Businesses are facing constant additional challenges arising from climate change, austerity, Brexit, the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the increasing movement of uprooted people, unexpected competition, new technology and surprising disruptors, and the consequences of a crippled supply chain along with the cost of living crisis. This means that many are grappling with stress, fear, instability, insecurity and anxiety in an increasingly uncertain world, and it is clear why we need inspiring and dependable leaders in business to rise from the ashes to motivate and lead by example with determination and compassion.
Whilst the characteristics of a great leader during VUCA times may be bespoke to every business, the skills we need now in 2022 are different to what they were. Many herald Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy as a great political leader, with his excellent communicative skills and extraordinary courage, but what are the characteristics of great business leaders in a VUCA world?
- An ability to convert anxiety into energy. This means establishing what anxieties there are within the business and addressing them on a one-to-one basis or as a group. Feeling isolated or unheard, or a lack of clarity creates anxiety. Leaders who are transparent, share a common goal and grow team spirit can move this anxiety to energy, and the expression of their own energy is so important because people will respond positively or negatively to how they are. The more self-aware they are, the more successful they will be.
- Having an understanding of what the glue that joins us together is. Trust and transparency are usually at the heart of this, as is having a powerful sense of purpose. We need to really believe in what we are trying to do, it gives us a feeling of belonging and motivates us. When everyone’s contribution is acknowledged to be of great importance, when we share a vision and we feel valued, that is when the magic happens.
- Principled. We have recently been reminded of the misuse of power by those in authority who are supposed to be pillars in society from the government to the police, so workers are increasingly looking for leaders who have integrity, morals and values. Leaders need to adopt a strong but always principled line when creating solutions and taking action, by welcoming employee feedback, listening to critics, building a system of reviews, being self-aware, and addressing concerns of power play and misuse of power quickly.
- Compassionate. Employees want and crave good leadership and need managers and the C-Suite to deal with employee uncertainty and health issues with compassion and empathy. Great leaders are not only strong communicators but empathetic listeners and employee-centric.
- Flexible and agile. These characteristics almost go without saying but they can’t be missed out. In a fast-changing world, good leaders more than ever need to learn fast, have an ability to adapt and not be afraid of the challenges associated with moving situations. Rigidity is likely to affect the bottom line and the company culture, and mean missed opportunities.
- Courageous. Being brave does mean taking risks but not being reckless. Courage comes from vulnerability and using intuition, compassion and empathy. It comes from the heart.
- Being a people person. Being amongst the people, making connections, building relationships and understanding at grassroots level what is happening results in better trust at a group level, and enables better understanding, enlightenment and personal development at an individual level.
- Knows the value of amicable cooperation. Leaders who are simply trying to ‘get back to normal’ are actually ignoring the realities of what has changed and what is still to come, rather than focusing on planning by strengthening the team and creating a culture of cooperation towards individual, team and business goals. Conflicts can stop businesses in their tracks and result in loss of talent. Amicable cooperation (that is never coerced) fast-tracks solutions. Empowering others so that you have a team around you who can offer alternative solutions and thinking also means sharing the responsibilities.
- Never set unachievable targets. Being given unachievable targets can play havoc with our wellbeing, motivation and health. When times are harder we need the wins more. Breaking down targets, making them realistic and celebrating achievements as a team will produce further rewards and wins.
- Being a bespoke leader. Some businesses may be looking for pathfinders and guides, others need commanders and more still want pilots to guide them through VUCA times. Whatever the bespoke requirement, there is no space for self-deprecating leaders, but equally egotists create conflict and poor communication. Leaders definitely need to lead in 2022 and use their critical thinking to evaluate, be logical, decisive and fair.