6 Ways Business Leaders Can turn Adversity Into Advantage

by Graham Winter and Martin Bean 23rd of April, 2024
6 Ways Business Leaders Can turn Adversity Into Advantage
6 Ways Business Leaders Can turn Adversity Into Advantage

Business leaders are facing once-in-a-lifetime turbulence: pandemic; inflation; cyber-attacks; environmental risks; workforce shortages; supply chain disruption; social media ‘storms’; government policy changes; capital crunch; energy costs; hybrid working; and generative Al.

Conventional ‘leadership playbooks’ and ways of working have been rendered obsolete by this nonlinear world and many leaders feel exposed, overwhelmed and fatigued, at a time when they need all the energy, skill and capability they can muster.

However, leaders across a vast array of industries and workplaces have turned the shock, upheaval and uncertainty of disruption into advantage by supercharging their adaptability.


1. Pathway


Instead of bunkering down, these leaders have stepped into the storm. The nature of disruption varies enormously from one workplace to another. Whatever the disruption, advantage leaders have applied similar principles: seeing creative opportunities in adversity; using it as a ‘force multiplier’ to motivate and accelerate the growth of new adaptive capabilities in themselves and their teams; and giving them, their team and their enterprise the advantage of being versatile enough to emerge stronger from any type of disruption.


2. Mindset


Be aware of the differences between linear problems that have a known or logical solution versus the nonlinear, where it can be difficult even to define the problem let alone resolve it to the satisfaction of others.

Advantage leaders accept there are no perfect solutions in a nonlinear world, and that they will confront many tough decisions and trade-offs. Chief Defence Scientist Professor Tanya Monro notes: ‘We have had to pivot to the highest priorities, meaning hard, really hard decisions, but more importantly, really hard conversations about our role, what we do, what’s important and what’s no longer so important.’

Navigating high-demand nonlinear environments calls for an adaptive mindset. This approach is proactive and open to change, embracing new perspectives and opportunities for growth. It differs from a defensive mindset that resists or avoids challenges and potential risks.


3. Recalibrate


Change in mindset and practices can and does happen at scale. And it’s not just when we are confronted by a global pandemic. We saw it again in the exponential growth in generative Al following the release of ChatGPT, a disruption that has only just begun to fuel disruption in our lives and workplaces. ‘Business as usual’ leaders will seek to understand the context and react accordingly. In contrast, advantage leaders will take the proactive option, to get ahead of the curve by challenging beliefs and assumptions to innovate ahead of disruption and in some cases be the cause of disruption.


4. Team up


How important is a high-performing team to your business aspirations? Advantage leaders place it near the top and invest in people, tools and practices that build and connect teams. That begins with the right people. And the right fit. Monro states: ‘A good team must have people who are really different. Otherwise, it’s not a diverse, robust, resilient team.’ To build a high-performing team, you need a shared understanding of the essential characteristics and enable three team intentions: align, collaborate and learn.

Build an operating rhythm that will ensure your tempo prevails when the storms arrive. Embed action debriefing so your team gets better at delivering outcomes at pace while continuing to learn and adapt.


5. Coach


Each member of your team is an individual and they will each react differently as they face into emotion-charged environments. They might feel stretched beyond their limits, or isolated and buffeted by unexpected and unwanted change. Alternatively, they could see possibilities and want to explore new directions.

They need a leader with empathy for their situation, with the skills and tools to at times support them and at other times challenge them. Successful coaches prioritise relationships over more traditional leadership practices. To adopt the role of coach, you must adjust your thinking to put people first and prioritise their wellbeing, needs and growth above all else. It may mean changing the way you act.


6. Scale


The change you want will inevitably start with you and your habits. And it won’t be linear. You may choose to start with just one tool and apply that today in your work, in your life, with your team, or across the team of teams that comprises your enterprise. On the other hand, you may choose to go deep and far, adopting many tools and practices.

It’s your choice: there’s no perfect answer because it’s adaptive and you will loop and learn as you balance dealing with the short-term imperatives and the longer-term strategic decisions.

To help with that choice, reflect on three domains – self (at work and in life), team (as individuals and collectively) and enterprise (leaders and team of teams).

Yes, there is a lot to consider, but this is your moment and you need a big toolkit. Hear Monro’s call to action: ‘When it’s turbulent and when i’s tough, that is the opportunity for leaders to make impact and shine. When things are smooth, you’e really window dressing!’

Edited extract from Toolkit For Turbulence: the mindset and methods that leaders need to turn adversity to advantage (Wiley $34.95), by Graham Winter & Martin Bean. Now available at leading retailers and https://toolkitforturbulence.com/

Tags: business owner small business tips

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