Seven Crucial Actions for Leading in Complex Times

Complexity is a fact of management life in our interdependent global marketplace.  Paradoxically, the more complex things become, the greater the need for leaders to be able to extract, focus and act on core essentials.

Thriving in complex times involves seven crucial leader performance areas.  Do you consistently deliver in these areas? ‎

Critical Action #1: Define Reality.  You won’t hit the mark if you haven’t clearly identified the target.  Align your people behind one consistent definition of success with frequent reminders about priorities, methods and goals.

  • Communicate what’s at stake in terms of  results and impact.
  • Use concrete examples and metrics wherever possible to drive home your points.
  • Avoid “execution drift” by limiting the number of new initiatives that get layered on the core plan.

Critical Action #2: Lead by Example.  Leaders need to aspire and inspire.  That’s why it is crucial that you be visible and communicate often, both in setting direction (Aspire) and motivating people’s performance (Inspire).

  • Model the importance of keeping a positive attitude.
  • Celebrate incremental wins and take the time to recognize results before rushing to the next milestone.
  • Learn from mistakes and false starts without shooting the messenger.

Critical Action #3: Reinforce a Can-Do Attitude.  In a volatile environment, many elements are not within your control.  Focus instead on the controllable aspects in order to empower and encourage your team to be creative and effective problem-solvers.

Speaking of action, make sure your people have not just the will to succeed but the skills to succeed.  New initiatives and strategies may require enhanced or different capabilities from what enabled successful execution in the past.  Act quickly to redress any major gaps or deficits in your talent portfolio.

Critical Action #4: Perception is Reality.  Nothing derails employee engagement and superb execution like a disconnect between what leaders say and what they do.   As a leader, how your decisions and actions are perceived by others carries more practical weight than whether they are fair and proper in fact and merit.

  • Ensure that rewards and recognition programs mirror and reinforce core organization values, behaviors and performance metrics.
  • Take the time to check your people’s perceptions of decisions and priorities. Use the opportunity to listen and provide corrective information.
  • Don’t assume that silence is the same as agreement or alignment.  In my experience, the quieter the room, the greater the lack of consensus, comprehension or buy-in.

Critical Action #5: Protect Your Greatest Asset.  Your reputation as a leader and your organization’s reputation for integrity and quality are priceless. As Warren Buffett bluntly put it, “If you lose dollars for the firm by bad decisions, I will be understanding. If you lose reputation for the firm, I will be ruthless.”

When the pressure is on, it can be tempting to cut corners or push the envelope on business practices and accountability. Resist that temptation.  Instead, like Buffett, model zero-tolerance for less-than-ethical conduct.  Cell phone cameras and social media have the potential to turn any event or incident into a major news story.  It’s a humbling thought.

Critical Action #6: Resilience Rules.  Now more than ever, leaders need to expect the unexpected and equip their people to do the same.  The best of plans can run into unexpected roadblocks from external factors, such as supply disruptions, international monetary crises or natural disasters.  When this happens, make sure you have a Plan B and that your team understands how this detour will still get them to the planned destination.

No plan is foolproof, so always test your assumptions by asking: How can we fail? I find this is a common management blind spot, especially in the enthusiastic early stages of planning and execution.

Critical Action #7: Stay Healthy.  Keeping perspective is critical for a leader.  You can’t do this if you’re exhausted, burnt out or in a permanent bad mood.  You, your team and the entire enterprise will suffer.

  • Know your own stress triggers.
  • Avoid traps like workaholism, over-eating and other compulsive behaviors.  Eat right, get enough sleep, exercise and stay connected to family and friends.
  • Get a grip on your calendar.  Over-scheduling is one of the biggest stressors I see among leaders today.

In conclusion, the way for leaders and their organizations to win in complex, turbulent and uncertain times is to adhere to these critical actions and performance dimensions.

Copyright © Susan Battley.  All rights reserved.

About the Author

Susan Battley

An advisor to Fortune 100 executives and world-class institutions for more than twenty years, Dr. Susan Battley is an internationally recognized expert on CEO and leadership effectiveness. Her clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional service firms, and elite research institutions. She has worked with chief executives, university presidents, Nobel laureates, and prominent scientists, diplomats, and educators. A respected media source for analyzing leadership in the context of news-breaking events and key trends, Battley has been featured in outlets worldwide including CNN, CNBC, Fox, Bloomberg, and National Public Radio, and in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Chief Executive, Business Week, United Press International, Harvard Management Update, Entrepreneur, Science, Leader to Leader, Investments, and Worth. She is the founder and CEO of Battley Performance Consulting, a leadership strategy and organization effectiveness consultancy.