Today, and even more so in the years ahead, we need leaders who can help transform their firms—so they become more agile, more innovative, more digitally savvy, more customer-centric, more inclusive, and more human. The problems to be solved—and opportunities to be seized—increasingly present what Harvard Kennedy School professor Ronald Heifetz calls “adaptive challenges,” complex situations in which there isn’t an obvious answer or clear choice, and solving problems depends on the brainpower and engagement of everyone not just the top leaders. Think, for example, about tackling environmental issues or systemic racism. As described by Microsoft chief executive officer (CEO) Satya Nadella in his book Hit Refresh, adaptive challenges require a mindset shift, from being “know it all’s” to becoming “learn it all’s.” I have found that five critical leadership skills are vital for creating an environment in which learning things the organization does not know how to do is valued over executing flawlessly on what it knows already. They are
- Cross-cutting: developing networks that extend to a diversity of people,
- Collaborating: fostering psychological safety to increase team performance,
- Coaching: having critical conversations that develop others’ potential,
- Culture shaping: shaping organizational culture by molding corporate practices, and
- Connecting: growing in empathy and authentic leadership.
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