By Ben Morton
The last four years have unquestionably been difficult times for business and the public. In a short space of time we have witnessed the banking crisis, phone hacking and political scandals and the demise of many familiar big brand names such as Blockbuster and Woolworths to name just a couple.
All of these things have brought leadership into sharp focus once again and led us to ask many questions. Two of the most common questions I have heard are ‘Can we trust our leaders?’ and ‘Are our leaders equipped to lead us through these times?Â
Linked to these questions are a couple of phrases or buzz words that I have heard more and more lately; Innovation and VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity). It is VUCA that particularly interests me.
The term VUCA derives from the military vocabulary and they have been training their leaders to operate in this world for many, many years. In fact, itÂs one of the cornerstones of military leadership.
Here are some of my favourite techniques, taken from the military, that you can use to help you be an effective business leader whilst operating in a VUCA world.
A leaderÂs role is to create stability and an air of calm Â these tools can help by ensuring that teams are not reliant on particular individuals.
- Train your team to understand and be able to carry out other peoples jobs.
- DonÂt allow a Job Description document to constrain what your people do Â give them freedom to act.
- Recruit for flexibility, intellect and team ÂfitÂ Â not just skills in a narrow job role.
In times of uncertainty it is important for leaders to communicate and provide clarity where they can.
Ensure that everyone in your team or organization fully understands the vision or end goal as opposed to just their individual task. This means that if the situation changes, they still know what the team or organisation is ultimately trying to achieve.
Tell people what they need to achieve Â not how to achieve it.
‘Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.’ General George Patton
These two points will empower your people to act and handle change quickly with the end goal still in mind. The military call this ÂMission CommandÂ.
It is easy to stop communicating when under pressure but the impact on the team can be huge.
- Communicate regularly and build it into your processes.
- When teams are under pressure, individuals will often retreat inwards and team meetings stop taking place – this is the worst thing that can happen in difficult times.
- Establish a routine for team meetings and communications and make them sacrosanct. This gives you confidence that the team knows what is happening and it gives the team confidence in you and the plan.
The military have the concept of a ÂWarning OrderÂ which tells subordinates early on what little information is available about forthcoming operations. This allows for concurrent activity and provides a faster response time to challenges. Critics will say, ÂBut this could waste time if people start working on the wrong things.Â Not so if you have provided clarity and everybody understands the end goal.
Plan for the Risks
The military have a great phrase – Âno plan survives contact with the enemyÂ. So what can we learn from this?
- Consider the ÂthreatsÂ, Ârisks’ and Âwhat ifÂsÂ that may affect your plan Â create a simple Issues and Risks register.
- Once you have considered the risks Â plan for them. DonÂt just have a plan B, have a plan C as well.
- Communicate the risks and plans. It will allow people to act quickly when things change and once again, it gives them confidence.