How to Lead Through Disruption

“The frequency, depth, and abruptness of change in the world today means that you will be frequently shaping and reshaping your business so that it fits with the ever-changing landscape in a way that delivers your moneymaking aspirations.” - Ram Charan

The old model of executive leadership often revolved around being able to “stay the course through adversity.” In the age of disruption we’re living in, it’s time to update that model. We need leaders who are far more adaptable and know when to quit earlier, rather than staying the course.

This is not to say that we need less committed leaders, but rather, that committing to a strategic vision and position is different than sticking to a course of action. Leading through disruption requires a much keener perception of small changes that might be the signal for big changes — and acting faster.

This change in leadership is the difference between leading a team across plains and leading them across a frozen lake. The journey across the plains will be arduous and will require tenacity, vision, and forward-planning — and it’s counter-productive to continually be changing courses and back-tracking. You need a leader with the “stay the course” mindset for this type of journey.

Most small and micro business journeys are much more similar to walking across a frozen lake. Urging your team to continue at the same rate in the same direction when you see a crack emerging in front of you spells doom for the entire team and mission. Remaining in place can be just as precarious.

The business leaders who will continue to flourish in this century are the ones who embrace the fact that they don’t actually know the right course of action at any given moment, and move their team forward across the ice anyway. Markets are changing faster, business practices are shifting as soon as they surface, and more competitors are entering the market better equipped than they ever have been before. How most of our businesses will look in five years is unimaginable, and not just because the ice is melting or changing — the lake itself is changing.

In the world we’re in, “staying the course” just won’t do. Flexibility, observation, and fast communication and coordination are the tools of the successful executive.

How are you embracing these tools in yourself — and what are you doing to enable your budding leaders to navigate across the frozen lake your organization is on?

Image credit: Alaskan Dude

About Charlie Gilkey

Charlie Gilkey is the go-to guy for changemakers, entrepreneurs, and small business owners for figuring out how to get the right things done. His blog, Productive Flourishing, is one of the top productivity and business blogs on the web. His forthcoming book, Beyond Bootstrapping, helps entrepreneurs and small business owners become better executives and build better businesses from the business they’ve already built.

  • Megan Elizabeth Morris

    This is a great leadership analogy! To be honest, it’s a pretty great life analogy too; there are some projects that are straightforward, point A to point B, but there are many others that require on-our-toes critical thinking, the ability to quickly re-evaluate and choose a new course, and a willingness to admit that the ice may be cracking under one’s feet.

  • Eric Barrett

    I kind of think there are two types of decisions here. There’s the one that you outline: the “cracked ice” variety. This is where you have to make moment to moment choices, and be willing to give up on a specific objective if the ice is about to give. The other choice is the longer-vision, more strategic choice. That’s where I think leaders need to be stubborn. If they aren’t committed to an ideal, who will be? It’s this longer-vision choice that lets a company (or person) get off the pond. :)

    • CharlieG

      Thanks, Eric! I think we’re in agreement here. It’s not that we shouldn’t have our eyes on the horizon, but, rather, that we need to be adaptable and observant enough to navigate through an ever-changing landscape.

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  • Thokozi

    To me it is similar to what Mr Canfield talks about in The Secret, that if you are driving a car at night you can only see a few hundred yards in front of you the rest of the road is total darkness. But you always get to your destination. I couldn’t agree more with the deepness of your words in in identifying the positive differences in leadership.