Present Shock: A vertical challenge for budding future leaders

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Albert Einstein

I recently came across an IBM study looking at the key challenges facing leaders. Pooling the views of over 1,500 CEOs, it highlights the fact that leaders are facing “adaptive challenges” in the face of ever more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous operating environments with current leadership practice and training proving insufficient in generating the capacities necessary to deal with new and rapidly changing operating contexts.

Things are moving so fast we are losing the ability to cope:

  • We’re overloaded by unending information, “big data” and the demand to be “always on”
  • Traditional workplace practices and successes are being disrupted by new technologies
  • As the interconnectedness of life systems and business communities become more visible old business strategies, thinking and practices are quickly becoming obsolete
  • New generations entering the workplace are demanding progressive values and innovative workplace practices
  • The ever increasing pace of globalization is requiring leaders to lead across cultures

So how can leaders of the future develop to meet these emergent challenges?

In terms of leadership development there are two schools of thought, horizontal and vertical development. Horizontal development refers to the acquisition of new skills, behaviours, knowledge, facts and competencies which we typically gain through schooling and training (e.g. MBA or function-specific training). This form of development is the most prevalent and is most useful when a problem is clearly defined and there are known techniques for dealing with it.

On the other hand, vertical development refers to stages of development people can progress through in the way in which they make sense of and respond to their world. All us of have seen how children develop through such stages but conventional wisdom holds that most adults do not develop much in this way much beyond the age of 20. However, decades of research into adult development has shown there are a number of further stages of development adults can move through in how they make sense of their work and indeed that leaders at later stages of development are more likely to be able to cope with complex challenges such as those detailed above.

Bill Torbert, a pioneering leadership theorist calls these stages of development “Action Logics” (the inner place of meaning-making through which we take action). These are described below and in my next blog I will describe the types of practice which can support you in moving through these stages. In the meantime, you may find benefit in reflecting on:

Which action logic do feel you most often operate from at work? Is this different to when you are with your family and friends?

Which action logic provokes the most reaction in you? Why is that so?

What is the next stage of development that is calling you forth?

 Greed Opportunist
  • Goal is to win any way possible
  • Characterized by mistrust, egocentrism and manipulativeness
  • Sees workplace as a jungle: “eat or be eaten”
  • Motivated by immediate pay-offs
  • Likes to gain and maintain control
 Diplo Diplomat
  • Seeks to please higher-level colleagues
  • Aversion to “rocking the boat”
  • “Let’s stick together, then we’ll all be safe and benefit”
  • Avoids strangers
  • Motivated by obedience and being a good “member”
 Expert Expert
  • Tries to exercise control by perfecting their knowledge
  • Focus on the “right way” do things
  •  “I know what’s what” and “the right answers are out there”
  •  Motivated by being sought out for expertise
  •  Characterized by rational thinking, being right
 Achiever Achiever
  • Focussed on making things better
  • Seeks to achieve own self-defined goals
  • Likes to control and maximize outcomes through and improvement of procedures and innovation
  • Motivated by opportunities to succeed and rewards for getting things done and solving problems
 Individualist Individualist
  • Combines professional and personal goals
  • Interesting in own and others unique self-expression
  • Motivated by own individuality, creativity and being sought out for insight and perspective
  • Seen as “wildcards” with “unconventional ways of operating
  • Challenges conventions, assumptions and unconscious motives
 Strat Strategist
  • Able to “see systems”
  • Focussed on big-picture and the long-term in order to make wise decisions
  • Best way to influence is to become the most actualized self one can be
  • Motivated by integrity, thoughtfulness, enhancing everybody’s competence and functioning
  • Values diversity in people, points of view, approaches and justice
 Alch Alchemist
  • Aware of the constructed nature of reality. Life is an illusion.
  • Ability to deal simultaneously with many situations at multiple levels
  • Self-aware, stands above self-interest and outside any group pressures and ideologies
  • Committed to the development of all
  • Appreciation of transpersonal realities and non-language mediated modes of knowing
  • Generates timely and wise actions