You are moving an entire business through uncharted waters right now. A lot of people are depending on you.
Grit isn’t enough to meet the challenges you are facing. You need to increase your inner agility in two ways to deal with the complexity occurring right now.
Owen, president of a manufacturing firm, reached out to me some time ago to help develop talent for the company’s succession planning.
“I’m tired,” he began. “And I think the company needs new blood. Can you provide executive coaching for my second in command?”
“I’d be pleased to help you, Owen,” I answered. “But if I can ask, why do you think the company needs new blood? You seem like you have more good years to give.”
“Truth be told, I’ve been perplexed by the business scene,” Owen answered. “Strategies that used to work don’t cut it. The challenges that we are presented with are new. I can’t refer back to anything I’ve dealt with before in order to create a roadmap out that makes sense.”
“Owen, you aren’t alone,” I responded. “Today’s business landscape is changing so fast that it’s hard to stay on top of what’s in front of you.”
“You aren’t kidding,” he shot back. “I can’t catch my breath. It’s one fire after another. I guess I’m just too old for this.”
“You aren’t too old, Owen. You are finding yourself in the same situation as most other executives right now. It’s time to increase your leadership’s ‘inner’ agility.”
“I’m ready for anything that helps me stay sane while I move this business forward,” he said. “Tell me more.”
“Well, there are two parts of inner agility,” I shared. “These are emotional and cognitive, and they both play a part in how well you make decisions and take actions. Emotional agility has to do with how well you manage your thoughts and emotions around your experiences. And cognitive agility has to do with your ability to make complex decisions.”
Owen and I talked for a bit about emotional agility and after exploring a bit, it seemed he was on top of things there. If you are interested in working on this particular aspect of agility, see the article Four Steps to Crisis Management.
We then talked about his ability to make complex decisions in light of the current business landscape, and this is where Owen admitted he was struggling. He had no past success he could reference as he confronted presenting challenges – the things that had worked in the past were not relevant.
I shared the following 5 steps to help him begin to develop greater cognitive ability:
1. Stand still while moving.
It’s important for a leader to find time for pause, but it feels impossible when the challenges keep coming non-stop. Yet, pausing is what provides self-awareness, reflection, and a moment to replenish one’s emotional and mental stores. Some executives practice breathing meditations, journaling, a walk around the building once or twice daily, or another habit that creates a moment where they can regroup.
2. Adopt uncertainty.
We are creatures of comfort, and when challenges arise, we run to what feels familiar and safe. Yet, with the world’s volatility and its effects on business, we must learn to embrace what feels new and trade in the hat of “expert” for that of “explorer.” If you find yourself using language like, “When this is all over,” think again. Our mindsets and rhetoric need to change to, “Let’s explore this challenge!”
3. Change Up Your Questions.
Begin by asking yourself where you need to go. Avoid gravitating to “how do we do this?” too soon, and replace this impulse with “What if we could…?” By remaining in the visionary portion of your questioning for a longer brainstorming period, you can begin to think outside the box about the way to accomplish it at a later time. Involve your greater management team and line employees. Tell them what you want to accomplish and get their feedback about what they think needs to change in order to accomplish this. And don’t be afraid to ask, “What am I missing?” Be open to thinking about different ways of moving forward and accomplishing your goals.
4. Focus on the journey, not the destination.
The destination you head for today may not be there tomorrow. Set shorter-term strategies to continue supporting your customers and their current needs, using your values as the foundational rudder that keeps you, the team and the organization grounded in who you are and what you are about.
5. Work on the who of your personal leadership and not the how.
Hard skills and competencies are no adequate to support the business of tomorrow. Your leadership character – your personal values and integrity – along with your agility to move through the unfamiliar – will be what count now and in the future.
I was pleased that Owen decided to work on his inner agility, focusing on the cognitive piece, to help move the company forward. As we shouldered this together, he became more confident, able to read the business landscape and connect the dots to make complex decisions, and at the same time, reported that he was less stressed than he had been in years.
Now is the time to step away from old habits to embrace the new and uncertain as exciting, uncharted territory, full of promise. The landscape continues to shift and evolve. How about you?
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Patti Cotton helps executives optimize their effectiveness in leading self, others, and the enterprise. Her areas of focus include confidence, leadership style, executive presence, effective communication, succession planning, and masterful execution. With over 25 years of leadership experience, both stateside and abroad, Patti works with individuals, teams, and organizations across industries, providing executive consulting, leadership development, succession planning, change management, and conflict resolution. She is also an experienced Fortune 500 speaker. For more information on how Patti Cotton can help you and your organization, click here.