The Key to Thriving in Turbulent Environments: Preparedness and Resilience
The disruption and uncertainty that have categorized the last five years will remain the same or even increase in the future. That was one takeaway from a recent Leadership Future Readiness Survey I piloted with over 40 C-level executives across multiple industries and functions. When asked about the future, over 80% of these leaders expected the future to be as disruptive or even more so than recent years.
The most recent World Economic Forum Global Risks Report echoed these findings, pointing towards an increasingly uncertain and volatile future. Current sources of disruptiveness and uncertainty include — but are not limited to — the Ukraine conflict, inflation and recession concerns, Russia, China, North Korea, Taiwan (computer chips), ongoing supply chain issues, talent and staffing challenges, and the continuing pandemic. Add on industry and market-level disruptions or ecosystem-level turbulence, including evolving relationships with partners, new business models, innovation, shifts in customer behavior, competitor moves and the one certainty we have is there will be plenty of change, disruption and uncertainty in the future.
The Importance of Preparedness and Resilience
I've long advocated two principles: First, leaders must pay attention to and consider the environment where they are and will operate. Context matters. Second, leaders and their organizations must become more resilient and better prepared, ready and able to adapt in the face of disruption and uncertainty. However logical, these ideas often fell on deaf ears, especially pre-pandemic.
Over the last few years, leaders and stakeholders have seen the damage that a lack of preparedness and resilience can cause. Yet as recently as last Spring, many leaders I surveyed when asked about improving preparedness and resilience noted, “we do not have time for that,” “we are too busy fighting fires and focused on operational issues” and “improving preparedness is a luxury we cannot afford.” Implicit in these statements are two falsehoods. First, things will calm down and there will be time to work on this later. There will not be. Second, the risks and costs of waiting and inaction are bearable, even though most leadership teams have not explicitly calculated or considered these.
The World Economic Forum’s July 2022 report, "Risk Proof: A Framework for Building Organizational Resilience in an Uncertain Future," shared two important points:
“With shocks occurring not only more frequently but also simultaneously, it will be the capacity of businesses to anticipate and adapt rather than react that will increasingly define the winners and losers.”
“investment in resilience (and preparedness) is necessary to make an organization not only stronger and more secure, but also more profitable and sustainable ….”
Preparedness and resilience are no longer nice to haves. They are foundational elements of an organization’s future success. These ideas have now risen to the top of leadership and board agendas. Research by McKinsey, Bain and the World Economic Forum shows that organizational preparedness and resilience can be authentic sources of competitive advantage, driving above-peer performance and resulting in nearly 50% fewer business failures.
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Improving Organizational Preparedness and Resilience Through the Superpowers
The Five Leadership Superpowers are essential to inform and improve organizational preparedness and resilience and enable an organization to thrive in a whitewater (VUCA) world. In previous articles, we explained each Superpower and its value by way of real-life examples from Home Depot (Present Futurist), WD40 (Experienced Learner), Florida’s updated building code (Prepared Risk Taker), Delta Airlines (Strategic Executor), and US Special Operations Forces (Accountable Collaborator). We provided tips to help build and sustain each Superpower.
Two ideas underpin the Superpowers:
- The Superpowers do not replace core leadership capabilities. They augment and strengthen them, enabling leadership teams and their organizations to be far more effective in the face of ever-accelerating change, frequent disruptions and rampant uncertainty.
- Each Superpower entails combining and acting on two seemingly opposing ideas simultaneously through BOTH/AND thinking to improve preparedness and resilience, deliver better outcomes, and do so with far less risk than choosing one or the other.
While each Superpower is valuable and has a role to play, that is only part of the story. There is so much more.
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The Multiplicative Power of The 5 Leadership Superpowers
The Five Leadership Superpowers are far more impactful when taken together. They help organizations withstand shocks, recover faster, and be positioned for future opportunities and able to pounce on them quicker. They enable organizations to scale more effectively and proactively create and act on their new opportunities. How?
Each Superpower informs and supports the others leading to more and better insights, innovative thinking, and the development and sustainment of more robust and relevant capabilities, leading to exponentially better results for the organization and all stakeholders.
Let’s see how by way of two examples:
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Present Futurists play an ongoing informing role for each of the other Superpowers.
- For the Experienced Learner, the Present Futurist provides the current and future context to help determine what expertise and experience are relevant and what new capabilities to build and further develop.
- For the Prepared Risk Taker, the Present Futurist increases awareness of current and possible future risks, identifies different scenarios to consider and prepare for, and highlights where intelligent risk-taking (experimentation) will help the organization be proactive and responsive to evolving market needs.
- For the Strategic Executor, the Present Futurists help define the current environment and help foretell and anticipate the future. With this, the Strategic Executor can make better, integrated operational and strategic decisions, optimizing success and value delivery across time horizons while minimizing the adverse impacts.
- For the Accountable Collaborator, the Present Futurist provides information on the evolving work and talent environment and insights that might inform where various collaborative relationships are needed.
Like the above example, Prepared Risk Takers also inform and support the other Superpowers.
- For the Present Future, the Prepared Risk Taker may identify risks/trends that need to be monitored and tracked, ultimately informing where preparedness is warranted and prudent.
- For the Experienced Learner, the Prepared Risk Taker identifies where constructive debate, creativity, and new capabilities are needed to help the organization become better prepared.
- For the Strategic Executor, the Prepared Risk Taker identifies risks and preparedness needs, approaches, and actions to integrate these into strategic and operational decisions, informs organizational preparedness and resilience needs, and helps the organization stay on course.
- For the Accountable Collaborator, the Prepared Risk Taker may identify new areas for collaboration to understand and address risks and preparedness and determine outcomes/metrics progress tracking.
It is through connections like these and many more that the collective impact of The Five Leadership Superpowers is far greater than the sum of its parts.
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Superpower Benefits and Super-powered Results
It is through this strong and resilient web of interconnections and interdependencies that the Superpowers improve organizational preparedness and resilience. The Superpowers lead to more valuable discussions and value-creating decisions and actions, whether in the face of disruption and uncertainty, when opportunities present themselves, or when trying to grow and scale for future growth.
The Superpowers help identify, unlock and unleash organizational capabilities and potential, often making the improbable possible. In each instance, the Superpowers enable faster, more informed, thoughtful and future-ready decisions and actions. The benefits are unmistakable. Performance improves, stakeholders receive greater value, and it’s done with less relative risk and uncertainty. Here's how:
- Customers receive more value since they are better understood and served, their needs fulfilled, and their expectations surpassed. They, in turn, are more loyal, stay longer, buy more, and become more profitable as symbiotic relationships develop.
- Employees feel more valued and receive more value. Why? They are better understood and actively engaged. Leaders seek, welcome and listen to their diverse perspectives, irrespective of background, position or level. Instead of being hindered, they are enabled and empowered to do their jobs well. They have more opportunities to develop and grow and earn greater rewards. They feel a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves.
- Shareholders realize greater total returns as their stakes increase in value as revenue grows, profits improve, and relative risk and uncertainty decrease.
- Community and social interests are addressed as leaders, and their organization focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) as well as environmental, social and governance (ESG) concerns, recognizing that the organization’s success and sustainability are dependent and linked to the success and sustainability of the surrounding communities and environment.
Each reinforces and supports the other, resulting in a virtuous cycle. To sustain these impacts, the Superpowers must become part of the organization’s fabric and continually be used and improved upon.
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Who Needs The 5 Leadership Superpowers?
Board members need the Superpowers to be more effective and value-adding in the advice, stewardship and oversight they provide. Leaders and leadership teams need them to better guide and enable their organizations to succeed, whether at an enterprise, business unit, functional or project/initiative level. Ultimately, leaders should then share the Superpowers with and develop them in the rest of the organization.
While this article and series have primarily focused on leaders and organizations, the Superpowers are relevant to individuals, both professionally as one grows and even personally when life happens (e.g., natural disasters, a severe illness, job loss, or aging parents. The Superpowers enable and drive both/and thinking and better navigation of life’s many tensions.
In the final installment of this series, we will answer the following questions:
- Do individual leaders need to master all of The 5 Leadership Superpowers or just a few? What about leadership teams?
- When and where should the Superpowers be utilized? Where is it most beneficial?
- How do you start becoming a Superpowered leader, leadership team and organization?
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About the Author
Jay Weiser is the Principal and Founder of Jay Weiser Consulting. Fueled by a passion for helping clients reach their potential, he enables leadership teams and their organizations to not only survive but thrive in the face of disruptiveness and uncertainty.