One of my clients, Belinda, taught me a lot about dealing with complexity. Several years ago, she was CFO of a large corporate. She had a fantastic and compelling long term vision, which her executive team fully understood. However, things weren’t working out. Cash flow and revenues stubbornly refused to rise. As we worked together, Belinda realised that her top team were all trying their best, but the complexity of their multinational business environment was defeating them and morale was dipping quickly.
It’s widely accepted that the world is becoming ever more complex. One of the ways that a next generation leader can distinguish herself is by leading her top team through this.
What did Belinda do? As I coached her, she realised that she didn’t have to understand all the complexity; she could rely on her team to get to grips with the minutiae. She could stand back as long as she followed four principles:
- Communicate – ensure that everyone in the team is talking to the others.
- Have clear short term goals. They don’t necessarily have the glamour of the great vision, but they do allow people to focus on what needs to be done now, without the view being clouded by the long term.
- Cultivate leadership throughout the team. If everyone feels that they can take a lead for their “bit” they will deal with the associated nitty-gritty for the whole team.
- Value divergent views – it is much more likely that complexity will be picked up and dealt with if the team is operating from a diverse foundation.
The results of this was almost immediate – even I was surprised at how well it worked: the clarity of short term goals meant that everyone could understand what needed to be done; the communication ensured that everyone knew what was happening; valuing divergent views meant that everyone felt part of the team and helped the team as a whole respond to change and most importantly, the cultivation of leadership throughout the team gave ownership to everyone – if things started to go wrong, people would step out of their assigned role and help.
Belinda and her team turned it round. Within three months the finances were back on the right track and morale was sky high. Belinda’s next challenge – translate what she had learnt and share this with her regional leads and their top teams.