Developing smart flexible leadership networks to cope with the growing complexity of the work environment 1

By Sharon Snell

‘When it comes to decisions, they’ll be made on predictive analytics and data. When it comes to creating value, the social network will be a production line. And when it comes to delivering value, it will be the individual; it will not be a segment. Actually, the challenge is not technology. As always, the challenge is culture. But remember, this is at the end-all about competitive advantage, be this a company, a country or a government entity. And in the end, I actually think something far more valuable will happen, because the greatest contribution of this shift will force every entity — private, public, government — to actually become an authentic organization.’

 IBM chairman and CEO Ginni Rometty

 The traditional process of developing individual leadership has become outdated. More organisations are embracing the process of developing smart flexible leadership networks. Research has established that the number one concern for global businesses is that their work environments are growing in complexity and their organisations are not equipped to deal with these complexities.  This is according to a research report entitled ‘Future Trends in Leadership Development’ published recently by the Centre for Creative leadership.

Globally there is a shift from the old style leadership development which involved developing individual leaders. We recognise that there are a number of challenges facing organisations today that cannot be dealt with by individual leaders anymore and these include:

  • The availability of unprecedented amounts of data and information which can lead to individual leaders becoming paralysed with information overload
  • The availability of new technologies and shifts from traditional work practices
  • Increased globalisation requiring managers to work across geographies and cultures
  • The dissolution of traditional organisational boundaries and hierarchies
  • The interconnectedness of systems and the business world. The rapid pace of business reorganisation means that yesterday’s business foe could be today’s business ally.

Individual leaders no longer generate the solution to the problems on their own, nor even have the ability to define the problem succinctly.  Managers are found to be lacking in the ability to think strategically and manage change effectively in order to deal with current volatilities and complexities of the global business environment. Complex thinking abilities are called for to resolve complex problems and organisations must have a leadership network that has the skills and abilities to harness network thinking; be adaptable and self-aware; and be able to work across boundaries and collaborate.   If a volatile, uncertain and complex workplace is the norm, then a leadership network which has the adaptive competencies of learning agility and being comfortable with ambiguity, will give organisations the competitive edge.

New challenges occasioned by the fast pace of change are calling for more agile responses. An agile organisation has the ability to put together and disband teams which contain talent from across different geographies, business units and specialisations in response to specific challenges. As these interconnections are created, a culture of shared leadership is established. Leadership is no longer contained in a job description, but is inherent in the process which empowers the organisations talent to clarify direction, establish alignment and solicit buy in and commitment from stakeholders. Sandra Dunn, INSETA CEO, says that organisations need to start capacitating managers with a new set of competencies which will assist them to respond to new challenges in an agile manner and be able to set up and lead cross functional teams to solve today’s complex problems. We are finding that increasingly the solution to complex problems lies across organisations and we need to collaborate and share information with our stakeholders if our problems are to be solved.

Sharon Snell is Chief Operations Officer of INSETA.


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