Today’s business world is as complex as ever. And it’s always changing.
Ray Carvey, executive vice president of corporate learning at Harvard Business Publishing, a subsidiary of the Harvard Business School, says management structures today are very different than 20 years ago, namely because of the middle manager.
Carvey describes today’s business world as “volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous,” and says it’s crucial to stay productive through this time of change.
According to Harvard Business Publishing’s report, “Leading Now: Critical Capabilities for a Complex World,” there are eight critical capabilities leaders must possess to be effective today.
1. Effective leaders manage complexity.
“Leaders who know how to manage complexity are skilled at solving problems and making decisions under fast-changing systems,” the report says. Even before any definitive information is available, effective leaders must assess a situation’s complexity and choose appropriate courses of action.
2. Effective leaders manage global businesses.
Carvey says that managing a global business wouldn’t have made the list 10 years ago, but today, understanding global markets and knowing you’re in a global market is key. Leaders must maintain a global focus on a day-to-day basis. “This includes assessing what’s happening with consumers, competitors, the economy, and the politics of the markets in which their businesses operate,” according to the report.
3. Effective leaders act strategically.
Just as thinking globally is a must, a forward-thinking approach is also necessary. “While older practices focused on long-term strategy development, today’s world requires a more continuous process: Leaders must always be prepared to adjust their strategies to capture emerging opportunities or tackle unexpected challenges,” the report says.
4. Effective leaders foster innovation.
With the ever-increasing levels of competition, “no strategy can sustain a company’s competitive edge indefinitely,” the report says. Regardless of how successful something may be, there can always be an emphasis on innovation. Effective leaders understand this and are focused on taking a business to the next level.
5. Effective leaders leverage networks.
Successful leaders take networking beyond advancing their own careers, the report says. Rather, they view it as a way to benefit the organisation and create relationships with “customers, suppliers, strategic partners, and even competitors.” No matter how it’s used, though, effective leaders in this category must “demonstrate a talent for collaboration,” according to the report.
6. Effective leaders inspire engagement.
It’s absolutely crucial to keep employees at all levels of an organisation interested and engaged in the work being done. It’s all about giving them a feeling of value. Simply retaining employees isn’t the goal. “People can occupy jobs for years, but they won’t create value for their organisations if they’re not invested in their work,” the report says. It’s up to the leader to ensure employees actually feel that they’re making a difference.
7. Effective leaders develop personal adaptability.
Again, this is a matter of understanding the continuous change that’s occurring. Something that may have worked brilliantly in the past won’t necessarily work again. “Adaptable leaders steer clear of a ‘that’s how we’ve always done it’ mentality,” the report says. Instead, they look at new realities through fresh eyes so they can spot and seize valuable opportunities.
8. Effective leaders cultivate learning agility.
Learning agility is the trait most everyone struggles with, Carvey says. As business strategies and models evolve, the leader must, as well. Effective leaders take the initiative in finding opportunities to learn. “They continuously experiment with new approaches, using techniques such as rapid prototyping,” the report says. “And they take time to reflect on their experiences so they can learn from successes and failures.”
Keep in mind, however, that as the business world continues to change, the key traits necessary for leaders to be successful may also change. In a volatile environment, the ability to react to new scenarios is imperative.
A previous version of this post was written by Steven Benna.