Nature likes to keep things in balance and will adjust automatically when circumstances change. The paradox of being human is that we create change all the time and yet we don’t want things to be different. We embrace new technology and cling to our traditions in the same breath. We prefer to stick with what we know rather than face the uncertainty of change. We haven’t yet learnt to stay balanced and ride the waves of change at the same time, but whether we like it or not, the “wave “is coming.
The last 150 years has brought an unprecedented level of innovation and prosperity across the globe. We have built our success on the back of capitalism and competition. The early days of entrepreneurial spirit have given way to big business; organisations that abhor uncertainty and do all that they can to predict and control performance. Although we have enjoyed fantastic success, I don’t think this approach will continue to work in our fast changing and increasingly complex world.
Our current mind-set frames our lives. We protest with outrage when things go wrong. We then either demand a far reaching enquiry or look for a new leader who is brave enough to announce that whatever went wrong will never happen again. The problem lies in our belief that we can understand and control everything. It is like a surfer trying to analyse and understand what the waves will be like next week so that they can perform flawlessly without any risk. In practice they learn how to respond to any type of wave and so have no need to predict what size wave is coming next. They have the confidence and skill to respond to changing conditions and don’t blame an analyst when the wave catches them out.
In the workplace leadership would look very different if we adopted the surfer’s approach. Leaders would stop trying to reassure us that they have everything under control and focus instead on helping us develop our ability to respond to change. Our effectiveness to cope well would be governed by how committed we were to the purpose of the business, how skilled we were in responding and how much freedom we had to take action. Leadership would be transformed from controlling performance to creating the conditions where people can thrive and respond.
Under these conditions, change would not be a management directive imposed on us (to be endured until things settle down), but a normal way of responding to a changing world. We would recognise that change is normal and an opportunity to grow rather than something to be feared. However, I don’t think we will get to this point until those in leadership roles are willing to change their mind-set.
So what is in it for the leaders who are prepared to look at their world differently?
- First – you will have much more time available to focus on the important issues. The time you spend trying to predict and manage performance will not be needed.
- Second – your team will surprise you with the energy and creativity they bring to their work when you trust them to respond to changes without your master plan
- Third – your bottom line will benefit because your team will be able to respond and innovate much more quickly
There is of course a lot more practical work to embedding this approach into your leadership and the way your team operates, but the concepts are sound.
All I can do is hope that you are curious enough to want to know more and perhaps take the first steps.