We are all living, working and leading in ‘complexity’ and we need to recognise this and to learn new ways of being in the world in order to thrive.
It’s time for us to recognise that not just our own careers and lives, but our world, are all becoming increasingly complex, and at an exponential rate. For our grandparents’ and even our parents’ generations, it was generally possible to predict cause and effect in life and in the workplace: do x and y will follow; implement this ‘standard operating procedure’ and the desired result will occur. Leaders were employed to know the right thing to do, and to get on and do it.
Most of us see more people on our journey to work than our ancestors used to meet during the course of a year. The volume of information to process is more than anyone could reasonably be expected to cope with. Relationships get strained adding more layers of confusion, and our colleagues and strategic partners behave in ways which we struggle to understand. Our former leadership methods just don’t seem to be working in the same way and we feel like we’ve lost our touch, and worry that we are underperforming in some way. We work harder to get results, and then unintended consequences pop up further down the line. The number of stakeholders feels enormous and unmanageable. There seem to be no right ways to proceed, and yet there seem to be fewer wrong ways either. The things we were able to depend upon earlier on in our leadership careers and our lives, the methods and training we’ve been taught, our tried and tested go-to’s around how to manage specific situations no longer seem to work as effectively as they once did. This can leave us feeling lost and confused, wondering why the rug seems to be pulled from under our feet on a daily basis, and like we are trying to drive a tanker through quicksand or mud – tired, alone and with no one to help us navigate a way forward.
We are no longer leading in a simple (‘tame’) or even a complicated world, where the horizontal development of specific leadership skills such as time management or delegation skills is enough to help us to then implement the right solutions. We need to actively name the fact that we are all now leading in complexity and this requires a wholly different approach to leadership, and includes the vertical development of growing as authentic human beings, as well as cultivating forms of mind which enable us to thrive in the face of unpredictability.
Cause and effect are no longer linear, and the impact of our decisions is now increasingly far removed from us in terms of space and time. Complexity requires leaders who can embody presence in their roles, who create cultures of safe-to-fail experimentation, who have a language to use to enable others to have the courage to keep going in the face of overwhelm. The population of the world urgently needs leaders who can thrive in complexity and who are able to take on the deep health, social and environmental challenges ahead of us.