I am guessing that we have all had sporadic but inspirational bursts of the desire to get ‘into shape’- to repel the advancing years and waistline and slay the beast. The outcome is usually to get to the gym or don the less-worn running shoes and get to work. All too often these endeavours prove to be short –lived with little lasting benefit other than another failed attempt to get our uncooperative bodies to conform to the poster image view of ourselves that mockingly lurks in our imagination.
But what has this to do with leadership?
Quite a bit as it turns out. Getting fit cannot be achieved in isolated bursts of frenetic endeavour that may last for 72 hours. That is simply ludicrous and is more likely to kill us than help us. Getting fit requires an end goal matched by regular disciplined effort in which the rewards are achieved gradually over a period of time. In this quest there are times when we may feel as though we are regressing in the pursuit of physical fitness and other moments when the progress made comes as a welcome surprise. Regardless, we push through, knowing that both indicators can be misleading, deceiving and serve as a distraction.
Being fit to lead is not unlike what I have just described. In TomorrowToday we talk a great deal about the need to be ‘future fit’- about what it will take to lead through the challenges and storm clouds that form the terrain facing you as a leader. Turbulence is the new operating norm confronting leaders and being fit to lead through such demanding conditions is simply non-negotiable for anyone serious about effective leadership. Futurists talk about a ‘VUCA’ world, one in which the prevailing context can be described as volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. These four descriptors serve as helpful indicators for leaders navigating their way into the future. Each invite conversations as to how exactly they are being experienced; how they are playing out in the specific environment in which you are leading. Whilst they are all being experienced in some shape or form, how they are shaping your context will differ from geography to geography’ from sector to sector and from market to market. This is the translation work necessary and which has to accompany any look ‘out the window’. It is this changing context that demands a change in how we think and practice leadership. If the world has changed, leadership needs to change. The world has changed.
If this then forms the leadership context, how can leaders become future fit? What can you as a leader do to get into shape to lead effectively in such a demanding and testing context? What is your ‘gym routine’ as a leader that will ensure you are Future Fit?
Well here are five things that you might want to consider:
It starts with the realisation that something is needed.
It begins with an awareness of the need to get fit – or reach greater levels of fitness. Appears to be so obvious doesn’t it? However the sad truth is that in my work I meet many leaders who genuinely don’t think anything else is needed. Leaders who are entirely satisfied with their current leadership practice when it is apparent to all who look on that it is far from satisfactory! Increasingly leaders are facing situations where they don’t quite know what to do. This produces enormous pressure for leaders are always ‘supposed to know’ exactly what needs to be done. ‘Knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do’ is what is defined as an ‘adaptive challenge’. Increasingly leaders are facing adaptive challenges and as this realisation dawns so too should the awareness of the need that ‘something more’ is required – the ‘I need to get fit’ realisation that can be as daunting as it is motivating.
It takes hard work and discipline.
Today we lead in a world of quick fixes and ready-made answers. Even when it comes to physical fitness there are many quick fixes on offer, fixes that we know to be deceptive in spite of how appealing they may appear! There is no short cut. Getting fit is hard work and so it is when getting futurefit as a leader. This ‘hard work’ might be the questioning of well-serving assumptions and past formulae that have brought success. It is the ‘unlearning’ that is necessary in the process of learning or as Alvin Toffler said, ‘The illiterate of the twenty-first century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn’. Most learners are familiar with hard work and discipline but often in areas other than learning. Dismantling prior learning and challenging dearly held assumptions is never easy, especially for leaders caught in the glare of the public gaze and scrutiny.
It takes time.
Getting physically fit cannot be accomplished in a sustained long burst. It needs to be achieved through regular, on-going sessions underpinned by a design and carried out with intent. That is if one is to work smartly! Whilst there are no ‘short cuts’ there is the possibility of working smartly in the pursuit of fitness – both physically and when it comes to leadership. Being patient and working smartly are important in the quest to be futurefit. Understanding how you learn best and then building a learning regime around that understanding is what I am talking about when it comes to being ‘smart’. If for example your learning is best served by reading then it comes to ensuring regular time to read; and to reading the ‘right’ books. All too often I hear leaders lament they are too busy to read. If that is the case, then you are too busy! Alternatively, your best learning may occur through observing others and having focused conversations. If this is the case, then when last did you intentionally set-up opportunity to observe and engage in meaningful conversations with the intent to learn?
It is an activity.
It is a ‘doing-word’ as I was once unforgettably taught in identifying an adjective. Getting futurefit as a leader will demand action – some of which you may enjoy, and some of it not. I have designed an entire ‘bootcamp’ for leaders who wish to become futurfit and each session is orientated around a thought piece and importantly, an action point; a ‘doing’ that is designed to assist you become futurefit. Grooving a golf swing takes constant work and practice. In much the same way learning to be futurefit takes constant practice. An example of what I am talking about would be the exercise (as suggested in one of the bootcamp sessions) that has you nominate one of your team members to only ask questions during your next team meeting. This is teed up without the knowledge of the other team members and is carried out in a way that should be undetectable to those participating in the meeting. The results can be profound for both the person nominated to only ask questions and well as for the meeting itself. The idea at work is the importance of asking questions and ultimately the quality of our questions determining the quality of our strategies. Building a team culture that is comfortable with questions and one that gets increasingly better at the quality of questions being asked is something that takes time and deliberate practice. In short, it is an activity!
Progress is measure by hindsight.
Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (although to limit Kierkegaard to philosophy is to do him a grave injustice) said that life has to be lived forwards but can only be understood backwards. Getting fit is a little like that in that progress is often best measured by where it is we have come from rather than where we feel we need to get to. Leaders striving to get futurefit ought to pause to consider their progress and this perspective can provide the impetus to keep going, growing and learning. Getting futurefit is often punctuated by sporadic insights such as, ‘six months ago I wouldn’t have reacted like this to that situation’ or ‘a year ago I would never have been as vulnerable and transparent as I have just been’. Progress can be marked by where we have come from not merely by where we want to get too and remembering this is important in getting future fit.
Anyone serious about leadership will know the importance of being Future Fit. Anyone who has been a leading for a long time will know that past fitness counts for little when it comes to the fitness required for the challenges ahead. They will know that getting fit and staying fit are two different challenges.
The 30 part Future Fit series is designed as a ‘boot camp’ to assist you become a better adaptive leader. Each video session is only 3-4 minutes and has embedded an activity or action point that is designed to help raise your ‘fitness level ‘ as a leader. It is something to try, something to experiment with in pursuit of becoming future fit. A bite-size bit of theory underpinned by something practical to do. I invite you to give it a go and provide feedback on how it works out for you.
Now get those running shoes out… or sign up for our Future Fit Video Series here