Leadership in an era of uncertainty

Leadership in an era of uncertainty

“The significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them,” said Albert Einstien

Uncertainties are consistently posing the challenges in every walk of life. Every industry is facing periodic downturns of varying severity but the leaders with the vision and ingenuity take unconventional approaches to sustain and lift their companies to new heights. The speed of changes taken place in business operations have been manifold during recent years mainly due to technology driven disruptions, ever increasing customer expectations, integration of global markets and new skill set requirements. It has posed uncertainties to the future of businesses. The past success in no way guarantees the future success in a highly uncertain and volatile business environment. The role of the leaders therefore becomes crucial to drive and adopt the changes due to uncertainty which are largely influenced by the external business environment.

Though there are number of factors which pose the uncertainty, the major four are (i) disruptions through technology, (ii) customer expectations, (iii) integration of global markets, and (iv) skill obsolescence. Firstly, the disruptions due to technological support can make any product redundant overnight. There are host of products which have gone out of market because of such disruptions and the disruptors which have leveraged the technological advancements as the first mover have been the big gainers. Secondly, the customers have become unreasonably demanding and restless. The saying that the customer is the king has become a thing of past. He has now become the dictator and dictates what he needs. Loyalty of customers is now short lived and one instance of dissatisfaction can take him away for ever; he has a variety of options in a highly competitive and global business environment. Thirdly, the integration of global markets has brought in lot of uncertainty. The world has shrunk and businesses have expanded. Locations of businesses have become irrelevant. The opening of economies has become the necessity to survive in a globalised interconnected business environment. On one hand it provides new opportunities to expand business, improves the efficiency and reduces the cost, on the other it throws the challenges to ill managed inefficient business units for their survival. Fourthly, the skill sets and competencies are frequently getting obsolete mainly due to technological disruptions. Organisations are not able to gauge the skills required to handle the future business operations and are unable to proactively develop its technical and managerial manpower to face future challenges. The leaders of present era are facing these challenges emerging out of the uncertainties to manage and sustain the business growth. The organisations which are proactive, anticipate the future, flexible and adaptable are able to convert these challenges into opportunities to reposition their businesses using technology, satisfying customer expectation, leveraging the business opportunities in globalised business environment and managing and developing talents to accept these challenges. Complacency and rigidities have no place in managing business.

The role of leader is becoming more and more complex and demanding in the era of uncertainty. First and foremost role is to ensure that the organisational structure is flexible enough to swiftly accommodate strategic shift on account of unanticipated change. The structural rigidities can be dangerous for the existence of the organisations. The organisational policies, rules, regulations and governing principles should be reviewed on an ongoing basis to meet the contemporary needs in an wholistic manner. Most of the successful organisations are adopting the flexibility in the policies to govern the business and people. The next significant role of a leader is to ensure adoption and updation of work processes and technology to accommodate any unanticipated change required to meet customers’ needs, product enhancements, competition or global business practices. The business process re-engineering (BPR) which used to be a onetime exercise has now become an ongoing process for achieving innovative business solutions with efficiency.

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The most significant component of any organisation is its talented work force. The organisations can replicate any aspect of drivers of business including the technology and structure but not the talent. There is always an intensive war to acquire the best talent at any price. The most sensitive and significant role of a leader is to acquire, nurture, motivate and manage the pool of talent to deal with the uncertainty. The scientists are trying to embed the human capabilities into machines and the analytical tools are being used for decision making but they have just been proved to play merely the supportive role in strategic decision making rather than the replacement of human capability particularly in an uncertain business environment where anticipation of future is extremely difficult.

Thus, the leaders are going to face more and more challenges in the era of uncertainty where the vision and strategies will not have any past reference. The risk taking will be the part and parcel of strategic leadership role under uncertainty.

-by Dr. Sharad Kumar