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leadership lab

Uncertainty. Instability. Unpredictability. Random 'body blows' out of nowhere. Technology and competitive disruption. Discontinuity. Pain.

Gone are the days of relative stability where the past had some relevance in terms of predicting what was likely to happen in the future. Trend lines could be extrapolated using historic data points; forecasting was a respected and reliable art form.

The 'new normal' for leaders doing business today is to figure out how to achieve high levels of performance amidst the chaos around them.

There is no single solution that will resolve the dilemma they face; rather, a number of tactics will together give them a fighting chance of success.

1. Don't get married to the strategy of the organization; it merely represents the starting point of the journey and will likely look different in five years' time as a result of events that that were not accounted for in the original plan.

Start executing with eyes wide open, looking for the unexpected.

Be prepared to revise the strategy on a moments notice.

2. Recruit people who love change and who have a successful track record of responding to unforeseen forces that materially affected the business they were in. Probe for the core change competencies they have with a view to 'infecting' other individuals in the organization with them.

Success will require people who are open to the potential that change offers, not closed to it.

3. Build the core values of the organization around adaptability and responsiveness to change. Core values describe the behaviours necessary to achieve success in the environment an organization operates in. Capitalizing on chaos demands an adaptability among employees that embraces – not resists – the new forces at play. If the core values don't express the need to welcome the unexpected, people will continue to behave the way they always have. Nothing will change and the organization will suffer.

4. Architect your recognition and rewards system to favour individuals who demonstrate their willingness to change direction in a heartbeat. People are motivated by how their performance is rated and how they are paid. If each is not tightly tied to the core value of adaptability and embracing the unexpected, they will continue to perform as they have in the past, leaving the organization vulnerable to attack by the unpredictable. Highlight the change champions to employees as examples of what leadership wants; use these champions to spread the word and paint vivid pictures for their colleagues that describe in rich terms how they respond when a disruption happens.

5. Develop contingency planning as one of your core competencies. It's not about the plan, organize and control mantra of management. It's now about the respond, revector and execute paradigm of leadership. In the new order, a good plan is only as good as the series of what-ifs prepared to launch into action when a change is needed to the original one. It's unlikely that a what-if will accurately capture the body blow that eventually strikes the organization, but a healthy contingency attitude will at least explore a number of possibilities and reduce – not eliminate – the number of surprises.

Leaders don't have a choice about living with chaos; the standout ones, however, know how to thrive in it.

Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.

‘power tends to take away our steering wheel. So while we are speeding down the highway we crash into things along the way’

Special to Globe and Mail Update

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