The simple act of listening to what other people say and being aware of their unique viewpoints indicates your respect for others and their ideas. By displaying openness to others’ influence, a leader can contribute to building the trust that enables his followers to be more open to his influence. Being open to influence also includes involving people in decision making process and even if they don’t make the final decision, it can help to gain their support and trust.
? Be transparent and consistent in your actions.
Being transparent makes a leader an honest and credible person in the eyes of others. As human beings, we want to know what is happening and why; what is the thought process behind other people`s actions and decisions. Transparency makes people around you to see your motives which helps them to learn to rely on you. Being consistent is also as important as being transparent in the creation of climate of trust. We tend to feel more comfortable and safe with people who consistent in their actions. Being consistent in your actions makes your views and actions more predictable in the eyes of others which, in turn, improve your credibility and trustworthiness.
? Facilitate effective relationships
Facilitating effective relationships is the second essential tool in fostering collaboration. Promoting the sense of interdependence, a condition in which everyone knows that they cannot succeed unless everyone succeeds, is very important for a leader to facilitate relationships and build a collaborative environment. There are three keys to facilitate relationships:
? Develop cooperative goals and roles
The most important component of every collective achievement is a common goal. A common goal brings people together to make a collaborative effort to achieve a shared purpose. A goal that can only be accomplished by working together makes individuals or groups dedicated to work cooperatively and makes them more supportive and solution oriented. Keeping individuals focused on a common goal promotes a stronger sense of team spirit than emphasizing individual objectives. Thus, developing a shared purpose and giving people a meaningful role to achieve this goal is essential for a leader to foster collaboration and lead people effectively. (Kouzes ; Posner)
? Support norms of reciprocity
Building a sense of reciprocity is another essential tool to develop effective relationships and foster collaboration. If one party always gives and the other always takes, the one who gives will feel taken advantage of, and the one who takes will feel superior. It is very difficult to establish a collaborative teamwork in an environment where people feel unfairness in their relations. Reciprocity leads to collaboration, predictability, and stability in relationships.
? Promote joint effort
People are more likely to cooperate if the payoffs for interdependent efforts are greater than those associated with working independently. Thus, it is very important for a leader to get people realize that by working together they can achieve better results. In addition, evaluating success in an organization according to group outcome rather than individual outcomes can make team members more collaborative as they don’t feel concerned about their individual work.
? Promote Engagement
According to the Gallup Poll: only 30% of the U.S. working population is actively engaged (loyal and productive), 52% are moderately engaged, and 18% are actively disengaged (unhappy and spreading their discontent). Thus, tools explained below to promote engagement are essential for effective leadership.
? Set Clear Expectations
A lack of clear expectations not only undermines performance and results within a team but also impacts negatively on engagement, relationships, and teamwork. Followers need something tangible to grasp. Thus, setting realistic performance expectations and clearly articulating what you believe in, why you exist, and where you are going is an essential way to engage your followers.
? Give Feedback and Ask for Feedback
The link between feedback and engagement is indisputable. There is an undeniable body of evidence, both research-based and practical experience that says that frequent respectful, positive and constructively critical feedback leads to increased engagement (Smith).
Giving feedback to others regularly, constructively, sensitively and honestly, and inviting the same from them is essential to improve engagement. It is very important for a successful leader to take that feedback to heart and respond productively. Asking for feedback can actually motivate employees to perform better. People like to feel valued and appreciate being asked to provide feedback that can help formulate business decisions.
? Communicate Clearly
It is much easier to keep people moving toward the goals and objectives and to manage change if leaders can describe clearly the journey people are on. People want to be aware of the bigger purpose and picture and included in the larger plan, so clear communication of the purpose, outcome, plan and their roles is crucial for improving engagement. If people have a clear sense of purpose, they can endure more confusion than they could otherwise. Giving people a vivid picture of what you are trying to create is the vision needed to keep them going. Without it, the final destination is unclear. In addition, a step by step plan and giving people a meaningful role to play in this plan helps people keep confident and engaged (Engagement @ Harvard).
? Recognize Strengths and Support Individual Development
Acknowledging performance strengths has one of the greatest impacts on individual performance. Leaders can improve performance by emphasizing individual strengths, complement this with constructive feedback that people can respond to and act on through targeted, specific guidance (Engagement @ Harvard). In addition, showing people that you are fully committed to helping them by creating development plans that are achievable and supporting them to build their skills can make a great contribution in leading change and building an innovative culture.
? Use strategic thinking model in personal and professional decisions.
I will employ strategic thinking model in my decision-making process and use four types of decisions template in my future decisions. According to that, I will evaluate how much control I have over outcomes and whether my success depends on my relative performance. In this model, there are four types (fields) of decisions. In the first field, you have low control over the outcome and your success does not depend on your relative performance. In the second field, you have high control over outcomes and your success does not depend on your relative performance. In the third field, you have low control over the outcome and your success depends on your relative performance. In the fourth field, you have high control over outcomes and your success depends on your relative performance. After understanding which field my decision fits in I will be able to determine whether I must anticipate the moves of my rivals or should I try to improve outcome. For example, if the nature of my decision fits in the fourth field, I will try to anticipate likely moves of my rivals before making my decision and I will take into consideration that I will actively use my energy to influence the outcome. On the other hand, if my decision first in the first field, I will not consider the competition and will consider that I don’t have any influence on the outcome. By using the four types of decisions template to identify which kind of decision I am facing, I will be able to minimize errors and maximize the success of my decisions.
? Work on conflict resolution skills.
I will work on improving my conflict resolution skills. We have talked with my coach about benefits of using different conflict resolution skills and my feelings and possible outcomes when I use each of these skills. We came to the conclusion that being more collaborative is very important in my personal and professional success. Collaborating is an assertive and cooperative way of handling a conflict. Collaboration involves an attempt to work with the other person to find a solution that mostly satisfies the concerns of both parties. It includes identifying the underlying concerns of the opponents and finding an alternative which meets each party’s concerns. The advantages of this technique are that it reinforces mutual trust and respect and it leads to a win-win outcome. Out of five conflict-handling skills, collaboration gives the most preferred outcomes for both parties and it offers the most permanent and preferred solutions. Therefore, improving my collaboration skills might improve my conflict resolution skills which are essential to be an effective leader. We also came to the conclusion that being patient and learning to disagree with others without just giving up and giving in is very important for improving conflict resolution skills. Thus, I will try to focus on to use these skills in case of any conflict in the future