Modern Leadership in Times of Transformation and Change

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modern leadership in the vuca world

Modern Leadership in Times of Transformation and Change

Transformational Leadership is a term that defines the new demands on modern leadership in times of change and transformation. And these have changed massively in recent years. Because classical leadership, as we know it from the past, was primarily hierarchical and focused on achieving results. But what does the term leadership actually mean? In my article “What is leadership?” I defined it as follows:

Leadership is the ability to give a group of people a (new) vision and direction, so that they can identify with the goal and culture in an activating way. A good leader is able not only to formulate this vision in a linguistically attractive way, but also to fill it with values and beliefs and – the most important prerequisite of all – to exemplify it through one’s own actions.

Management, on the other hand, can be defined as follows:

Management is the ability to – within an existing team – direct, control and make optimal use of the people, processes and resources involved on the basis of established values, beliefs and rules.

Both definitions are still valid, but the necessary skills and abilities have changed massively because transformational leadership has to deal with two types of change: The external, which can also be described as the VUCA world. And the internal one, which has been triggered in particular by the change of generations and the associated transformation.

The VUCA World as an External Driver of Change

We live in a time that is characterised by exponential change. With corresponding effects. Markets change. Business models are changing. The demands of every single workplace are changing. The resulting consequences can best be described with the acronym VUCA. This is a term originally taken from the American military, which was intended to describe the situation after the end of the Cold War. The individual letters of the acronym stand for:

V for VOLATILITY: Today’s changes are more uncertain, intense and dynamic than just a few years ago.

U for UNCERTAINTY: Everything can be disrupted from one day to the next, nothing can be predicted with certainty. Predictability and control slip out of the hands of the people involved.

C for COMPLEXITY: Global networking creates a multitude of uncontrollable variables that dynamically influence each other.

A for AMBIGUITY: Familiar and cherished cause-and-effect relationships are outdated. Reality has become almost impossible to plan due to the complexity of roles, information and variables.

In conclusion: The world around us is turning faster and faster, change is becoming more intense. But that’s not all, because in addition to external change there is also internal change, which is no less disruptive.

Generational Change leads to Cultural Transformation

Perhaps even more intense than the economic and technological changes in the cultural transformation of the way we work, which is primarily caused by generational change and the associated change in expectations, values and priorities. This is because the future will be very intensively shaped by Generation Z (all people born after 2001), which will already account for 1/3 of the world’s population by 2019, and will be the largest segment of the consumer and labour market by 2022. Gen Z is the first to have grown up completely digitally, which will have a radical impact on communication, consumption and also on the expectations of jobs, business and the shaping of one’s own (working) life. Keywords for the changed values include “compatibility of family and career”, “work-life blending”, “remote working” or “purpose-based working”. This naturally has corresponding effects on the area of management and modern leadership.

Transformational Leadership as a Prerequisite for Co-Creation

Due to the massive changes, the entire area of management is also subject to massive change. Hierarchies are breaking up more and more, corporate cultures are changing and the way of communication is completely different today than it was ten years ago. This does not mean, by the way, that you can completely do without leadership because modern leadership is still the most important driver of organisational transformation. However, the classic top-down approach has long been outdated. Instead, the focus today is on co-creation. Every single employee of a company can and must take responsibility in his or her place to drive things forward that are within his or her sphere of influence. For the management, this means that a completely new set of skills is needed that is geared to the requirements of the VUCA world. And the three most important qualities of a good leader are clarity, transparency and empathy. And it is precisely these three qualities that we now want to take a closer look at.

Clarity

Clarity is the key to sustainable management and corporate success. Because clarity leads to commitment. Commitment, in turn, provides orientation. And orientation is indispensable for successful modern leadership. In order to guide your own team and employees through the transformation process, clarity is particularly needed in the following areas:

  • Clarity about one’s own personality, communication style and impact
  • Clarity about the corporate vision and the associated strategy
  • Clarity about your own expectations
  • Clarity about the values and principles that serve as a basis for decisions
  • Clarity about the meaning (the why and what for) of the planned transformation

Transparency

When transformational leadership is characterised by co-creation, there is no way around transparency, even radical transparency. Nothing should be secret, neither important key figures nor information or concrete goals, which in the past were often discussed like a state secret exclusively in the glass corner offices of the carpet floor in the ivory tower. Sustainable change requires a maximum openness of all parties involved. And this can only be achieved through transparency. In communication. In action. In planning. And especially in leadership. This is how the famous empowerment is created, which turns people from the role of mere recipients of instructions into active co-creators.

Empathy

In old-school leadership, the empathy factor was often equated with weakness, which a leader would not want to afford under any circumstances. But this assessment could not be more wrong. Moreover, empathy has become an indispensable success factor in the times of VUCA, change and transformation. Every person is individual and deals with change differently and at a completely different pace. One of the main tasks of transformational leadership is to meet the individual personalities with a lot of empathy and to pick them up where they are. To take their worries and fears seriously, and at the same time to enable them to be an important and active part of the team. In 2020, the following will be truer than ever: The more pronounced the empathy, the more effective the leadership.

Diversity is Key

With these three qualities, a leader holds the key to a successful transformation. And the more an organisation is able to put together diverse teams, the more effective it is. To mix the experience of the older with the dynamics of the younger. Bringing together different gender, cultures and specialisations, so that a culture of discussion is created that can create friction. And if you use this friction to develop innovative ideas, strategies and paths, then even in VUKA times you need not be afraid of the future.

And now I am interested in your opinion on this topic. Please write a comment directly below, I look forward to an exciting discussion 🙂

All the best,

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