Leadership is becoming more and more complex. We can see that as a threat or an opportunity, that’s our choice. I see it as an opportunity to learn and grow, which is always more fun than any extended status quo.
Increasing complexity means that as leaders we need to manage multiple stakeholders, greater expectations of transparency and to consider sustainability as a major driving force for business ethics and success.
There are no quick answers to any of these challenges/opportunities, but that shouldn’t be a reason for doing nothing. Here are 3 tips for leading in the increasingly complex environment of business.
1. Think of ALL the resources you need to do a great job and deliver results.
The HUMAN resources = your employees, customers, suppliers, interest groups, people impacted by your actions etc (your stakeholders). Who are you dependent on to do a great job? Who’s dependent on you, who’s impacted by your actions and behaviours? What’s important to them? What do you need to do to keep them onside, have their continued support? This includes creating an awareness of differences in cultures, personalities and more.
The NATURAL resources = water, air, land, vegetation, animals etc. What resources do you need for your work? What resources do you impact? How can you plan and execute your work with minimal impact?
The FINANCIAL resources = capital, shareholder investment etc. What budget do you need? Which financial indicators do you impact? How can you best impact finances in a positive way?
2. Think of your impact.
Think about what your actions and behaviours will lead to – who/what will be impacted, in what way? And not just immediately but also over time. And even if the impact is positive for one stakeholder or one resource, it may not be for other ones – if so, you need to consider how to deal with that.
3. As you consider the points above, create “impact grids”.
Here you can map out actions and behaviours and their (positive/negative/neutral) impact on people, natural resources and finances – so that you can make the best possible decisions.
The key to complexity is to think bigger, wider, further, longer term. To not just do what seems easiest or most obvious in the moment. Everything we do has consequences, sometimes greater than we realise – unless we start making a more thorough assessment of our practices.
It’s not enough to think about the customer, if the long term effect on the environment is too great – sooner or later it will damage your reputation and customer loyalty will falter.
It’s not enough to think about the environment if there’s no financial reward to what your doing – sooner or later you’ll run out of money to protect the natural resources.
It’s not enough to think about shareholder payback if the business practices are unethical – sooner or later it will impact your business viability and share value will drop.
For all of us, it’s about opening up to the growing complexity of business and making it work, by seeing beyond our day-to-day actions. And once we do, it’s a pretty compelling story of business sustainability.