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Leading for Innovation in Extreme Uncertainty

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A recent article, 'Leading in the 21st century', in McKinsey & Company Quarterly, shares a series of
interviews of leaders from some of the world's largest and most vibrant
organizations. The article suggests that leaders are operating in a 'bewildering
new environment in which little is certain, the tempo is quicker, and the
dynamics are more complex.' It then explores what it means to lead in an 'age
of upheaval, to master personal challenges, to be in the limelight constantly,
to make decisions under extreme uncertainty'.
These points resonated deeply with me, because innovative leaders and start-up entrepreneurs
excel at responding to the convergence of forces they operate within, like the ones
mentioned in the article. They do this by developing and articulating a cause
greater than themselves. By thinking and acting differently in ways that
transform opportunities, challenges, problems and constraints into innovative
ideas and solutions that change the world forever.
The context of leadership is changing
To thrive in today's turbulent and uncertain global
environment, to face the harsh realities of the competitive, volatile and
complex business environment, leaders are being compelled to;
' Become increasingly adaptive and resilient and able to
perceive and respond appropriately to their worlds in multiple ways at once.
' See their world holistically and respond to it
systemically through the breakdown of internal silos and the development of
business eco-systems. Where they engage and collaborate across the private,
public and social sectors to promote global, regional and corporate
' Sustain their emotional health and well being whilst
having the composure to operate calmly, decisively and quickly amid chaos and
Enacting embodying and executing a new context for
Our research suggests that the following factors enable
leaders to enact and embody this new context successfully. They can achieve
this by developing the innovative and entrepreneurial competences that enables
them to flow and flourish with the chaos, complexity and pressure through;
1. Creating a deep, personal, yet global 'necessity' for
change; by enrolling in a cause greater than themselves, by adopting a
possibility mindset, by taking the deep personal accountability towards
ensuring its delivery and having a sense of urgency to get it done, no matter
2. Embodying an emergent approach; by opening minds, hearts
and will to see the world with fresh eyes, by being detached and discerning to
let go of the 'old' mindsets, behaviors, processes and systems that are no
longer viable. To make way for experimenting and prototyping new and agile
business models and processes that provide innovative solutions that improve
their users' experience.
3. Being curious, confident, courageous and collaborative;
by challenging convention and the status quo, by developing the courage and
strong self efficacy to deal with adversity, take intelligent risks and be kind
to, and heal themselves (and others) when they fail.
4. Exploring and networking across differing teams, fields
and disciplines; by seeking people's ideas and input, through generative
inquiry, listening and debating to harness and maximize diversity of thought,
ideas and solutions.
5. Thinking differently; by developing their associational
muscle to synthesize and make sense of novel inputs, to discover new directions
by making connections across seemingly unrelated questions, problems or ideas. By
creating breakthroughs at the intersection of diverse disciplines & fields.
6. Acting differently; by developing deep leadership
presence by role modeling these qualities to inspire and influence others to
engage and enroll in the innovation or leadership cause.
This is a much more hard edged, bolder and far more
audacious model for leadership, requiring leaders to discard a number of their
former operating leadership and team paradigms ' 'today's leaders face
extraordinary new challenges and must learn to think differently about their
role and how to fulfill it. Those who do may have an opportunity to change the
world in ways their predecessors never imagined.'
And we all know that taking a road less traveled is never a
'nice' or easy option, yet is it always the most worthwhile, rewarding and
enduring road to ultimately travel on, even though it might not like feel like
it at the time!
Like this topic?
Attend BEI Back End of Innovation 2014 in Las Vegas, NV in October! Learn more
about the event here:  http://bit.ly/1lsbfhu
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About the Author: Janet Sernack gained
her consulting, education, facilitation, training and executive coaching
skills, from 30 years of experience in manufacturing, retailing and learning
and development businesses to Australia's and Israel's' top 100 companies. She
resides in Israel where she founded a start-up, ImagineNation that teaches
innovative leadership and start-up entrepreneurship via The Start-Up Game.

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