We are living through a time of unprecedented global change, a time I call ‘The Churning’.
You probably already know what I am talking about. But for clarity, here are some of the specific issues, trends and drivers that have started significantly to impact our organisations and us, both as public leaders and as private individuals:
The banking crisis, the Euro crisis, austerity, Grexit, unemployment, the war for talent, emigration, immigration, demonstrations, riots, the Arab Spring, revolution, armed conflicts, terrorism, food shortages, food prices, energy prices, higher house prices, lower disposable incomes, the price and availability of raw materials, water shortages, food shortages, carbon footprints, competition, “the economy”, new technologies (think Internet, smartphones, drones, GMOs, biomiomicry), disruptive innovation (think Amazon, Airbnb, Uber), mass shootings, gang rapes, capsizing ferries, earthquakes, floods, new diseases (affecting plants, animals and people), offshoring, inshoring, spills (of oil, radioactivity, chemicals), storms and (finally) the widespread degradation of soil, fish stocks, species, habitats and the general life support system we call “the environment”.
Just ten years ago most of these items were barely on our radars. Now they are the new normal. And though there will be some items on the list you do not care about, and others you haven’t heard of, there is probably at least one item that is affecting you significantly. The issues are general but we all have our specific take on what The Churning means to us.
As private individuals we now have direct access to the most extreme stories from around the world, 24 hours a day. At best this can become a background ‘drip, drip, drip’ that unconsciously alters our emotional state, or that of our friends, family, colleagues, or customers. At worst, depending on the extent to which we or someone close to us has been directly affected, it can affect our own emotional well-being, impacting our ability to be productive.
And as well as the direct impacts on us, our organisations and employees, there are also the indirect impacts experienced via suppliers and customers. In 2011, severe floods hit electronics suppliers in Thailand. The resulting disruption was a major factor in Sony’s unexpectedly reporting a loss of $1.2bn for the year, more than reversing a profit forecast of $0.8bn just weeks earlier. Closer to home the price of food might seem irrelevant to your business. But food prices affect the remaining disposable income for all other consumer goods, which affects profits in consumer industries, which affects priorities and spend in B2B.
We have created a more connected and more interdependent world, and as globalisation progresses so the proverbial butterfly’s wing on one side of the world really can cause a storm on the other. We cannot predict precisely what will happen when, but our daily qualitative experience tells us that the world is becoming more uncertain rather than more stable, and the magnitudes of these effects are just as difficult to predict as their probabilities.
This combined uncertainty and lack of control affects us all emotionally, especially those who as leaders are held responsible and accountable for delivering results. So as well as the outer turmoil in the physical world, we also experience an inner turmoil in our emotional world.
This is the time I call The Churning.
It won’t last forever. It is a transitional phase to something better, as you will understand by the time you reach the end of this book. But to get us through this stage we need new thinking, new frameworks, and new tools for leading both ourselves and others.
The Problem is the Solution
Addressing the various disruptive issues we face requires a new kind of leadership: one that enables us to take more effective action in a world we can’t predict or control.
But what do we mean by ‘leadership’?
At its root, I believe great leadership is about delivering just two things: inspiration and results. The greatest leaders are the most inspirational. The greatest leaders deliver the best results. The truly great leaders are the ones who deliver both inspiration and results.
In this time of churning we need new leadership tools, techniques and frameworks that will help us to deliver more inspiration and better results.
At the same time we know that Einstein famously told us, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” Arguably it is the flaws in our current models of leadership that have led directly to the situations we face: with a different view of what it means to be a leader we would have taken different decisions in the past, and we would not have created the situations we face today. So, as we use the challenges we now face as an opportunity to reexamine what it is to be a leader, so we are also likely to resolve some of the issues that were unconsciously generated by our old style of leadership.
This, then, is the opportunity presented by this book, to provide the focus, frameworks and tools that will:
- reduce stress
- increase inspiration
- provide clearer focus
- deliver more efficient and effective results
- make it easier to adapt to changing circumstances
- achieve all this both as individuals and as agile, evolving organisations, and
- update the leadership paradigms that unconsciously created some of the problems we now face
In doing so we will create a new kind of leader and a new kind of organisation: one that is ‘antifragile’.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb says that a person or thing that is fragile will break under stress; a person or thing that is robust will survive under stress; and a person or thing that is ‘antifragile’ will actually use the stress to become stronger.
This is the focus and the promise of this book: to return to the basics of leadership and provide tools and frameworks that enable leaders to create inspiration and results in times of change. It will do so in a way that is circular and self-reinforcing, creating leaders and organisations that are antifragile: fit not only to tackle the issues we face but also to create a better world.
A book of two halves: Inner and Outer Leadership
So how do we do this?
Leadership has two parts and the two volumes of The Churning have been written to reflect this.
One half focuses on execution and results, what I call ‘outer leadership’. This is about finding new ways to understand the business context, identify risks, opportunities and key success factors, and then to focus on finding the critical path forward. It’s about managing the business as a living, adaptive organism, not a machine.
The second half is about inspiration or ‘inner leadership’. This is about finding new ways to remain grounded, set our own priorities and create an inspiring vision. It explores how we understand and manage our emotional and inspirational reactions, both in ourselves and in other people.
Which you start with is up to you.
If you are fighting fires that you urgently need to contain, the volume on Outer Leadership will give you the tools to refocus and get things done.
But if you are lacking inspiration then Inner Leadership should come first: knowing what is worth doing and why, before you shift to action.
Most of all, remember that in order to be an effective leader you will need both.
Reading alone is not enough
Please don’t read this book. Or rather, please don’t only read it. You also need to do the work.
Reading The Churning will bring you benefits, it is true, but you do not learn to swim by reading a book about swimming. To get the full potential you also need to work out your own answers and solutions: to apply the tools and do the exercises. These may sometimes seem strange or difficult, because they are different from the approaches you are used to. But to get the full benefit it is important to do more than just read the book: you need to do the work.
I will provide a set of key questions and tools, arranged in a developmental order that builds step by step. If you are serious about transforming your leadership ability, inner and outer, that will only come if you use these questions to find your own answers, uncover your insights into your specific situation.
The tools I provide will enable you to lead yourself to where you want to be. But the way to get to your equivalent of Carnegie Hall is by applying them, not simply reading them.
We are facing a number major of challenges, and their frequency and difficulty looks set to increase.
These issues are affecting our morale and inspiration and our ability to get things done.
Inspiration and results are the two halves of leadership, so by revisiting what it takes to lead in this time of churning we also have the opportunity to use this apparent ‘crisis’ as an opportunity to take our leadership to new levels of performance.
We can do this both for our inner leaders (managing our emotions and the emotions of those around us) and our outer leaders (delivering strategy and operational execution).
The two volumes of The Churning provide tools for addressing each of these, in a structured step-by-step approach.
The result of following this path will not only be to find new ways forward from the issues we face, but also to develop new levels of mastery and antifragility both for ourselves and our organisations.
By shifting our frame and applying new tools we can transform this time of churning from a challenge into an opportunity to identify what matters most to us and then achieve and become that.
You can download a free ebook here containing the Prologue and Introduction.
(The linked file contains both epub and kindle (.mobi) formats compressed into a zip file that will need to be unzipped before being added to your library.)