This week, Cerys Hearsey examines how individuals can learn how to lead in the fast-paced, volatile, complex conditions experienced by large organisations today.

Organisations recognise that leadership happens at all levels of the organisation. So it should be easier than ever to find opportunities to show these qualities. Although some barriers have been removed, new ones are emerging that make the journey seem as daunting as ever:

  • operating in the open and sharing ideas is difficult without a culture of psychological safety;
  • organisations are running lean and finding time for anything other than assigned tasks and projects is difficult; and,
  • invitations to join formal training for leadership roles feel like the proverbial golden ticket.

All this means that we have not yet reached true inclusivity. Training continues to deliver leaders in the same mould as previous generations. Not an attractive proposition. Employees want to develop and practice skills for a job before applying. It is unsurprising that leadership skills would be high on their list.

So how can you begin to learn how to be a leader in this VUCA world?

  • Be radical, be bold – Many leaders are aware of impending technological disruptions from AI, Blockchain and IOT. But they fail to ask the more fundamental and often uncomfortable questions that digitisation raises. How will leaders engender trust in hybrid human-computer teams, when many employees fear the robots will take their jobs? Or, perhaps even more worrying to management itself, how many middle managers will an organisation require when the coordination and communication tasks associated with traditional management become automated? For our organisations to have a fighting chance, we need future leaders willing to have honest debate in the open on the more difficult implications of digitisation, rather than pretending to have all of the answers.
  • Coach yourself – there are mindsets and behaviours that 21st century leaders require that you can practice everyday, regardless of your position in the company. One of those that I struggled with the most was letting go of ego and getting out of the way! There is a wealth of material out there on how to make a start with this key servant leadership behaviour, and practicing on your day-to-day work (and in fact your wider life activities) is an easier starting point than when you are in a formal leadership position. Ego affirms a leader’s ability to take charge. But checking the ego demonstrates a leader’s ability to take charge of themselves. That is critical to developing strong organisations which can achieve sustainable results. Other mindsets that you can coach yourself on include openness and transparency, leading by example and excellence & wielding and leveraging influence.
  • Embrace openness – although many aspects of organisational openness (or lack of) are baked into org structures and formal leadership hierarchy, you can role model openness and generosity for others. When decisions are made to lock away information, ask why. When decisions are made to reinforce organisational silos, challenge the presumptions that lie behind it. Be part of the future organisation struggling to break out of the old.
  • Commit to community – network and community based collaboration is an excellent way to grow your profile within the organisation. Community management offers the opportunity to engage, organise and curate groups of cross-functional employees to create value. It is an excellent place to master network-based communication and up your influencer skills. In short, they offer opportunities to learn leadership skills outside of the traditional training programmes and hierarchy-driven ways of working. Forward thinking organisations, such as Robert Bosch GmBH have already recognised community management as a path to leadership, developing a career path and learning opportunities to enable emerging digital leaders.

For those interested in learning more on this topic, I have included some good reads below on the future of leadership: