Predictable Surprises: The role of leaders in building organisational resilience

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In this complex, fast-paced and ambiguous business world that we operate in today, we have many questions about the future, but equally as much uncertainty about the answers.  In fact, although the techniques for predicting the future have become more sophisticated, we are finding that we actually know less than ever before. Five-year or even three-year forecasts are becoming a distant memory – how can predictions and forecasts give us comfort in an uncertain world?

‘Only our capacity to experiment, think creatively and critically can give us a way forward  and comfort’

Arguably, we are more vulnerable now of being victims of wicked problems and ultimately, business crises, than in the past. As the saying goes, what got us here isn’t going to be enough to get us where we need to be in the future.

The leadership topic of our time that has emerged is the super-evolving and paradoxical nature of leadership.  Disruption on a huge scale at a super-fast pace. Increased scrutiny of performance, heightened levels of transparency, environmental demands, financial turbulence, and a robust clarion call from society, government and regulators alike for business to articulate why it exists, is testing leadership like never before.

In the Economist edition dated 7 February 2020, the leading article ‘What it takes to be a CEO in the 2020s’, states that “the boundaries of the firm, and the CEO’s authority, are blurring”. And, “even as CEOs’ authority is being redefined, a shift is under way in where firms operate”. The days of formal authority, built on status and power, are diminishing.  The role of moral authority built on trust, integrity and honesty is now emerging as the currency of successful leadership, with a positive impact on organisational performance.  See this Yale Insights article and supporting study here, ‘For CEOs, integrity is the best policy’, May 2019, for further insight on the economic impact of a CEO’s behavioural integrity.

‘While formal authority can be seized, won, or bestowed, moral authority must be earned by who you are and how you lead’

That’s why I’m so pleased to be talking at the annual Strategic Management Forum’s conference in London on 9th March, ‘Undaunted: How Successful Leaders Face Up To Wicked Problems and Avoid Predictable Surprises’.  During my keynote talk I will explore why an unknowable future creates demand for a different kind of leader; one who is comfortable with ambiguity, can keep options open for a prolonged period, and can steady others’ around them using moral muscle and ethical behaviours.  I will shine a light on what it takes to thrive as a leader in the future and how to cultivate a climate of organisational resilience that can withstand surprises using vigilance, integrity and trustworthiness as critical leadership capabilities.

Read the conference brochure here.