Paradoxically, the very conditions that mean that organizations need people to work together to adapt to complex challenges, also create obstacles to achieving this kind of collaboration and learning. Read more Read less

During times of disruptive change people crave a ‘strong’ leader to provide answers, a compelling vision and an unambiguous implementation plan.  At a time when organizations need everyone to step up and create coherent change efforts, there is often a regression to dependence on the idea, if not reality, that ‘we need a strong leader to save the day’. It is therefore unsurprising that much leadership development remains leader development – people come on leadership development programmes feeling the pressure to become some kind of superhero, able to return back to work with ‘special powers’ that will turn things around. Rather than changing and developing superhero leaders we argue that organizations should invest in helping people to step up to leadership by changing the way work is done, by thinking about the challenges they face and how different challenges requires different ways of working.

Key Facts

    • We have interviewed senior executives in a range of organisations actively involved in dealing with complex and uncertain problems and have explored leadership with thousands of managers on our executive development programmes.  Our work reveals 7 leadership routines that we believe are central to dealing with intractable, messy problems

    • When people discover that what we are proposing is that they work with these leadership routines and practices they are frequently surprised and relieved to discover that they can really step into leadership work more effectively without having to have a personality change!  They can use supportive behavior, their interpersonal skills, and their ability to be effective with getting people working together- without the need to become some unattainable ideal of visionary or charismatic.

    • What they do need to do is to learn how to work with the 7 steps outlined in our article in addressing leadership challenges and this is not simple. It is not simple because at the heart of the learning is that the challenge is not to ‘fix myself as a leader’ which people are usually very keen to do as it feels like a good career plan, but to fix the practices of people collectively in the organization.  This is a major challenge because, by definition, it is not something individuals can do alone.

Impact of our research

When people discover that what we are proposing is that they work with these leadership routines and practices they are frequently surprised and relieved to discover that they can really step into leadership work more effectively without having to have a personality change!  They can use supportive behavior, their interpersonal skills, and their ability to be effective with getting people working together- without the need to become some unattainable ideal of visionary or charismatic.

However, what they do need to do is to learn how to work with these 7 steps in addressing leadership challenges and this is not simple. It is not simple because at the heart of the learning is that the challenge is not to ‘fix myself as a leader’ which people are usually very keen to do as it feels like a good career plan, but to fix the practices of people collectively in the organization.  This is a major challenge because, by definition, it is not something individuals can do alone.

Why the research was commissioned

Our previous research had identified key principles for developing the capability in the organisation for people to work more collaboratively and to focus on the organizational challenges as the key vehicle for learning about new leadership practices (LINK LAPD). In this research we build on that to identify and elaborate the key steps that are needed to work with challenges in new ways. Instead of top leaders finding answers for the organization as a whole, these steps demonstrate what people need to come together to work on to find different and new ways to deal with complex challenges.