What is Your Leadership Imperative?

We live in a world of increasing ambiguity, uncertainty, volatility, and market disruption where leaders must have the ability to continually reinvent their organizations in response to accelerated change. For 13 years I lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, home of Borders Books. I loved Borders. Not just because they were from Ann Arbor, but because they always had a huge selection as well as the inviting feel of an independent bookstore. Over the last few years Borders has died a slow death. The flagship store in Ann Arbor slowly became a pitiful bargain bin for books. For years Borders and Barnes & Noble had duked it out as the business of selling books changed radically. Market fundamentals shifted when Amazon began selling (physical) books online and then e-books through their Kindle e-reader. As Amazon changed the game, B&N adapted while Borders stayed the same. Now Borders is gone. 11,000 jobs. 400 stores. All gone.

For years, almost every book on leadership began with some sort of statement about the increasing rate of change. Now we add to that increasing complexity. That is, we live in a world of increasing ambiguity, uncertainty, volatility, and market disruption. In this new business environment, leaders must have the ability to continually reinvent their organizations in response to the accelerating rate of change and escalating complexity. The leadership at Barnes and Noble had somehow developed the capacity to adapt to the changing marketplace, while Borders did not. Like the evolutionary process of species, the species that can adapt to rapid changes in environment survive and evolve, while those that do not go extinct.

Escalating complexity presents leaders today with what we call the Leadership Imperative. Let me pose this imperative to you as a question. Is your leadership developing at the pace of change? Is the leadership system in your organization evolving at the pace of escalating complexity? If not, you are falling behind. Effective leadership is now the primary competitive advantage. Developing the effectiveness of leadership at or beyond the pace of change is a strategic priority. If leadership and its effectiveness is not an imperative in your organization you may be the next Borders.

One of our clients is an iconic global manufacturing brand. For decades, this organization has led the planet in all the important metrics – market share, profitability, quality, loyalty – but is suddenly and rapidly losing ground to competitors. Their phenomenal success has made them complacent. They are no longer leading the industry through innovation. They have come to realize that they must fundamentally change their corporate culture and approach to leading the organization. They have turned to The Leadership Circle Profile to help them make this shift. They are accepting their leadership imperative. The evolutionary demands that they are facing require that they up their game. At The Leadership Circle we are inspired by leaders who take on the leadership imperative and then dive into developing the creative thinking required, individually and collectively, to make the most of the opportunities presented by the challenges.

Here are some questions for you personally, for your organization, and for your clients to help you understand the challenges that make for your Leadership Imperative:

  • What factors are fundamentally changing the game in your industry/market?
  • How is your industry/market changing, becoming more dynamic, volatile, and unpredictable?  What are the emerging trends?
  • What is contributing to the complexity in the scope of your job and leading your organization?
  • What strategies are required to meet the changes/complexities?

Once you answer these questions you’re not done. Most organizations answer these questions and then develop their strategic plans. The Leadership Imperative compels us to take the answers to the questions above and go one layer deeper, by asking these questions:

  • How do these changes require us to think differently?
  • How do we need to adapt, individually and collectively, to these changes?
  • Is my leadership/our leadership evolving to meet the emerging challenges?
  • What do I/we need to learn to be ready for the future?

It is a strategic priority and competitive advantage to develop leaders capable of navigating an increasingly complex world. Every leader should be asking, “How do I keep pace with the rate of change?” By considering the questions above you can begin to better understand the imperatives that will drive the next evolution of your leadership.

Douglas Day

Author Douglas Day

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