Catalyst Issue 10 - Page 7

Whether or not Winston Churchill ever really linked the founding of the United Nations with the immortal words “ never let a good crisis go to waste ”, it ’ s a great story . And we instinctively know what he means . Sometimes , even the most challenging times can make us stronger and unleash our creativity . When we ’ re under pressure , we can either break into pebbles – or we can use that pressure to create diamonds .
Back in 2009 , Norm Smallwood , Kate Sweetman and I published The Leadership Code , in which we identified five domains of leadership competencies that the best leaders master : strategist , executor , talent manager , human capital developer and personal proficiency . These five domains still hold true today , but the context in which leaders operate has shifted significantly – and that means we need to think again about leadership actions and mindsets to navigate some potentially choppy waters .
I ’ m lucky that my work gives me the opportunity to teach , work and interact with leaders at all levels and in all types of organisations around the globe . Nothing could give me a better sense of the issues leaders face . If you asked me about the single biggest challenge organisations are grappling with right now , I ’ d have to say uncertainty . And that ’ s not just because of the COVID-19 pandemic , significant though that is . I ’ d argue that we live in an age of crises – social injustice , political toxicity , technological innovation and economic disruption – and that the uncertainty these bring is a defining characteristic of our age .
Listening to leaders has also helped me to identify patterns that inform an updated Leadership Code designed to help leaders embrace those crises as a chance to lead . This time , the key competencies are accompanied by 10 requirements to support leaders to discover and maximise the opportunities our age of uncertainty brings .
Dave Ulrich is the Rensis Likert Professor at the Ross School of Business , University of Michigan , and a partner at the RBL Group , a consulting firm focused on helping organisations and leaders deliver value .

Catalyst Opinion

O

Harnessing uncertainty : towards Leadership

3.0

Dave Ulrich

Our era of uncertainty and sudden crisis doesn ’ t have to spell doom , gloom and panic . Instead , leaders can learn to harness – even to enjoy – the range of opportunities that it brings .

Whether or not Winston Churchill ever really linked the founding of the United Nations with the immortal words “ never let a good crisis go to waste ”, it ’ s a great story . And we instinctively know what he means . Sometimes , even the most challenging times can make us stronger and unleash our creativity . When we ’ re under pressure , we can either break into pebbles – or we can use that pressure to create diamonds .
Back in 2009 , Norm Smallwood , Kate Sweetman and I published The Leadership Code , in which we identified five domains of leadership competencies that the best leaders master : strategist , executor , talent manager , human capital developer and personal proficiency . These five domains still hold true today , but the context in which leaders operate has shifted significantly – and that means we need to think again about leadership actions and mindsets to navigate some potentially choppy waters .

When we ’ re under pressure , we can either break into pebbles – or we can use that pressure to create diamonds

Global challenges

I ’ m lucky that my work gives me the opportunity to teach , work and interact with leaders at all levels and in all types of organisations around the globe . Nothing could give me a better sense of the issues leaders face . If you asked me about the single biggest challenge organisations are grappling with right now , I ’ d have to say uncertainty . And that ’ s not just because of the COVID-19 pandemic , significant though that is . I ’ d argue that we live in an age of crises – social injustice , political toxicity , technological innovation and economic disruption – and that the uncertainty these bring is a defining characteristic of our age .
Listening to leaders has also helped me to identify patterns that inform an updated Leadership Code designed to help leaders embrace those crises as a chance to lead . This time , the key competencies are accompanied by 10 requirements to support leaders to discover and maximise the opportunities our age of uncertainty brings .

The Leadership Code 3.0

The new Code is no one-size-fits-all recipe for success ; leadership is too contextual and personal for quick fixes or prescriptive road maps . More than ever , with our destinations unclear and uncertain , leaders need a menu of options to consider .

The 10 requirements are designed to help leaders forge a distinctive , adaptable path that works for them , both as individuals and collectively within their organisations . It ’ s about creating an environment where we can help ourselves ( and others ) to be more comfortable with not knowing , while equipping everyone with the mindset to find a way through .

Take stock

Just as we might feel uncomfortable with long silences in a difficult conversation , in a crisis , it ’ s tempting just to jump in and do something – anything . But what we really need to do is to take a step back , take stock of the current situation and think carefully about the options we have .

We need to give ourselves permission to use that uncertainty to play and experiment , to be curious about new solutions and discover options we might not have considered before . Reframed in this way , harnessing uncertainty can start to feel liberating rather than constraining , a way to help us to learn and adapt as our times demand .

That doesn ’ t mean that leadership is becoming any easier . It still involves making tough choices , to focus on creating value for our customers and organisations , while , at the same time , managing our people with compassion and empathy . That ’ s why I ’ m also proposing an 11th requirement : that , as leaders , we must take care of ourselves .

Taking the time out to replenish our energies and look after our own mental health is essential if we are to lead others . In terms of the requirements , I ’ d go as far as to see it as a multiplier , a non-negotiable way to make the other 10 even more powerful .

Crisis and uncertainty are often viewed as negatives , things to be tolerated or managed at best , even run from or avoided at all costs . But if we are to make the most of the business climate in which we all find ourselves , we ’ ll need to embrace them , to make them work to our advantage . The Leadership Code 3.0 offers guidance to help leaders do just that . And that , after all , is how diamonds are made .

Find out more about The Leadership Code 3.0

Dave Ulrich is the Rensis Likert Professor at the Ross School of Business , University of Michigan , and a partner at the RBL Group , a consulting firm focused on helping organisations and leaders deliver value .