Mar 23, 2020
What are the two biggest challenges defining leadership today?
One challenge is the overflow of paradoxes such as "do more with less" and "innovate more but cut costs". Another challenge is the quickened pace of "disruptive change" which adds increased pressure on organizations and leaders.
These challenges drive leaders to be more versatile than ever before. Leaders at every level in an organization must be able to handle a plethora of changes and juggle competing priorities at the same time.
What does it take for a leader to succeed? In a word: Versatility.
Why? Leaders who are versatile engage their workers more than their inflexible counterparts. Versatility also leads to higher performance for teams who stay focused when the landscape shifts. Versatility encourages organizations to adapt to new circumstances and innovate with new solutions. This is why a versatile organization will maintain a competitive advantage because they are proactively disrupting the status quo before they can be disrupted by outside circumstances.
In short, versatility is the ability to understand and react to changes with a wide skillset of equivalent abilities and habits. This plays out as leaders read change better as they are responding to it. Versatility forces us out of our comfort zones and rote habits that may no longer apply in a new situation.
Two big challenges characterize leadership today. One is the need to juggle a growing series of paradoxical demands (do more with less; cut costs but innovate; think globally, act locally). The other is the unprecedented pace of “disruptive change,” which speeds up the interaction of these demands and simultaneously increases the pressure on organizations to adapt.
These challenges have significantly amplified the need for versatile leaders who have the ability to cope with a variety of changes and the wherewithal to resolve competing priorities. It is not an overstatement to say that versatility is the most important component of leading effectively today. Versatile leaders have more engaged employees and higher performing teams. Their business units are more adaptable and innovative. Their organizations are more capable of gaining a competitive advantage because they know how to disrupt before being disrupted.
For almost 25 years, my colleagues and I have worked to help leaders improve their versatility, and we have found the above to be true in a range of industries across North America, Europe, Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Throughout our work, we have coached hundreds of senior executives and systematically studied their development, as well as assessed more than 30,000 upper-level managers in mostly large, global corporations as varied as Google, The Walt Disney Company, Allianz, Schneider Electric, and more.
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