To say that the last year has been one of immense disruption and change is to say that the Earth is round – sorry flat earthers.
Our lives, from home-schooling our kids, handling our health, working from home to dinner with friends, underwent a rapid multi-dimensional change. Existing trends — future of work & virtualisation of the workspace, online learning, telemedicine & virtual health, and e-commerce — accelerated exponentially. Change occurred in months, not years and, in some cases, weeks and even days. It’s been a mighty challenge for leaders to navigate the sheer volume of change simultaneously.
What if I were to say that the last year is not an anomaly, and we have been in a period of accelerated change for quite a while? You would probably tell me to calm down!
Think about this for a minute; advancements in technology, automation, human interconnectivity, AI, and their network effects, created a new reality where change is much more rapid, constant, and ubiquitous.
What if we are already in a new normal of change, marked by three dimensions:
- Perpetual — happening all the time and ongoing.
- Pervasive — happening in multiple areas at once.
- Exponential — happening at an increasingly rapid rate & accelerating!
Enter the era of three-dimensional change—a period in which effective leadership will be defined by the ability to navigate this new reality.
The issue is that our current leadership models may be too linear to cope with the new era of three-dimensional change in which multiple domains are transforming around us simultaneously.
Linear thinking can never catch up and adapt — the new era of 3D change is too fast and complex.
Does a new era need a new approach?
That is the question I have been asking myself for some time. After researching how to be a better leader in the new world myself, I came across the concept of Sapient Leadership developed by Stanford University. Harvard Business Review describes sapient leadership as:
“A Sapient Leader is characterised by being wise, sagacious, and discerning in navigating change while also being humane in the face of change that can often feel alien. This kind of leadership emphasises — counterintuitively — an anti-heroic leader. Sapient Leaders exhibit authenticity, humility, and vulnerability, inspiring the necessary trust and psychological safety that drives shared learning and intelligence, resulting in enhanced collective performance and leading to a better future for all.”
So how do you practise being a sapient leader capable of navigating the 3D change era?
I am glad you asked. The research from Stanford points to four key pillars in practising sapient leadership.
The Four Pillars of Sapient Leadership
1. Leader humility, authenticity, and openness instils psychological trust and safety
During uncertain times, leaders naturally tend to gravitate toward asserting positions of command, power, and control. This is the traditional paradigm of the leader taking on the hero role. The challenge with this traditional approach for leaders is that the 3D change era requires more openness, collaboration, and collective consciousness to solve challenges effectively. These challenges are just far too complex for one person to handle.
In this new world of change, leaders need to continue growing and evolving themselves to enable their businesses to grow and develop.
Leaders need to be flexible and adaptable to support the business as it grows rather than seeking to force the business to move in a specific direction suited to their comfort zone.
By taking this approach, leaders can create an environment of trust, empathy, authenticity, and safety in their business, bringing the best from their people.
2. Trust and psychological safety empower individuals and teams.
When we are experiencing periods of stress and ambiguity, our natural human tendencies kick in. We focus on threats, our anxiety levels rise, and we can become quite tribal and divisive at times. Large scale multi-dimensional change can instigate one of those periods that can serve as a catalyst for these tendencies to emerge.
Creating an environment of psychological safety and trust is even more critical during these times. This is because individuals and teams thrive & perform in safe and trusted environments. In a recent study at Google, researchers found that psychological safety was the most crucial factor in high performing teams. Being vulnerable and having the safety and trust of leaders to take risks creates the optimum environment for your people to perform.
Right now, more so than ever before, it’s critical to empower our people to perform at their highest possible capability. Leadership plays a huge part in building trusted relationships, opening candid communication flows and developing a strong sense of personal accountability that helps build a culture of high performance.
3. Continuously learning teams progress through 3D change effectively.
In a world where complex multi-dimensional change is happening all around us, we must continually learn and adapt our mental models, leverage the latest systems and tools, and pivot dramatically to make the most of emerging ideas and best practices.
To navigate 3D change, we must be willing to learn new ways of working and empower our teams to find a way to do things they have never had to do previously. This requires a relentless appetite for trying new things and researching how to solve complex problems. Risk-taking and failure in this environment should be encouraged and rewarded.
Leaders willing to bring outside thinking into their organisations are modelling the behaviour they expect to see from their people. Doing things in new ways promotes innovations and change of existing modalities and drives continuous improvement.
Leaders who show and promote these behaviours can drive change more effectively. It’s only through expanding the pace, breadth and scale of learning at an organisational level will leaders see their people keeping up with the speed and complexity of 3D change.
4. Shared purpose and values enhance focus, cohesion & resilience.
Large scale multi-dimensional change amplifies uncertainty and ambiguity. Shared purpose and values increase organisational focus, enhances team cohesion, and strengthens resilience.
Having a shared purpose and values is critical to mobilise large numbers of people to solve complex problems together. When everyone is in it together, teams work more effectively and support greater inclusion and diversity of thinking, which is necessary to solve complex issues in a fast-paced environment.
Focus and cohesion allows your people to learn new skills rapidly, allows for streamlined decision-making processes during times of significant ambiguity, and most importantly, promotes working together towards a shared goal bigger than any individual.
Resilience allows your people the courage to try something new and execute quickly, tenaciously fail without giving up, in the face of ongoing change and challenge.
How does the future of leadership look?
This last year has taught us that we are in a new era of change and that this era of 3D change is the new normal. The biggest test for leaders will be their ability to lead their businesses effectively during these changes.
Organisations that fail to deal with the new normal will fail. Sapient leaders will have the necessary capabilities to thrive during these times and enable their organisations and people to prosper.
3D change will continue to amplify the pressure on leaders, teams, and organisations to evolve and adapt faster. Failure to do so could render these businesses irrelevant in the future. Change that used to take place over years and decades is now taking place in weeks or days.
We have never confronted change of this size and complexity or at this pace. Sapient leadership is a framework that enables our ability to adapt in an accelerated, wise, and humane way. It builds the ability for leaders, individuals and organisations to continuously evolve to meet the needs of a rapidly changing world. Sapient Leaders and their successful organisations change with change itself.
At Ellivate, we understand the importance of leading through change and its impact on your organisation’s ability to Go Next Level. So book a meeting with us to kick start your leadership coaching today!
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