Be a leader in the VUCA world

Throughout our lives we all have moments or contexts where we are leaders and where we are led. If we are somehow “destined” to lead, then we have to be prepared and capable of exercising that leadership in contexts of increased complexity. Leadership can happen at any level of a company’s hierarchy. The recipe for success in the past is no longer a guarantee for success in the future.

In a pre-VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) world a leader knew what needed to do and directed others how to do it. Leadership was done with “command and control,” and the goal was to direct and develop employees who understood how the business worked, to replicate previous successes. 
Today this is no longer the case, today the only constant is change. Companies are forced to leave the traditional practices of managing by command and control. Leadership involves finding a balance between directive and non-directive styles according to the specific needs of the context.

Today’s leaders don’t have all the answers, they ask questions instead of providing answers, support employees instead of judging them, and enable their development instead of telling them what to do.
Today’s leaders are beginning to adopt models in which they provide support and guidance rather than instructions, and people learn to adapt constantly, changing environments, creating new energy, innovation, and commitment. The role of a leader is not to take care of its own position, but to take care of the people who the leader is responsible for. The leader no longer is directly responsible for the results but is responsible for the environment that creates those results.

Companies are full of examples of excellent professionals – “high performers” – who perform well and achieve good results. As a result of this performance they are promoted to managers where they will lead people. It is the transformation from the person who is responsible for the work to being responsible for the people who do the work. But most likely, no one has taught them how to lead, if they are not taught human skills such as, active listening, empathy, giving and receiving feedback, having a difficult conversation and confrontation, they may be good managers but they are not leaders. A good manager can guarantee short-term results, a good leader guarantees long-term results. Guarantees results with sustainability!

 Leadership is a skill like any other, it must be taught and trained every day, and it requires effort and a lot of discipline. The function of a leader is to grow the people around the leader. Leadership is not an exercise of authority, and the exercise of leadership must be by example. A leader must be concerned with creating a system, an environment, that helps employees to be their “self, natural best”. To do this the leader must develop a culture of leadership, based on the organization’s values and collaboration. And the leader must do so in such a way that this development is sustained.

A company must teach its employees to lead!
This is only possible by creating a collaborative culture, sustained by the organization’s values, and without ignoring the fact that collaboration requires skills that, like leadership, must be taught.
The cornerstone of a collaborative culture is trust.

One of the challenges for leaders is to create an environment of trust that allows them to build trusting teams. In a successful collaborative culture, for example, fear of judgment is replaced by curiosity, and employees understand that their perspective is just as valuable as that of others. Employees are not afraid to risk new solutions to old problems, and they are not afraid to face new challenges imposed by the market context. In a collaborative culture, the answer “because we have always done it this way” is not acceptable, and the curiosity of “why?” is stimulated.

To create this culture, this environment, this trust, it takes a daily practice in all areas of the organization. Everyone is part of this equation, which is why it is so important to invest in people who recognize the importance of this type of organizational culture and who are aligned with our values. 

Nobody wants to work in an environment of fear and where there are no stimuli to innovate and propose new solutions. In the VUCA world, most companies should prefer to have “truster” employees rather than “performer” employees. There are metrics to evaluate the “high performer”, but there are no metrics to evaluate the “high truster”. At Integer we prefer “high truster” over “high performer” because “high trusters” guarantee collaborative culture and are better leaders. They guarantee sustainability.

The pandemic context in which we live today is a major obstacle to the creation of an environment of trust. Because of the uncertainty and fear that it brought to all of us, and because of the new remote working model that we were forced to implement, which only increases these problems. The Pandemic is another challenge to continue to create an environment of trust, collaboration, and growth, with all people working remotely and some even being integrated into the company during this period.

 In the VUCA world, which inevitably has uncertainty in business, employees look to their leaders for a role model. If they perceive that their leaders work to foster learning and cultivate leadership competence, they will do the same. Sustainable leadership seeks to contribute to greater literacy, because strategic changes and their implementation are only sustainable when supported by a transformation of the organization’s leaders and culture.

Leadership has the power to create and destroy value. It is necessary to convey the real impact that leadership and people management have on organizations.

Luís Setúbal

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