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5 Myths all Managers need to know

Updated: Sep 14

“Intellectual versatility is the compensation for change, danger and trouble” HG Wells


We are now in unchartered territory across most industries. While we generally accepted change as a constant, its very nature seems to have changed. Leaders are dealing now more with unpredictability and unprecedented uncertainty. The measure of how well we cope is usually a pass-fail binary. Largely, we fail when we cling to our comfort zone and succeed, when we lift our game. The challenge is that this may require that we first change our own mental map of what the game even is. 


Here are 5 myths worth dispelling to ensure positive outcomes from our current challenges:


Myth No. 1 - What we know matters the most


Whether we admit to it or not, many of us equate experience with expertise and perceive innate intelligence as fixed. However, it is fluid intelligence (the rate we can learn) that matters in complex situations, especially those subject to change. It is now WHAT but HOW we know that counts including a mental preparedness for uncertainty. We can increase this by routinely involving all staff in regular scenario-planning and event simulations. Not unlike military training, this problem-based approach encourages both autonomous thinking and strong, socially cohesive teams.


Myth No. 2 – Stability is always good


In psychotherapy terms, our “comfort zone” is considered a position of “Safe Certainty” and especially when facing involuntary change, many will cling to the status quo. However, this gives a false sense of security when the environment is unstable. Instead, we can help staff adopt a stance of “Safe Uncertainty” by encouraging them to invite in change and self-directing their response. This might include redesigning schedules, settings and workflows. For example, weekly hour-long meetings might be more effective as 15 minutes Zoom check-in's twice weekly - the usual routines do not have to be maintained remotely just because of the calendar. Better to ask - what are the task requirements and social needs that we are trying to meet as both are equally important.


Myth No. 3 – All change is the same


Highly regulated businesses need to manage change control as a given. This climate shows us how much what we have to control is actually quite dynamic. We have business continuity and disaster recovery plans that help cope with what is predictable but now change can be unexpected and occur at all levels in our business at once. When we find it hard to grasp, it can be useful to classify change and deploy resources around these categories : (i) What’s missing and needs to be provided? (ii) What’s wrong and needs correcting? (iii) What’s inviting and needs accepting? and (iv) What’s threatening and needs prevention/mitigation?


Myth No. 4 – Being “right” is always relevant


Leaders often feel their purpose is to find the “right answers". The truth is that in complex and ambiguous situations, this is by no means straightforward and not be helpful. In addition, “right answers” only count, of course, if we can persuade the right people of them. In actual fact, how employees see managers is more a function of how coherent his or her values and these are what get truly tested during uncertainty. Leaders need to direct towards goals, as ever, but during uncertainty, communicating these in the form of compelling causes and not just outputs is key.


Myth No.5 – Managing is about directing people


How we should lead a team depends on the environment at hand. As this shifts, it’s quite common for new and even unexpected leaders to emerge. If so, we need to prioritise encouraging their creativity. If not, it will be hard to improve overall performance in this “unkind learning environment”. The past isn’t repeating itself, so its lessons aren’t necessarily going to help us. This is a harsh realisation for many and particularly so, for specialist technical staff. We will therefore need to help many people learn-to- learn in new ways and, particularly, learn-to-learn collaboratively.

Conclusion


Getting a handle and regulating change is largely down to regulating ourselves. Leaders may need to shift mindsets around the roles of both change and of ourselves as managers to be fit-for-purpose in a VUCA world. This is characterised by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. In reality, it was already here well before the COVID19 virus arrived on our shores.


Fiona Fennell is an Organisational Behaviourist and the Founder of Think4Purpose. She works with professionals to develop the soft skills needed to solve complex problems and build resilient teams.

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