Ten qualities of executives that are characterized by complexity


Since the pandemic hit North America in March, we’ve spent significant amounts of time talking to thought leaders and leaders about its impact on them, their organizations, their customers and markets, and society in general. Through these conversations – be it about resilience, supply chains or the future of work, diversity, equality and justice – we were able to trace a narrative thread that runs through everything: the leader’s struggle to keep up and see people through change and one completely Apply new playbook without invoking a timeout.

Executives who have performed really well have demonstrated ten remarkable qualities. They were:

  1. Modest
  2. Open
  3. Included
  4. Available
  5. Soon
  6. Sensitive
  7. Entrepreneurial
  8. Tough
  9. Disciplined
  10. Committed to action

On their own, none of these properties may seem particularly remarkable. What is interesting, however, is that as a group, these are exactly the same traits embodied by executives who generally do well given the complexity – not just pandemics (in fact, we discuss many of these traits in our book Cracking complexity).

Ten qualities of managers with an affinity for complexity

1. CLEARLY. Executives need to start accepting that when faced with complexity, there are no known answers, that there is no outsourced vendor to find out fast enough for you, and that the old way of figuring things out is impossible work more. It takes humility Given the uncertainty and throughout the pandemic, that quality was key. Sharon Callahan, CEO of CDM Agencies, puts it this way: “People are hungry for their leaders to tell them what the future will be, but right now you have to be vulnerable and say, ‘I don’t know, so let’s stop and find out from here.'”

2. UNLOCKED. Given the complexity, answers cannot be known in advance. Managers need to catalyze conversations that lead to answers by asking the right questions. This means giving up the illusion of having all the answers and control over those answers, being open to others’ ideas and reformulating challenges so others can help solve them. Stephen Shapiro, Innovation speaker, consultant and author, told us that especially in times of crisis “In order to get good business solutions, you must first focus on the questions you are asking because most of our questions are based on a large number of assumptions that we do not see.”

3. INCLUDED. In order to find the right answers to your question, you need to involve the right mix of people. Your goal must be to include all the necessary perspectives, characteristics, roles, functions, hierarchical levels, etc. – this diversity will enable you to make quick decisions and enable you to change course quickly if necessary. Jonathan Goodman, Monitor Deloitte’s Global Managing Partner, said: “This is the moment to include different perspectives in the decision-making process despite the accelerated timeframe. Listen most clearly and specifically to the person who disagrees with you. We will not get to the best place on the other side of the pandemic if we do not take into account the variety of experiences, opinions and points of view. “

4. PRESENT. In order to attract the right people to find solutions to complex challenges, one key is to connect them directly and to be a direct and equal participant as a leader. So busy during the pandemic, maintaining a grounding sense of connectedness for people (whether socially distant or frontline busy working together) and finding effective ways to be visible and available as a leader has proven to be a differentiator. Dr. Omar Lateef, The CEO of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago told us that “More than ever before, I found it critical that we were in the wards, in the corridors and in the emergency room, even distributing food for a few moments or just saying hello. It wasn’t the food that made people feel better; It showed that we are here together. “

5. UPCOMING. In complex situations and in crisis, the sheer noise and confusion makes it incredibly difficult for individuals and teams to think and act. Noise takes all forms: too much information; wrong information; and missing, ambiguous, unreliable, or fragmented information. Executives need to pierce the noise with honesty, reliable data and knowledge. Laurie Cooke, President and CEO of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association, told us it is about “Provide confidence, assess the situation to decide if and when to take action while continuing to collect data, listening to those around you and what they need, and continuously and transparently providing them with the information that you need even if it’s not good news. “

6. EMOTIONAL. Before people can get the right answers, they need to feel that their leaders understand what they are experiencing. Instead of explaining what is most important and what time and attention to focus on, the complexity-conscious leader invites people to share their fears, wants and needs. Dr. Michael Cropp, President and CEO of Independent Health, listed several decisions based on this type of input. These included: “Not forcing people back to the office when they were worried about how to do their job plus kids; Investing in state-of-the-art remote monitoring capabilities to help doctors better control the vital signs of people with chronic and comorbid conditions rather than going to the doctor’s office; significant investments not only in technology but also in techniques to help people keep in touch with colleagues, family members and loved ones; and To take steps and make investments that reflect the reality that the organization is not keeping up with issues such as diversity and equality. “

7. CORPORATE. In both random and crisis situations, amazing opportunities can arise when something very extraordinary throws people out of their comfort zone. Several experts spoke to us about how entrepreneurial managers not only use the moment, but also actively create the framework conditions where others can also. Sunny Bonnell, Co-author of Rare breeds, spoke about the characteristics of companies that have done well during the pandemic: “Everyone else is looking around, frantically like hot sauce in their brains, and asking what to do. Rare breeds don’t hesitate, they act. They are ready to exercise caution and radically reshape the future of their brand and business. “

8. Persistent. In dealing with complexities where solutions cannot be predetermined, leaders need to be confident that great answers will emerge, but only if the right people have the time and resources to work well together and the freedom to try new things and possibly fail. While multiple iterations may be required, the sophistication leader knows that good things will happen when you do hard work. Jim McKelvey, Co-founder of Square, explains it this way: “Nobody likes to drive a car in fog, but sometimes you have to. You can see 20 feet and that’s not enough to drive safely. But if you don’t move at all, you will never exceed the next 20 feet. Drive 10 and you will see a little further. You can still make progress even in gloomy surroundings. “

9. DISCIPLINED. Without clearly defined values, goals, processes, roles and responsibilities, decision-making powers and rules of engagement, and without the discipline to set up and implement a plan – the overwhelmed manager simply exacerbates the chaos. However, when people are clear about all of these things, they can keep their balance, stay focused, and do what needs to be done. William (Bill) N. Anderson, CEO of Roche Pharmaceuticals observed this in his organization during the crisis: “People make big decisions and commitments and invest big sums without asking for permission. It is the power of an organization that has a clear sense of mission and traffic rules. Everyone knows they can do the right thing without worrying about someone asking for an explanation later. “

10. OBLIGATION TO ACT. Once the complexity-conscious leader has asked the right question and hired the right people in the right way to answer it, all that’s left to do is execute. The right approach to problem solving and planning mobilizes the people involved and motivates them to act. It is then up to the leadership to clear the way for them and commit themselves to providing the necessary time and resources. David Musto, President and CEO of Ascensus, put it this way: “When I was a young executive, my mentor always said ‘take action or let it take action’. This sentence captures our current environment perfectly and guides my daily thinking. “

Those ten qualities are now table stakes

in the Cracking complexity, we’re creating a ten-step formula that enables executives to overcome tightly-knit organizational challenges such as digital transformation, accelerated growth, and post-merger integration. Now add the mother of all complex challenges to this list and navigate a pandemic.

The ten qualities we just outlined fit in very well the ten steps in the formula. During the pandemic, this once-rare mix of qualities suddenly became rampant as executives were forced to quickly change their style and behavior for the crisis. That’s because COVID-19 catapulted most executives from a reality where complexity was oppressive but viable to a situation where overcoming complexity was a matter of life and death.

When it comes to the qualities of leaders who have skillfully mastered these kind of challenges that have been watched and commented on by so many experts and thought leaders, they are familiar to those who understand what it takes to tame complexity in general.

Indeed, in times like these, they’re table stakes for leaders.

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