Some leaders don’t seem to be aware of (or are simply avoiding) the shift in external conditions in which they operate. I don’t say this flippantly or with a negative sentiment. Simply because it seems that some leaders feel more comfortable picking up on market realities rather than avoiding or ignoring them.
Why might some business leaders be leaning into uncertainty and changes in the market and others avoiding it?
I’ve been considering this question lately. It might sound obvious, but it seems that how we as individuals navigate uncertainty personally tends to translate to our professional leadership.
Our ability to navigate uncertainty (and our appetite to work through it) is critical for strategy and planning. If we can’t establish a very honest and sometimes confronting view of the external factors in which our organisation operates, it will impact our ability to make informed decisions.
This article discusses how we have the opportunity to make powerful strategy choices if we’re aware of, and lean into, changing market dynamics.
Avoid uncertainty or walk towards it?
Some people naturally engage in critical thinking and lean into questioning the status quo. Others perhaps see this approach as being somewhat negative, rocking the boat, or lacking a positive mindset. Neither one is better or worse than the other, but it’s certainly worth considering and being aware as a leader of where our natural and instinctive leaning goes.
In the context of strategic planning, it’s important that we achieve a balance of having a critical thinking mindset that questions assumptions, alongside a collaborative leadership style that is not always looking at the perceived risks or potential downsides.
That said, in times of heightened market instability, being more comfortable with walking towards uncertainty and getting a very clear and honest understanding of the market to test our existing assumptions is crucial.
Embrace the discomfort as an expected and normal part of the learning process. Leaders must shift from a “know it all” to “learn it all” mindset – Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft
Making choices can be uncomfortable
During the pandemic, it was, in some ways, less confronting because we didn’t have a choice in a number of aspects of the way our organisation operated. For many, remote working was mandated. The choice was made externally for us, and we had to execute and just make it happen.
Yet, right now, most of the choices we make as organisation leaders will fall back on our own judgment of the market, the data we choose to look at, and our willingness for change. A much harder ask.
“If you are entirely comfortable with your strategy, there’s a strong chance it isn’t very good” – Roger Martin
Avoiding tough choices can perhaps seem more comfortable at the time. However, when leaders steer away from acknowledging the market challenges ahead of them, it can result in not having the opportunity to make proactive choices in the future.
Through lack of acknowledgment and avoiding being on the front foot now, changes in external factors can essentially remove the opportunity for us to respond and choose a different path forward.
The only way out is through
Organisations that navigate this next period of change successfully will be the ones that make clear and decisive choices long before more obvious changes occur in the market.
If we leave things too late, it often results in reactive management that has been forced upon us.
A strategy process that helps us effectively navigate the uncertainty we sometimes would rather avoid is critical.
A genuine strategy process should force choice
We’ve highlighted that the right strategy process should support a company to make proactive choices, but not just any choice. The right choices can only be built on a foundation of honesty. Being really honest and working to get to a collective position of where things are at will bring about significant team alignment.
All of a sudden, the discomfort of the unknown is put under the spotlight. When done the right way, taking a very honest approach to the market will not turn into a mud-throwing free for all or doom-and-gloom mindset.
It instead shows to the broader organisation that we are committed and serious about confronting the challenges and working through the strategy outcomes together.
Give yourself the opportunity to make a strategy decision.
Instead of ignoring challenging circumstances, give yourself the opportunity to make a choice. Making a choice can help you avoid unwanted changes being forced on the organisation down the track.
Here are our top two ways to do this:
1) Be aware of your natural tendencies as a leader. Do you typically lean towards challenging the status quo and into uncertainty, or do you just assume the best in the trajectory the market has been taking?
2) Consider reframing your mindset and start seeing uncertainty and market changes as an opportunity to get on the front foot, even if it is uncomfortable.
Build these aspects into your leadership to start navigating uncertainty. This will enable you to challenge existing assumptions and make proactive strategy choices.
Learn more about using these principles:
- 6 Strategies for Leading Through Uncertainty – Summary of the key points in this Harvard Business Review article by Rebecca Zucker & Darin Rowell.
- How do you uncover your strategy blindspots? – Our recent article on getting visibility on market blindspots and the impact on strategy.
- The Qualitative Customer Conversations (QCCs) Approach – When used the right way QCCs can assist you in getting comfortable with tough decisions.
About Foundstone Advisory
Foundstone is a business and strategy advisory firm based in Melbourne. We are experts in incorporating Design Thinking, Open Strategy, and Co-Design consulting principles for impactful business strategy.
To find out how to start applying modern and impactful strategy in your organisation and leadership, enquire about our Strategy Consultation here.