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ComplexityNavigating complexity

I have the privilege of working with leaders at all stages of their careers - emerging leaders, those new into leadership roles; those stepping up into senior roles and those more established in their senior leadership careers. Working across this spectrum means I get to see just how the scope of the leader’s role changes and what skills, knowledge and capabilities a leader needs to develop to sustain success throughout their leadership journey.

The highly complex nature of large organisations means that a crucial development area for any corporate leader is the ability to navigate this complexity. Failure to do so can cause leaders to stall or plateau, simply unable to see the bigger picture and to operate successfully within it. So how can leaders build their capability to lead effectively in increasingly complex environments?

1. Get comfortable with change

Change is a part of organisational life. At the strategic level, it’s a result of a successful organisation adapting to their internal and external environment. At the tactical, day to day level, it’s a result of the myriad of projects, priorities, people, processes and plans that infuse the business. How do you respond to change? Does it invigorate and energise you or do you feel unsettled and a little out of control? Understanding how you react to change and what your change “hot buttons” are helps you to build your resilience to change enabling you to more easily embrace it.

2.  Be curious: look up and out

Crucial to navigating complexity is to develop your knowledge of the organisation. Look up and out of functional silos to understand what’s going on across the business. It’s hard to connect the dots when you only know your corner of the world.

3.  Build your network

If your “peer group” consists of only those people in your department or function it’s time to start broadening out. Know who your key stakeholders are; widen your peer network to include people from other functions, business areas, locations. Find a mentor from outside of your functional area, who can help you build your network across the organisation by introducing you to others. Take advantage of activities, training programmes and events that bring you into contact with people from other parts of the business.

4.  Be an opportunity scanner

Look for opportunities to get involved in projects in other areas of the business where your expertise might be useful; enabling you to add value whilst broadening your knowledge. Understand your knowledge gaps and actively seek out people or projects that can help you bridge the gap.

5.  Learn to let go

Successful leaders surround themselves with talented people and empower them to do their job. Often one of the hardest things for those either new into leadership roles or moving from functional leadership to general management, is learning to step back from the detail to focus on the bigger picture.

Learning to lead in organisations characterised by complexity, ambiguity and change in one of the key challenges for leaders in developing their careers. If you would like to talk about how else you might do that, please contact me.


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