IT’S A VUCA WORLD…New Leadership Skills Required

February 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

Over two years ago, I was attending one of our quarterly Alliance of CEO’s keynote speeches (I’ve been a Director/Moderator of Group 307 since 2007).   The speaker was Bob Johansen and he had just published a new book called Leaders Make the Future: 10 New Leadership Skills For An Uncertain World.  One of his premises was the concept of the new VUCA world we are all living in.   I began taking furious notes on my notepad.  I recently dug out these notes and it’s time to transcribe them here.

Bob argued we are in a time of disruptive leadership change. In a VUCA world—one characterized by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity—traditional leadership skills won’t be enough.

  • V = Volatility. The nature and dynamics of change, and the nature and speed of change forces and change catalysts.
  • U = Uncertainty. The lack of predictability, the prospects for surprise, and the sense of awareness and understanding of issues and events.
  • C = Complexity. The multiplex of forces, the confounding of issues and the chaos and confusion that surround an organization.
  • A = Ambiguity. The haziness of reality, the potential for misreads, and the mixed meanings of conditions; cause-and-effect confusion.

The forward to the book gives a perfect flavor of the read:

Watching the Arab Spring unfold of late in the Middle East reminds us how prescient Bob’s work is in assessing the dynamics of our VUCA World. He foresaw the rising influence of what Howard Rheingold first called “smart-mob organizing,” through which social networks are used creatively and purposely to fuel change— foretelling events that unfolded in Tunisia, Egypt, and across the region. Frantic attempts by failing governments to quash social media interaction highlighted their hostility toward another emerging trend identified by Bob: “quiet transparency.” The complete absence of that trait among many Arab leaders, from Mubarak to Gaddafi, factored crucially into their downfalls. The resulting new and highly uncertain era, not only in the Middle East but around the world, demands yet another skill highlighted by Bob—“ commons creating,” or the ability to develop shared assets, requiring collaborative leadership at all levels of the government, business, and social sectors.  John R. Ryan, President and CEO, Center for Creative Leadership

Bob’s own introduction to his 2nd Edition is just as compelling for anyone engaged in this new VUCA world:

We are now in the midst of a threshold decade: our natural, business, organizational, and social systems will reach tipping points of extreme challenge, and some of those systems are likely to break. However, such disruption can spark new opportunities.

Fortunately, virtual leadership tools in the emerging world of cloud computing are making new strategies for smart-mob organizing possible just at the time when it is becoming most necessary to work together in new ways and at great distances. I believe that the more connected we are, the safer, freer, and more powerful we will be. But there will be frightening downsides: the more connected we are, the more dangerous it will become. Leaders will need to make new links and organize people for action— yet also protect against dangerous hyperconnectivity like we see in global financial spasms. It is good news that we are more connected than ever before, but leaders must now learn to lead in ways that make full use of the new connectivity of cloud-served supercomputing— while minimizing its considerable risks.

A forecast is a story from the future that provokes insight in the present. Nobody can predict the future, but you can make forecasts: plausible, internally consistent, and provocative views of what you think could happen. The best forecasts provoke insight and invoke action. This book uses forecasts to provoke insight about leadership.

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ACTing in the Open Age

February 10, 2013 § Leave a comment

Connecting My Head With My Heart:

Last summer I attended a week-long course from Stanford’s GSB executive education program that has become an inflection point in my approach to life.  The course was called Interpersonal Dynamics for High Performance Executives.  It’s name didn’t do the class justice.  What transpired for me during the week was a reawakening helping me to begin reestablishing internal pathways connecting my head with my heart in a powerful combination.

I’ve known I’d been living “in my head” for quite some time.  It was convenient.  It was comfortable.  Being a CFO and a finance and operations professional for 20 years has made it too easy to over-rotate to a left brain, analytical approach to the world.  Driven by data, requirements, metrics, and complex models – I was in my element.   It was easy for me in Silicon Valley’s fast-paced competitive arena to get out of balance in the intellectual sport of economic king making.

In recent years, however, I found myself wanting more and deeply missing something both in business and in my personal life.  I had forgotten to, or rather gotten out of practice with, truly connecting with others on an authentic level and simply “keeping it real”.

From a historical perspective, I’ve always been a people person and knew nothing other than being real and keeping it real.  I grew up in small towns of Northern California (Tiburon until I was 11) and then the heartland of Ohio (Tiffin; 11-18) where families and friends always came first.  I received an engineering scholarship and attended USC,  joined a fraternity (Phi Delt), and easily connected with many friends.   My first job was in Silicon Valley and when I left Intuit in 1996, my close colleagues gave me a very expensive pen/pencil set inscribed with “It’s the People” – a motto I helped contribute to when we compiled and published Intuit’s now famous operating values.

At some point thereafter, I gradually became unbalanced in my approach to my business life which also began impacting my personal life and “connecting habits”.  Over the last several years, I’ve been finding my way back to a more balanced center thanks primarily to a renewed focus on friends and family as well as finding an amazing culture in Mozilla.  Mozilla has proven to be an amazing breeding ground for my personal learning with a primary focus on operating openly, leading with communities, and how transparency and trust are are required for influence and impact.

Since my powerful week at Stanford, I’ve been playing with many concepts and “trying them on”.

  1. Life (both personal and business) is based on RELATIONSHIPS
  2. Relationships are built on TRUST
  3. Trust requires being VULNERABLE (Open)

I’ve begun connecting some very important dots such as

  • Sensing (the five senses) = The Data Input
  • Thinking = the Head/Brain interpreting and trying to understand the data
  • Feeling = the Heart;  the Output; the true value of why we sense and think.

Most importantly, feelings and emotions are an “Importance Dashboard”.  The higher the emotions, the more important the subject must be.  Therefore, I’m learning to lean into and explore the highest emotional discomfort.  Data and Dashboards are things I’m naturally good at and now I have other tools to help me begin to connect.

Other learning from my Stanford week included an understandable and ever-present dynamic when two people attempt to communicate.

  • Intent (a person’s needs; motives; situation)
  • Behavior (verbal and non-verbal)
  • Impact (feelings, reactions, internal responses)

Two of these dynamics are mostly invisible and feeling based while Behavior is the only visible reality of any communication.   Interestingly, I learned that if I didn’t share what I was thinking and feeling concerning how I was being impacted by others behaviors, that these “others” would naturally fill in the blanks for me.  Worse, I realized I probably wasn’t being truly “seen” and/or I was losing control over how I was seen.   In this world of non-sharing, my best outcome would be that others assumptions would only be directionally accurate and in the worst outcomes completely wrong.  Ouch.

So, I’m course correcting and learning how to ACT better by being more Authentic, Connected, and Transparent.  I learned about Vulnerability (an extremely powerful concept – quite the opposite of showing weakness).  Ultimately I’m learning how to begin to establish better Trust and by doing so to be a better leader with much greater Influence.

I’m on a mission to re-connect my heart with my head in a powerful bridge and I hope to share this learning with others…starting with this post.

If any of this connects with you and you are interested in more, one of my favorite Ted Talks on authentically connecting is Brene Brown

Deep thanks go out to Stanford’s David Bradford, Carole Robin, and Tony Levitan, as well as my fellow group.   In addition, I thank Deb Cohen who pushed me to take this class and finally many deep friends at Mozilla who have helped be understand “open”, “transparent”, and the power of being “connected”.

Serendipity: As I was putting the finishing touches on this post,  @StanfordBiz Tweets to Ask:  “In 5 words or fewer, what does “power” mean to you?

I replied by  Tweeting:   ACTing OPENly; Authentic, Connected, Transparent.    And so my sharing journey begins….

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