The qualities leaders need in times of flux

leadership style

This week I would like to share some insights from my 2018 Sales Trends Report, which focuses on leadership, and in particular, the key characteristics leaders need in times of flux. The state of flux we are experiencing is bringing about a shift in the top key qualities required to be an effective business executive and leader.

It’s not necessarily a completely different set of qualities, but a change in their order of relevance for navigating a changing, ‘fluxy’ kind of world.

Douglas A. Ready, a senior lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and the founder and president of ICEDR, says: “We need to recognize embedded tensions and paradoxes. Smart, capable, solid professionals most often perform well in their roles until they reach a level in their organizations at which they are confronted with a series of embedded tensions and paradoxes that make leading effectively much more complicated.”

He goes on to outline the most common paradoxes leaders face when driving a transformation effort:

  1. Revitalisation vs. Normalisation
  2. Globalisation vs. Simplification
  3. Innovation vs. Regulation
  4. Optimisation vs. Rationalisation
  5. Digitisation vs. Humanisation

According to Ready, “successful transformation leaders embrace these tensions even though they make the challenge more complex.”

This sales trend explores the essential characteristics and qualities of effective business and sales leaders and what business executives can do to deal with these paradoxes and be ready for the challenges ahead.

The first characteristic is quite obvious, but still important to mention: being prepared.

In times of uncertainty and flux, people need to be led by someone who is prepared for the role. This leader needs to be someone who they perceive as having the knowledge, ability, skills and mindset to give them clarity and purpose.

The second characteristic is curiosity. This personal attribute has an increased importance during these times of flux.

The state of flux brings more complexity to an already overloaded world and there are those who are better at managing complexity than others. In an article for Harvard Business Review titled “Curiosity is as important as intelligence”, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic explains that there are three qualities that improve a person’s ability to manage complexity. These are:

  • IQ, intellectual quotient, where the higher the IQ the greater the brain-power to handle the cognitive load and deal with complex problems;
  • EQ, the ability to perceive, control and express emotions, where the higher the EQ the better a person can manage stress and anxiety (which are high at times of flux); and most interestingly
  • CQ, curiosity quotient, where people with higher CQ are more tolerant to ambiguity, and are more inquisitive and open to new experiences.

All of these qualities transform complex situations into more familiar ones, hence making CQ a powerful tool in finding solutions to complex problems.

And finally, the third key characteristic that business and sales leaders need in times of flux is courage.

They need the courage to be present and remain true to themselves. They need the courage to make decisions regardless of the unknown conditions, the uncertainties and the risk. Leaders need courage to build or adjust strategies even when everyone else thinks it’s impossible to have one. Robert Biswas-Diener describes courage as a quotient dependent on two factors: fear and willingness to act.

According to Biswas-Diener, courage = willingness to act divided by fear.

Business leaders have, as a group, an advantageous starting point. A study titled “The Courage Quotient: How Science Can Make You Braver” showed that business leaders “have less fear and more willingness to act” than the other groups in the study, which including police officers, fire personnel and military officers in training.    

So, what are we to do with this information?

Well, if you are about to recruit a new business executive or sales leader, you know what to look for. Some of the qualities and attributes mentioned can be psychometrically assessed as well, so you can gain a clearer picture of the candidate.

If you already have a team on-board, and think that they need to be better prepared for the challenges that lay ahead, then start with ‘being prepared’ and put in place an effective business and sales strategy underpinned by a robust and sound operational framework. Although experiences cannot be transferred from person to person, the insights of experience can be shared. Businesses can also bring in new talent with the knowledge, skills and capabilities missing in their current team.

The second one is CQ, the Curiosity Quotient. Following on from the HBR article mentioned previously, EQ and CQ can be developed, so if you think these attributes are lacking in your business and sales leadership teams, a development process can help build these qualities in your people.

And what about courage? Courage can be built as well. Courage is a muscle, the more you use it, the more courageous you become.

This sales trend will see businesses and sales operations led by well-prepared, curious and courageous people raising the standards and sailing through the times ahead.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

NOW READ: Four leadership skills every fast-growing entrepreneur needs

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