• Leadership

Leading in a Disruptive World

Leaders don’t deal the cards, but they can dictate how to play them

Wednesday 10 August 2016


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The tragic trail of events, that seem to permeate our day-to-day lives, has become a sad, yet all too real, defining trend to the start of this new millennium – an age that promised so much. Looking back through the blurred and bloodied lens of recent history,  it doesn’t seem that we have very much to hang our hopes, dreams and aspirations on. In fact, for many of us the opposite is true, fear becomes replaced by defiance, rhetoric is  reduced to often hollow phrases as we find it hard – perhaps impossible – to comprehend what’s going on (or going wrong) with our world.

It is then that we need our leaders more than ever: individuals who have the innate ability to make us feel better about ourselves and safer in our skins.  Despite the terrible events of recent history, we must not forget that we live in what has been termed a VUCA world.  A world that is by turns Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. It is a most unforgiving place, where seemingly anything and everything can happen and really does. It is a world where disruption is the order of the day.

It is Volatile: Because at any moment the box of tricks called ‘life’ can explode in your face. Just when you thought you had all the loose cannons tied down on the deck, a storm appears out of nowhere.

It is Uncertain: Whatever you think will happen won’t – and just when you least expect it.  

It is Complex: There’s no doubt that a techno-driven web of super complexity and connectivity drives our world and we cannot get away from it – not even for a nano-second.

It is Ambiguous: The rules we grew up with just don’t apply anymore. It is almost as though doing the opposite from what logic tells you is the right response.

There’s a lot of utter rubbish talked and written about leadership, that’s what keeps the consulting industry gainfully employed. But what seems most clear to me is that every CEO, or so-called world leader has one thing they need to do and take responsibility and accountability for: recognize that the world is, as I’ve just emphasised, unbelievably complex and no single person, no matter how much a genius they may be, can run it effectively. Therefore, as we wade ever deeper into the mire and slime of our self-inflicted VUCA world, the ability for our leaders to build effective teams of people around them are going to be what defines our organizations (and governments) of tomorrow. Equally, the ability of these leaders to inspire their teams to go the extra mile to try and navigate the storms of tomorrow is going to be paramount.

If we are to succeed and prosper in a world defined by ongoing disruption, where our world can be instantly turned topsy-turvy by a single, terrible act, then we must be able to feel that those who run our organizations have access to the best advice and counsel they can get. This is no great time to be a CEO; a toxic climate marked by markets in turmoil, geo-political tremors and zealous stakeholders finding new agendas to prosecute. All this takes the attention away from providing fulfilling work experiences, not to mention the small matter of turning a profit. Little wonder then that many of the best and brightest prefer to take a back seat rather than face the cut and thrust of daily life in the spotlight.

My message to leaders, is take it on the chin. Surround yourself with the best and brightest you can get (a few battle-hardened old war horses aren’t a bad idea either). Then when all hell breaks loose (and all the signs indicate it will do just that sooner or later) be as ready and able as you can. There’s not much more we can expect, but being ready to act is giving yourself an even chance, which is not a bad outcome when the odds are stacked against you.

We didn’t deal the cards, but we can dictate how we play them. Real leaders know, intuitively, what’s in their hand all the time. Think about it for a moment. A suit of cards is not unlike a team of people; all have their uses. You just hope you don’t get dealt too many Jokers

Management Centre Europe (MCE) is a leading provider of human capital and management development programmes for international companies and public organisations worldwide.

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