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Five Leadership Practices to Navigate Global Turbulence

April 11, 2021

The end is not near.

Despite the frantic warnings and incoherent ramblings from pseudo experts, the human race will survive, at least for the time being. But if you’re a junkie for end-is-near messages, then go and have your fix.

Six years ago the August 2015 stock market gyrations, spawned by the Chinese government’s currency’s manipulations, produced a stream of warnings from kooks, meatheads, and supposedly educated people who should know better. Stock up on water, canned food, and ammunition. Since ATMs won’t be working, grab your cash and hide it.

Market turmoil brings out the worst in people. The same applies to how organizations are led–except that the people in the top leadership positions are paid the big bucks for having perspective, insight, and vision. In short, during periods of upheaval, whether it’s the stock market, new competitive entrants to the market or government policy changes, top leaders are supposed to have shaped their organizations to be more adaptable to change and resilient when times are tough.

Unfortunately, rapid and volatile change–akin to what has been dubbed a Black Swan event, which often produces ugly behaviours in organizations. When employees see management panicking, instead of acting in a calm, rational manner, this transmits down through the organization at lightning speed. The effects can be calamitous: people bail from the organization like rats deserting a sinking ship, some go on stress leave and people abandon any idea of teamwork and collaboration. Productivity plummets. Accounts are lost. New business opportunities never materialize.

If you work in the public sector, as your correspondent did for three decades, the effects are equally as bad as in the private sector, except this time taxpayers get shafted, citizens are served poorly, and the national interest (e.g., national defense, industrial development or labour market training) takes a backseat to the pre-occupation with reacting to the external environment’s changes.

Here are five leadership practices, regardless of level in your organization, on how to act during volatile and stressful times:

1) Maintain your Clarity during the period of organizational stress. Doing so will enable you to maintain your perspective and to keep an eye on the long-term.

2) Develop your Thinking Skills so that you’re better able to understand what is taking place, internally and externally. Don’t reply on those at the top to spoon feed you platitudes.

3) Stay Focused and Calm. This will improve your ability to think clearly and to maintain your clarity.

4) Work at increasing your Adaptability to change. Learn to embrace change, seeking out the opportunities. As the late Angeles Arrien, an anthropologist and leadership consultant, once said: “Be open to outcome, not attached to it.”

5) Take time to engage in periodic Reflection, essential to building your personal leadership and effectiveness. Doing so will enhance your clarity of the situation, help you to stay focused and strengthen your adaptability.

You’ve no doubt noted the high degree of inter-dependence among these five practices. Take some time to think about them and how to put them into practice. And, of course, take a moment to share your ideas on how to navigate whitewater change.

I am convinced that nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day you bet on people, not on strategies.

– Larry Bossidy (Retired CEO, Allied Signal)

Connect with Jim on Twitter @jlctaggart and LinkedIn

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