Learn to be a surfer: Top priority for leaders in 2021


Leaders possibly have not taken a vacation during 2020 and even if they have, then probably not by the beach side. But that is what is needed, sitting by the beach reflecting and watching the surfers at the sea. I assure you that you can be an observer when you watch the surfers because they do not care if they are being watched, their focus is on riding the next wave at the ocean. You might think they are crazy and that could be true also, but you would need that craziness and focus for your organisation for the coming year.

You would notice, as you watch them that they love big waves and a troubled sea. They focus on riding that big wave, being on top of that wave and that too with minimum resources on their side. They trust their agility; believe in their expertise and judgement. Trust me, this approach is what is going to help your organisation in 2021. How would you ride on big, disruptive waves with minimum resources while demonstrating agility, expertise and quick judgement?

Leaders need to focus on social capital

Working remotely can save a lot of commuting time and even infrastructure cost. We all have noticed this. At the same time, remote working reduces the social capital, something we might not have thought about. Most leaders probably have not heard much about social capital while human capital is a common word. Social capital stands for the ability of individuals to secure benefits by virtue of membership in social networks or other social structures. In other words, the specific benefits that flow from the trust, reciprocity, information, and cooperation associated with social networks. The informal networks and the trusted relationships that drives innovation and execution is the social capital of your organisation. Remote working reduces this social capital.

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So, leaders need to find ways to leverage and build the informal, trusted networks in their organisation. This means leaders need to see beyond organisation charts and structures and clearly see the networked, hidden organisation and identify the acupressure points that they can press. The surfers not only see the big wave in front of them, they almost know the next waves originating from far away, the patterns and the interconnections.

Leaders need to rejuvenate their organisations

Organizations have done fairly well in coping with challenges 2020 presented in front of them and there is a lot of focus on efficiency and cost optimisation. This is needed and organisations would have to figure out how to do more with less, like the surfer. At the same time focusing only on efficiency creates a fatigue in the system. So leaders also need to focus on new initiatives, innovation and growth that would bring some positive energy and hope. Surfers have a smile on their face while they ride on the most dangerous wave because they know how to combine sharp efficiency with hope and aspiration.

Sumantra Goshal the distinguished Indian scholar and educator had mentioned that leaders need to learn to become diversified cooks by dishing out both sweet and sour. Cooking sour is about taking hard stands such as restructuring the organization and cutting down on size, cost etc. and cooking sweet is about growth and expansion, hiring new people, building new competencies etc. If both of these things are happening at the same time, rejuvenation happens and rejuvenating the organisations with these polar opposite strategies at the same time requires a new way of thinking and seeing the organisations and the role of leaders. If leaders are not able to create this positive energy by cooking sweet and sour in 2021, the fatigue would get into the system and it would be difficult to demonstrate sustained performance and growth.

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Leaders need to read more philosophy and literature

From the time we learned to express in writing, we have created a wealth of creative expression on the topics of life, love, survival, reason, passion, and living with each other and so on, but bookshelves of leaders normally are filled with management books alone. Through novels, poems, plays, music, works of art, short stories, we have explored what it means to struggle against adversity, what is the meaning of existence, success and survival. For example, the novel
The Plague by Albert Camus published in 1947 is so similar to what we all experienced in 2020. In the novel, we realise that it is only when people were separated by quarantine from their friends, lovers and families they realised the value of their relationships and their love for each other. Before, they simply took their loved ones for granted.

These works in literature and philosophy are relevant and important for leaders in 2021. The generic framework for problem solving using only critical thinking can lead you to solutions, but they might not make you think. Leaders need to nurture or develop deep rooted enquiry, long term and sustainable thinking, diversity in thoughts and expressions to solve complex and challenging problems.

So, leaders might just want to stop talking about the growth mindset, or the recent management book and read bit of Kafka and Milan Kundera. This would help leaders realise that every problem cannot be solved with a two by two matrix.

Leaders need to realise the importance of HR and people analytics

Human Resources function played a key role in 2020 in keeping the moral of the workforce high, managed the shift from office to work from home and became an extremely important function supporting the CEO. While everyone understands the importance of digitisation, it is not just digitisation that is going to help organisations. What is needed is a deep understanding of the space where social psychology, data science and technology meet. For example, people analytics should give leaders insights for their next restructuring, deciding on high potential talent and inclusion. A study revealed that 6 percent of the COVID patients in India infected 60 percent of people and do leaders know who are the 6 percent of super connecters and super spreaders in their organisation? These super connectors not only pass on the virus to a large number of people but also organisation strategy, values and critical information to all corners of the organisation. People analytics, specially Organisation Network Analysis helps in identifying these super connectors. Hence, leaders need to focus more on people analytics and get more important information from analytics .

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So, be ready to surf and the exciting thing is that you just need the waves and a surfing board.

(The writer is founder of OD Alternatives and Orglens (www.orglens.com))





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