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