Leadership and Sandy: The Uncertain Future

The weather events of this week were horrific. It was heartbreaking to see the destruction up and down the east coast as well as inland areas as hurricane, then tropical storm, Sandy made her way from the Caribbean to the Great Lakes.

The evaluations of the leadership demonstrated by New York Mayor Bloomberg, New Jersey Governor Christie, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, and President Obama began almost instantly. I won’t delve into the performance of any individual but do want to point out that events such as these were forecast in RoseMont’s white paper on Pillar Trends: global trends with the power to transform how we live and work.

Two of the Pillar Trends are climate change and urbanization. While one cannot tie any single weather event, Sandy certainly demonstrated the challenges that extreme weather events 0f the kind predicted with climate change can present to urban areas not designed to handle them.  New York Governor Andrew Cuomo  said, “It was as bad as anything I had experienced, certainly in New York.”

Leaders had best get used to “as bad as anything” they’ve experienced. While much of management assumes stability and predictability — the lack thereof is a perennial excuse for CEOs not hiring or investing. However, increasing evidence suggests that the years ahead will be marked by uncertainty and disruption. Leaders will need to be able to cope with it personally and guide both their organizations and communities through difficult times.

What will it take?

Leaders will have to know themselves as people. Yes, this is the touchy-feely stuff of emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and mindfulness with which many executives are uncomfortable. The truth is, you’ll have to get over it if you want to be an effective leader, particularly in crisis. As Warren Bennis once said, “If you want to be a better leader, be a better person.”

Leaders will have to embrace strategic inefficiency. The relentless pursuit of efficiency has been the hallmark of many organizations over the past few decades. Many, from Wal-Mart to UPS, have become remarkably adept at it. However, disruption calls for resilience and there comes a point at which increases in efficiency deplete resilience. When there is no slack in the system, a shock can be catastrophic. Leaders will need to know where to best harbor those pockets of redundancy and excess capacity to ensure resilience without undo cost or impact on profits.

Leaders will need to begin to think in terms of systems, not simply the firm. Organizations exist in a context comprised of shareholders, workers, customers, suppliers, neighbors, competitors, regulators, and more. In such systems, nurturing relationships and understanding interdependencies are both critical. So is the acceptance that one can never fully comprehend every element in a complex system. This isn’t a watch that can be taken apart and put back together again. Complex systems are dynamic, not static. Like the weather, they are not fully predictable.

In short, leaders must approach their challenges with a fundamentally different mindset and skill set. We invite you to read the Pillar Trends paper and share your thoughts. Or, listen to the Pillar Trends Interview with me.

Please share your thoughts on these important topics.

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