Developing as a Manager in An Era of Uncertainty

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While much of the writing and speaking about how uncertainty and change will impact our firms and careers has a doom and gloom sound to it, I beg to differ. In my opinion, it is the best of times to be developing as a manager and leader and navigating in your career if you're armed with the right skills, tools, and attitude. 

To kick things off, I challenge you to think beyond the borders of your job and your firm to the bigger world of market forces promoting change and disruption for all of our firms and industries.

After looking at the big picture, we’ll adjust our altitude just a bit and discuss how you can cultivate the skills and tools necessary for survival and success in this complex environment.

6 Facts of Life About the Future of Business:

  1. Technology will continue to change everything. The accelerating pace of technological change is giving life to new industries and organizations and approaches to business. Uber is the obvious example that everyone references and of course, Facebook and Google (now Alphabet) and Tesla and SpaceX and many others are busy inventing the future.
  2. Tomorrow’s giant firms and industries will emerge from the list of industries McKinsey describes as the “Disruptive Dozen.” These firms have digital DNA and no ties to the businesses and practices of today’s long-standing mature firms. They are unencumbered by the past. 
  3. Every existing firm (including yours) is in a battle for relevance and possibly survival versus the emerging Digital DNA firms. The fundamental issue for existing firms is finding a way to move beyond the practices and business approaches of the past to new markets with new offerings and approaches. This is a non-trivial activity.
  1. Thebig macro-forces of globalization, urbanization, demographic aging, geopolitical instability and the drive for sustainability (coupled with technological change), will drive the economic weather system on the planet for decades to come. No industry or geography or sector will be immune from the impact of these forces.
  1. Management must be reinvented. This is a battle cry described clearly by London Business School Professor and Author, ​Gary Hamel, and is one I believe to be absolutely correct and essential. Many of the practices and approaches we use in guiding and leading and structuring our organizations are more relatable to the industrial revolution of the past few centuries than they are the hyper-fast, technology and data-driven and interconnected world of today and tomorrow.The pursuit of management excellence and management innovation is an imperative in today's world. 
  2. You own your career, now more than ever. Your most important asset is you, your skills and your ability to learn and adapt. It’s essential in this era of change that you actively engage in a perpetual process of learning and reinvention.

7 Areas to Focus Your Management Development Efforts:

While lists of “how to” items grossly simplify the reality of the hard work required for success, they offer a great starting point. Consider these more as the basic guidelines for your personal professional fitness program. We’ll build on each of these in greater detail in subsequent posts.

  1. Develop Your External I.Q. It’s easy to spend most of your days chasing issues and squelching fires inside the walls of your organization. It’s essential to regularly adjust your altitude to a higher level and look at the bigger changes and trends in your industry, with your customers and even in far away markets and geographies. The best leaders and managers are constantly scanning the external environment looking for opportunities and noting trends or changes that might create challenges or open new doors for their firms. They focus on translating external noise into insights and actions.
  1. Grow Your Internal and External Networks. Success in this era of change is much about tapping into the right expertise to solve a problem or seize an opportunity. Your success, your team’s success and even your firm’s success may depend upon the ability to engage experts outside of your daily environment. The best leaders and managers are network brokers who bring together very different groups of people to solve problems.
  2. Read Voraciously. Your hunger for the ideas from others will pay dividends many times over in your career. If you're not reading (or listening) and learning, you’re moving backwards at the speed of change. Stay tuned for some forthcoming suggested reading lists.
  3. Internalize: “It’s Leader AND Manager.” Instead of burning precious gray matter on the differences between a manager and a leader, know that you need both great management skills and great leadership skills to succeed. They are both incredibly valuable toolsets of behaviors necessary for success.
  1. Embrace the Reality of Power and Politics. Wherever humans gather in groups, power and politics are present. The challenge is learning to understand and navigate the political environment in a manner that keeps your integrity intact. And those who cultivate power (again, in a clean manner) are the ones who decide what gets done and who does what. If it feels better, consider this more about cultivating influence.” Just don’t ignore it.
  2. Learn to Build Teams that Work. Teams are the vehicles of innovation, strategy execution and problem-solving, and you need to learn to be a master team builder. Most of our workplace teams sub-optimize, and in a world where timeliness is essential, you can’t afford to have your teams misfire.
  3. Master Your Inner Game of Leading. We associate leading with a set of behaviors, including coaching, delivering feedback and providing direction. And while these timeless behaviors are still important, the context in which you are being asked to lead and manage is very different today than at any other point in time. Today's effective leaders are uniquely attuned to their role and responsibilities for fostering a safe environment where innovation and experimentation flourish. Consider this mindfulness for leaders. 

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Just over a year ago, I set out to transform myself physically. I read everything I could about the topic and then hired the best trainer I could find. This particular trainer integrates body and mind training and after many hundreds of hours of hard work, I’ve built a great foundation for the new physical and mental me. Of course, I also recognize that much like learning to manage and lead, I'm a perpetual work in process. The work of learning and growing never stops. 

My intent is to help frame the hard work and guide you on your journey of continuous learning and reinvention as a manager and as a leader. If you invest in the heavy lifting and hard work, you will prosper, as will your teams and your firm. Now, let's get it started!