Six leadership lessons for uncertain times

April 30, 2019

By Samiha Khanna at Financial Management on April 25, 2019

Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation have triggered a wave of change that in the next ten years will reconfigure how people live and what jobs in all professions will look like.

The possibilities are steeped in excitement and in doubt. “It leads us to this idea of uncertainty,” said Wendy R. Carroll, Ph.D., associate professor of management at Saint Mary’s University in Nova Scotia, Canada. “We are left trying to make sense of the space between the hype — the extreme hype — and that middle space about what it’s really going to look like.”

Organisations must be able to adapt, implement new technologies, and evolve quickly, even while the long-term impact of these technologies is uncertain. At the same time, organisations face tough odds: Research suggests change initiatives are often expected to fail and successful outcomes are perceived as flukes.

Carroll and leadership coach Jennifer Gervès-Keen, who both spoke at CPA Canada’s National Conference 2018, offered lessons for leaders as they carry their organisations through uncertainty.

Lesson No. 1: Change is about emotions

People’s reactions to change are rooted in emotion. The body’s natural fight-or-flight response helps explain why people react that way, Gervès-Keen said.

“We have built-in threat mechanisms,” she said. “We are going to react a certain way because we are genetically programmed to.”

Even during small changes, organisations must include time for workers to process their emotions and voice concerns. Leaders must remind themselves to be patient as they are asked similar questions repeatedly. They also must be prepared to deliver the same answers repeatedly with compassion and patience.

“When organisations don’t spend any time on this, that’s when changes fail. Those reactions all have validity and we need to respect them,” Gervès-Keen said.

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