4 Tips to Survive a Changing Workplace

What Makes a Good Leader?

That’s a question I often hear as the Associate Department Chair of CEHD’s Organizational Leadership, Policy and Development Department (OLPD).

Through my research and experience in human resources, leadership and adult career development, I know that there is no single answer. For instance, my research team and I have studied the particular differences in what makes a successful leader in higher-education organizations compared to what makes an effective leader in private-sector organizations, identifying the different skills required in these environments. There are also many variations in which competencies are contribute to effective leadership across different countries and regions.

In fact, I’m currently preparing to present research at the Asia Research Conference of the Academy of Human Resource Development with a CEHD Ph.D. student, Chu-Ting Chung, who is the lead author. This research project focuses on the leadership competencies of managers who are rated to have high advancement potential (HAP) across different countries (China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Australia, India and the U.S.). We looked at the specific behaviors senior leaders are seeking when assessing the potential for mid-level managers to take on senior positions in each of these Asia-Pacific countries and compared them with what senior leaders in the U.S. are looking for. We’ve found that there are many differences—sizeable overlap in leadership behaviors associated with HAP were observed only between Australia and the U.S.

For example, in both the United States and Australia, the behaviors readily commands attention and respect in groups and displays high energy levels were among the top predictors of HAP. By contrast, in Korea, only pursues learning and self-development and adapts behavior in response to feedback were predictive of HAP. In both of these cases, the behaviors identified for one country were not predictive of HAP in the other.

Today’s Workplace Conditions

Swift and dramatic changes are reshaping how we work and the leadership abilities we need to work productively. The breakneck pace of change in today’s workplace environments can best be described with a military acronym: VUCA, which stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. Speed of change, lack of predictability and chaos present new challenges to leaders in workplace situations. The relevance of VUCA is how people view the conditions under which they must make decisions, plan, manage risks, lead change and solve problems.

With the rapid pace of change, a baseline requirement for survival is being smart and proficient on the job.  But these attributes just get you “on to the playing field.”  How can you lead and succeed in times that are very VUCA?

4 Tips for Your Career

Through evidence-based research, we’ve identified the following four competencies to be useful for professionals in any industry. These skills decrease the risk of career derailment—or the risk of being demoted, fired or performing below the level of expected achievement—and help to enhance work performance and success.

1) Learn agility. It’s important to constantly keep absorbing new information in order to make sense of the new realities.

2) Be nimble. Continue to develop new expertise so your specific talents are something your company can’t get anywhere else. Move. Pursue new directions.

3) Stay curious. Becoming involved in new projects and tasks will broaden your skill set.

4) Be willing to accept the fact that yesterday’s skills may be outdated today and you must keep learning to stay competitive. The half-life of knowledge is getting shorter and shorter. For example, students with a technical focus graduating tomorrow will find that in four to five years, much of what they learned as freshman and sophomores will be obsolete. Both students and professionals need to learn how to learn.

Yet despite the rapid, seemingly unstoppable rate of change, one thing that appears to change less frequently: core primary values. Leaders need to be very clear about their principles, vision, and values. This has become one of the core elements of successful leadership development initiatives. It is these principles that become a key guiding force at times when markets and technology are rapidly changing direction.

Louis Quast

About the Author

Louis Quast, Ph.D.

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