We talk a lot about leadership and the future. Here are some valid questions to ask, and worthy issues to address:
- Where will you take your company?
- How will you plan for succession?
- What are your long-term goals?
But some of the latest thinking in leadership forces us to ask if we should be looking at this another way. Do we need to make leadership more focused on living in the now?
There’s no denying that we live in an ever more complex world. The sheer variety and complexity of our society, economy, and technology make it impossible for us to accurately predict what is coming down the road. This is the world Thomas S. Narofsky, CEO and founder of Narofsky Consulting Group, characterizes as volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous–a world of chaos.
Our instinct when faced with chaos is to try to control it, fight the volatility and uncertainty, and find more advanced methods of prediction and control using tools such as big data. This can be an exhausting and expensive task, with results that may be better but are far from perfect.
As Narofsky argues, we need leaders now who can meet and adapt to the challenges constantly thrown at us in our chaotic world. But while many companies seek these skills in their leaders, they usually seek to combine this new approach with the old mode of prediction and control. Is there another way?
Ted Coiné, cofounder of leadership community Switch and Shift, has argued people–not just leaders–should aim not only to accomplish tasks, but to reach particular goals. Accomplishments are good, but they should come as a side effect of the real aim–to be a better version of who we are; to be constantly improving. Our motive then stops being something external to ourselves and the achievements that we put out into the world, but becomes about who we are.
I would argue that the same logic can be applied to companies. When we do this, it frees us up to cope with the chaos of the world. If your main aim is not to have the best smartphone on the market, but to be a better manufacturer of communications products, then you are more free to adapt to circumstances. You can change your way of working as the technology you use becomes redundant, customer desires shift, or better opportunities present themselves.
It’s not about being aimless. It’s about having flexibility and real meaning in those aims. Don’t spend your energy trying to know the unknowns, but instead live in the moment. This is rolling with the chaos instead of fighting it.
The ability to change and adapt–and to make your work about continuous improvement rather than hitting big targets–means completely embracing the tools and attitudes of change management. For this to work senior management needs to be actively involved in the work of change rather than setting it up and then standing back to observe results.
It also means tapping into the experience and skills of senior managers and boards to find new sources of innovation. Unless your most powerful minds are set on the tasks of change, leading by example, you are wasting your most valuable resource; not to mention setting a bad example for the rest of the company.
We live in a chaotic world–one we cannot fully predict. So give in to the chaos, learn to adapt, seek constant improvement, and live and lead in the current moment rather than in some imagined future, and to work with change at the most senior level. Lead in the now.