Jan 29 2021| Leadership
by Phil Eyre Founder
In 2021, I will be continuing my leadership series of articles in Business Brief magazine. In my first feature of the year, I explore anticipation, awareness and action and explain how these three things will help leaders to thrive in the year ahead.
“Expect the unexpected” is a phrase I’ve always found troubling. It’s an oxymoron and can lead to wild speculation, faulty theories and assertions of belief-as-fact that can distract us from critical here-and-now issues.
Yet if I’ve learned anything from the last 12 months, it’s that - despite all our efforts to create stability and predictability - the world we live in is essentially uncertain. And that great leadership embraces uncertainty, anticipates the unlikely and challenges conventional presumptions.
A key factor in determining leadership quality is anticipation: the ability to understand and sense trouble ahead and then take preemptive action. We talk about “getting ahead of the curve”, redeploying resources ahead of time and evading failure.
In our work, “awareness” is one of a number of skills that we measure when working with leaders and teams. Consistently, it’s the weakest of the core skills we look for. Worse, we often discover high scores in the counter-productive equivalent - bravado or denial about problems brewing. This can be spotted by a dismissive “we can deal with anything” attitude.
In our experience, many leaders in the Channel Islands are far more comfortable solving problems than anticipating them; ignoring the smoke alarm and then fighting the fire. This is a recipe for inefficiency and stress. To be better than this, leaders need to hone their anticipation skills:
When in wealth management, I remember some highly contrived products being pitched to us which would deliver decent returns only if certain markets performed within their historic norms; outside of those norms, the product would fail. Thankfully we passed on these; most failed.
The principle is the same for leaders: know your fundamentals, why your company exists, your core value-adds, how you delight others. When the unexpected happens, draw on these core strengths as you improvise. You’ll find that this improv attitude frees you from the constraint of the “how we must do things” mindset, enabling you to focus your attention on the real problem to solve, not just the immediate operational issue.
Whilst we might not be able to define specifically the “unexpected”, we can - and must - prepare ourselves for it. This is a year to prepare to be surprised.