Align Leadership Skills to meet specific challenges
No doubt I will be opening up some differences of opinion and debate on which leaderships skills will be most important in 2018. In fact, I am hoping to! There’s no doubt that Canadian businesses are facing new and complex challenges in the coming year. So I think there is great value in considering different perspectives and collaborating on some creative ideas.
If you search for articles on the most important leadership and management skills, you will likely see many different opinions. And the truth is –all of these leadership and management skills are important. However, there will be differences depending on the type of industry, the size and maturity of your company and the dynamics of the environment in which you operate.
So when it comes down to developing leadership and management skills in your organization – how do you set priorities? Well first off, you don’t want to just jump on the latest fad or copy what others are doing. You need to consider your unique vision, goals and strategies of your organization. I provided some examples in a previous article about aligning your leadership competencies with your corporate strategy.
In this article, I will focus more on those broader environmental factors which affect businesses – particularly in Canada. And I’ll provide my own analysis about the skills that will be most essential for leadership development. But I do want to encourage some discussion, and yes – even debate!
Emerging and Growing Trends in the Canadian Business Environment
As there are so many different opinions about leadership skills, I believe it’s first important to start with some strategic analysis. We need to have a clear understanding of the environment in which we must operate. And we need to be looking forward, rather than just at our current state. So let’s consider some of the emerging trends for Canadian businesses:
We know that our population is aging. With lower birth rates, we know there will soon be (if not already) more people leaving the workforce than entering it. And this is particularly critical for some specialized fields. This brings challenges to Canadian business for recruitment and retention. But businesses also need to consider how it affects their domestic markets. As the demographics shifts, so does the needs and wants of consumers.
This has been happening “organically” as people travel, work and attend schools in different countries. But now Canadian government has also recognized the value of immigration to address our demographic and work force challenges. There is a movement to streamline immigration to bring in people with specific skills. Just a few weeks ago, the government release new targets for immigration:
“Canada will welcome 310,000 new permanent residents in 2018, 330,000 in 2019 and 340,000 in 2020”
Economic and Political Change
There is certainly a relationship between politics and economics, and it is becoming (I believe!) increasingly unpredictable. Our domestic economy is inter-dependent on global economies, and thus, political and regulatory changes in other countries can have a significant impact on us. Consider that uncertainty of NAFTA, and how that can potential impact Canadian business. Even those that operate only in domestic markets can be affected indirectly. We also face increasing competition from emerging economies.
Changes in consumer preferences
As I mentioned above, demographic shits affect consumer needs and wants – both in domestic and international markets. And these may be much less predictable than in the past. I would suggest that rapid technological advances have really created a new paradigm in the way consumers view products and services. Younger generations never knew a time where online shopping wasn’t available. And consider how social media and tools now influence buying behaviour. For example – Tripadvisor and other user ratings sites have a heavy influence on consumers decision. In short, we must accept that different segments of our population have very different expectations. And we may not yet have a clear understanding of those.
What competencies do Canadian Business need to be successful?
While the above analysis may seem daunting, there are things that can be done to both reduce risks and leverage opportunities. Business need to be proactive to develop the right leadership skills to ensure success in this complex environment. So based on my research, I believe the top 3 organizational competencies that can help navigate in this complex and changing environment will include:
The ability to recruit, integrate and retain a more diverse workforce
Last year, I wrote an article Five Criteria for Cross Cultural Leadership for HRVoice. In essence, this examined how a proactive approach to developing these skills can provide advantage for organizations to recruit and retain a more diverse workforce. As I discussed above, the Canadian government has again reinforced their commitment to immigration targets through a variety of programs.
The ability to proactively recognize and prepare for emerging threats and opportunities
Strategic planning is an effective exercise (when done properly!), but given the rapid and often unpredictable changes in the external environment, the tradition 3 to 5 year window may no longer be enough. Organizations need to be constantly vigilant and proactive about changes that may impact them. They need to be open to the possibility of adapting their strategy, or developing new and emerging strategies.
Resilience to uncertainty and unpredictable change
This is a challenging concept which incorporates many skills. We often hear the term “adaptability”, but I believe resilience is a much stronger (and needed!) concept. It’s being able to survive adversities, to recognize what isn’t working and what needs to change, to explore and test innovative approaches, make tough decisions and be willing to take some risk.
And this is even more challenging in that it can either be enabled or restricted by organizational culture. Consider that if your organizational culture is very structured, rigid and risk averse – it may be very difficult to incorporate flexibility. However, you may be able to find ways to leverage that structure and rigidity to create resilience. So it definitely takes exceptional leadership skills to ensure that your approach is realistic and in-line with your organizational culture.
What leadership skills do we need to cultivate?
With respect to the above organizational competencies, I believe successful business will be those that develop these leadership skills throughout their organization. To be resilient, agile and adaptive, we can’t just rely on a handful of senior level leaders. We need people with these leadership skills throughout the organization.
Cross Cultural Leadership
This revolves around the ability to lead a diverse workforce. It goes beyond mere recruitment and retention – to be able to leverage differences and integrate people with diverse perspectives to perform effectively. It first requires that leaders recognize and move beyond our own (often subconscious) cultural conditioning. We need to recognize how and why people have different expectations, and guide them to be effective within our own organizational culture. And we need to be open to new ideas and approaches that could provide opportunities. For example – employees from another country can bring knowledge and networks that could open up international business channels. Or bring product ideas from their home country that are new and desirable in Canada.
This competency builds on other competencies such as: leading teams, performance management and empowering others. Additionally, tt requires both self awareness and knowledge of how culture affects behaviour. It requires us to adapt our processes (especially communication and setting expectations!). And it requires helping our entire workforce to become more culturally aware and learn how to work effectively with others of different backgrounds. You can learn more about this competency in some of my previous articles, including:
While strategic planning is done generally every 2 to 3 years, there is still a critical need to maintain strategic awareness on a continual basis. So much like the process in strategic planning, this involves being in tune with both internal and external factors. Strategic awareness involves asking the right questions, and being able to analyze trends. It requires an in-depth understanding of organizational culture to be able to identify and develop adaptive and emerging strategies (ie. Recognizing when you need to deviate from the strategic plan!).
Once again, this is a complex competency that builds on other competencies, including: Analytical Skills and Advanced Problem Solving. It really requires the ability to develop Strategic Thinking Skills to be able to assess situations from multiple perspectives. And beyond that, to synthesize creative new options. The term “thinking outside the box” is an over-used cliche. But more than ever, we need to let go of old ways of thinking in business.
While strategic awareness helps identify the need and direction of change, the implementation can be very challenging. This involves leading employees and other stakeholders to a new state. And to do this in a dynamic and often chaotic environment. No doubt, there will be fear as people are required to change long established business practices. So it will be essential for organizations to have people with change leadership skills throughout the organization. After all, aren’t human resources one of our most important assets?
Change Leadership skills involves a proactive approach to change. It involves investigating and assessing options to adapt (rather than reacting to) changes in the environment. It gives us an opportunity to minimize risks and look for win-win approaches. And to use effective communication techniques to lead employees and other stakeholders through uncertain and potentially stressful times.
A new approach to defining leadership skills
As you may have noticed, the terms I have used to describe both organizational and individual leadership competencies are not aligned with “traditional” competency definitions. I’ve used some big and bold words to describe these competencies. Like a fine wine, they are each full and complex – building on and integrating complimentary, and perhaps even contrasting skills. But I believe the big and bold approach is what’s needed to face the challenges ahead. We need to shift our strategic thinking about leadership skills for 2018 – from a simplistic, silo type approach of describing competencies to ones that address the increasing complexity and inter-dependent nature of our new business world.
What are the biggest challenges facing your organization in 2018? And what leadership skills will be required?
As I mentioned earlier in this article, these are my own thoughts based on my research and analysis. I believe that cultivating these leadership skills in 2018 will position Canadian businesses to survive and thrive the turbulent times. However, others may be able to build on these and improve them. No doubt, there are additional critical leadership skills specific to your industry and situation. And I am very interested in hearing others analysis on these “core” organizational and individual leadership competencies that will be essential for MOST businesses in 2018. So please share your thoughts.
Author: Debbie Narver, BSc, MBA, MScIB
Strategic Management Instructor and Facilitator, NMC Strategic Manager
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