The challenges facing modern leaders
In modern business settings, we are often told that we are in a VUCA environment. Although this term can be a useful shorthand for the current challenges organizations face, prompted by the pandemic and global economic instability, it is important to be specific about the shape these challenges take and, consequently, how leaders can work to protect their organizations against them.
Volatility is a state of instability and is, by its nature, unpredictable. An example of this is the sudden, unexpected disruptions to the global supply chain experienced in 2020. Uncertainty is a lack of clarity that stops leaders from being able to face their organizational challenges. This may happen when, for instance, a competitor develops new technology with which other companies are unfamiliar. Complexity arises for leaders when a situation has too many variables to comprehend by themselves and thus becomes overwhelming; frequently this will occur in high-growth businesses expanding into new markets. Lastly, ambiguity occurs when leaders are unable to identify the relationship between causes and effects - in other words, it is equally unclear why the challenge is emerging and how best to address it.
More often than not, leaders are affected the most by VUCA environments; after all, leaders are accountable for not only their own performance but their followers’ performance as well. Moreover, research suggests that during crises, team members will approach leaders for guidance more than their coworkers, further intensifying the stress leaders experience on an emotional as well as performance-based level.
How to lead your teams through crises
In traditional approaches to crisis management, it was common practice for leaders to maintain a strict, “command and control” style of leadership. This style of leadership required a set of behavioral attributes such as charisma, authority, and dominance. However, research increasingly suggests that this style of leadership is ineffective when it comes to steering teams through complex, multilayered problems. Instead, the most effective leadership styles in the modern workplace rely heavily on so-called softer skills, such as effective communication, active listening, collaboration, and flexibility. Soft skills are an important foundation for effective leadership because they allow leaders to consider crises as a whole, rather than as separate, isolated issues. By adopting a collaborative approach to problem-solving and actively listening to their teams, leaders can enable them to work together in overcoming challenges and develop strategies that keep the company moving forward and protect against challenges faced in VUCA environments.
The benefits of leadership coaching
In recent years, leadership coaching has increasingly focused on developing leaders’ soft skills in order to increase their ability to identify and adapt to new challenges in an effective, communicative and collaborative manner. An effective leadership coach will enable leaders to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses in order to develop personalized strategies for addressing both present and future challenges - an attribute that is vital to maintaining leaders’ motivation and engagement, research suggests. Additionally, coaching in digital environments in particular is suited to supporting work in a VUCA business world, since it allows a symbiotic approach of scalability and personalization; at the same time, it eases the adoption by offering time-efficient programs that are easily accessible, flexible, and affordable.
When it comes to building and developing high-performance teams, data reveals that leadership development plays an essential role. According to a DDI survey, while only 11% of surveyed companies had a strong leadership bench, this number increases to 28% in the case of companies with high-quality leadership development programs. This number increases again to 40% when organizations combine a high-quality development program and assessment. Despite the clear benefits of investing in leadership development to combat crises, leadership development and training dropped significantly during the pandemic, from 61% of leaders receiving training beforehand to 48% in 2021. It is vital, therefore, that companies invest in coaching and developing their leaders in order to equip them with the tools necessary to navigate instability and crises, as well as cultivate a coaching culture across their organizations.
Modern leadership requires a new, adaptive set of skills based on collaboration, communication, and flexibility to lead teams through crises. It requires the ability to change course quickly as conditions on the ground evolve and adapt according to different circumstances while remaining receptive to teams’ constructive feedback. As such, leadership coaching is increasingly becoming a necessity in order for leaders to hone these skills and get the best out of their teams.