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The Five Leadership Superpowers™: The Key to Thriving in Turbulent Times (Part 2)

It is within the realm of leadership to prepare for the future and become future-ready. Specific leadership capabilities need to be developed and practiced to become a Superpowered organization. This second part in our series will show you how.

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Jan 17, 2024
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Last updated on Jul 03, 2023

In Part 1, we laid out the case for why new leadership capabilities are needed to address the complex and dynamic challenges leaders and their organizations face in turbulent times. It is futile to plan for the future or attempt to become future-proof. However, it is within the realm of leadership to prepare for the future and become future-ready. 

Becoming prepared and ready for the future is the responsibility of the entire leadership team, not just HR. The CHRO and the rest of the HR have a leading role but can only do it with the leadership team's collective voice, engagement, and ongoing and active support. 

This is not rocket science. This does not mean it is easy, however. Capabilities need to be developed and practiced. Mindsets need to shift in many instances. At its root, culture needs to change. The difficulty comes from those who think they know better and are set in their ways, want to protect what they have under the status quo and fear change and losing power.

In Part 2, we will introduce and discuss the remaining three Superpowers: the Prepared Risk Taker™, Strategic Executor™, and Accountable Collaborator™. Then, we will discuss what this means for individual leaders and the leadership team, how the Superpowers support and reinforce one another, the benefits of becoming a Superpowered organization, and how to start becoming a Superpowered HR Leader and organization.  

5 leadership superpowers

Let’s set the stage for the next three Superpowers. The Present Futurist provides us with the contextual information we need for the present and to prepare for the future. The Experienced Learner is about being open to new ideas and learning so we can adapt and be prepared for whatever is thrown our way. The next three are capabilities necessary to make better decisions, act effectively in complex, turbulent environments, and work effectively together. 

Prepared Risk Taker™

First and foremost, a Prepared Risk Taker recognizes that intelligent risk-taking is essential to business success. They realize every decision and action has some risk, positive or negative. The same applies to those who choose not to decide or act, although many fail to realize or account for this. 

They recognize the benefits of improving organizational and individual preparedness and resilience in an environment buffeted by accelerating change, frequent disruptions, and rampant uncertainty. Preparedness and resilience act as disruption shock absorbers, dampening the potential downsides of risk, speeding up recovery, and enabling those with it to pounce on opportunities faster, amplifying upside returns. 

A Prepared Risk Taker plays to win (offense), not to avoid losing (defense), remembering it is offense, not defense, that scores points. A Prepared Risk Taker™ does things like:

  • Conduct pilot tests of changes and innovations to catch issues early and learn before placing bigger bets. 
  • Enhance risk awareness/understanding by identifying risk faster, looking for linkages between risks and secondary and latter impacts, assessing their potential impact/ likelihood, and determining if they require escalation, action, or continued monitoring. 
  • Identify low-cost, no-regret moves to improve preparedness and mitigate certain risks. For example, conduct fire drills, back up data, or develop crisis response playbooks. 
  • Discuss and think through various scenarios, asking “what if” questions to identify unthought-of but plausible scenarios worth considering.
  • Shift risk management from compliance-focused to strategy-focused and from a loss avoidance orientation to value creation.

The Home Depot’s and Publix Supermarkets’ approach to hurricane preparation in the southeastern US are great examples of being Prepared Risk Takers. They monitor the weather in the tropics, and when a storm forms, they spring into action. They watch where it is predicted to go and when it is expected to arrive. They preposition critical people and supplies like lumber, generators, and bottled water in advance. Doing so prepares them to help their customers and communities in the affected areas. They do not wait for the storm to hit and then react. 

Is there a risk and cost to doing this? Yes, mainly if a storm does not materialize. Sure, however, the risk and cost of being unprepared and not ready to help their communities prepare for and recover is far greater. It is a bet worth taking. 

For HR leaders, being a Prepared Risk Taker and fostering this capability in others is vital. HR Leaders must move beyond having a compliance mindset to one of strategy and value creation for all stakeholders. This Superpower applies to succession planning for critical positions, identifying selection criteria for hiring/promoting executives, designing leadership development programs, testing alternative work and staffing approaches, and coaching leaders throughout the business. 

Strategic Executor™

“Strategy without execution is the slowest route to victory, and tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” — Sun Tzu from the “Art of War.”

A Strategic Executor recognizes that strategy and execution (operations) are integrally linked and must be considered jointly. They acknowledge that balancing and focusing on strategy AND operations, not one at the expense of the other is critical. They understand that rash decisions in the short term can have long-term implications. 

A Strategic Executor™ does things like:

  • Expresses strategy in operational terms (e.g., objectives, measures, initiatives, etc.).
  • Encourage and support principle-driven vs. rule-driven execution, allowing for greater flexibility and responsiveness in disruptive and uncertain situations.
  • Consider and weigh long-term implications before deciding and acting on urgent operational issues. Take care not to impair the company’s future with rash decisions.
  • Make operational decisions aligned with strategy, adapting as conditions change.
  • Addresses operations issues while focusing on strategy, even under pressure.

Consider Delta Airlines: according to CEO Ed Bastian, “When COVID hit, Delta was the most profitable, best-performing airline, not just in the county but in the world, ever.” As soon as the pandemic hit, it lost 95% of its business. It was a critical time for the industry, let alone Delta.

From the outset, Ed Bastian functioned as a Strategic Executor. Quickly realizing he and his leadership team did not have answers to the emerging challenges, he communicated the principles and values to guide Delta through the pandemic: Focus on protecting our people, customers, and their safety. Protect and be mindful of our cash while safeguarding our future. The latter point is essential to be a strategic executor. By adhering to these principles in its decisions and actions, Delta emerged stronger and faster than its competitors, many of whom struggled to return.

For HR Leaders, being a Strategic Executor™ is critical. Tightly aligning HR strategy, people practices, and operations to support business strategy is vital. This requires HR and other business/functional leaders to work hand-in-hand on areas like talent management (end to end), leadership development, workforce planning, organizational culture, and communications. This is everyone’s responsibility, not just HR.

Accountable Collaborator™

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” — Helen Keller

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” — Albert Einstein

Let’s look at each part of the Accountable Collaborator Superpower:

  • Accountable has two parts, “account,” referring to a report or description of an event, experience, or time, and “able,” referring to one’s ability to act. Holding someone accountable for something they cannot do due to not being enabled and empowered is inherently unfair.
  • Collaborator at its root is to collaborate. Collaboration is defined as working together as partners to develop something new for a shared/common purpose based on a solid relationship built on having shared objectives.

Leaders/managers tend to want to know whom to hold accountable for something happening in virtually everything we do. It's as if we always must find someone to blame when things go wrong. A client once said, “I need to know who to kill if this goal is not met.” Secondly, our culture tends to glorify individual heroes versus great teams. Being an Accountable Collaborator flips these ideas on their heads.

An Accountable Collaborator recognizes that collaboration across functions and organizational boundaries is necessary to address most organizational challenges and opportunities — because these challenges and opportunities are multi-faceted and complex. Accountability must rest with the team, as individuals cannot handle and resolve these challenges/opportunities alone. Responsibility for outcomes (not activities) rests with the team. Individuals are accountable to each other for fulfilling their roles and supporting each other. They know achieving results is far more critical than completing activities.

An Accountable Collaborator™ does things like:

  • Foster collaboration across the organization (BUs and functions) and organizational boundaries to its ecosystem, including partners, suppliers, competitors, and others, when needed to solve complex challenges and achieve shared objectives.
  • Focus the team on clearly understanding, owning, and delivering critical outcomes versus completing activities.
  • Facilitate team success by providing timely and adequate resourcing, support for overcoming organizational obstacles, and guidance for navigating challenges.
  • Support forming dynamic, fit-for-purpose teams comprised of individuals with the necessary knowledge and capabilities, irrespective of position or level, which can supersede (or overlay) existing organizational structure to deliver critical outcomes.

The US Women’s Champion Soccer Team exemplifies being Accountable Collaborators. They recognize they cannot succeed unless they operate as one team. They are focused on scoring and winning, which are the outcomes that matter. They do not focus on keeping track of activities like possessing the ball, kicking, and running. They are accountable as a team for scoring and winning. The team holds its members accountable for their roles, which are fluid and flexible. These are the things that have made this team hard to beat. 

HR leaders can do little alone. However, much can be achieved by being Accountable Collaborators with other business leaders. Working together, leadership must identify, understand, own, and deliver critical people outcomes to achieve desired organizational results. Collectively, all leaders are accountable for achieving these outcomes. Silos must be broken to enable the work to get done. Choosing and tracking outcome measures like % of key positions with an identified and ready successor is more important than activity measures like hours of training delivered or training hours per employee. 

The Multiplicative Powers of The Five Leadership Superpowers

The Five Leadership Superpowers are far more impactful when taken together. They help organizations withstand shocks, recover faster, and be positioned for future opportunities and able to pounce on them quicker. They enable organizations to scale more effectively and proactively create and act on their new opportunities. How?

Each Superpower informs and supports the others leading to more and better insights, innovative thinking, and the development and sustainment of more robust and relevant capabilities. This leads to exponentially better and more sustainable results for the organization and all stakeholders.

Let’s see how, by way of an example:

Present Futurists play an ongoing informing role for each of the other Superpowers.

  • For the Experienced Learner, the Present Futurist provides the current and future context to help determine what expertise and experience are relevant and what new capabilities to build and further develop.
  • For the Prepared Risk Taker, the Present Futurist increases awareness of current and possible future risks, identifies different scenarios to consider and prepare for, and highlights where intelligent risk-taking (experimentation) will help the organization be proactive and responsive to evolving market needs.
  • For the Strategic Executor, the Present Futurists help define the current environment and help foretell and anticipate the future. With this, the Strategic Executor can make better, integrated operational and strategic decisions, optimizing success and value delivery across time horizons while minimizing the adverse impacts.
  • For the Accountable Collaborator, the Present Futurist provides information on the evolving work and talent environment and insights that might inform where various collaborative relationships are needed.

Do leaders need to understand and be proficient in all five Superpowers?

Yes and no. Yes, to understand each of the Superpowers. No, for an individual to be proficient in all five. However, a leadership team should strive to be collectively skilled in all five. Working as Accountable Collaborators, the team mitigates individual weaknesses and reduces or eliminates blindspots. The organization benefits from the collective strength of all five, which exceeds the sum of its parts. Remember, strategy is a team sport!

While generalizations are risky, here are a few illustrative examples for specific executive roles.

  • CFO – Being a Present Futurist helps a CFO to report performance in context and improve financial forecasting and planning. Being a Prepared Risk Taker enables a CFO to evaluate business investments and place “bets” to support innovation and growth while investing in preparedness and resilience to manage risk.

  • CHRO – Being an Experienced Learner is vital. The lifespan of skills is shortening. The CHRO guides talent management and supports building a learning culture to achieve strategic objectives. Being an Accountable Collaborator is vital. The CHRO and the HR team cannot cultivate culture, manage talent, and develop leaders alone. The only way to achieve this is by collaborating and being jointly accountable with the leadership team.

While these are generalizations, they are illustrative. Not every CXO will follow a similar pattern.

Why is it so essential to become a Superpowered leader and organization?

The Superpowers improve individual and organizational preparedness and resilience. The Superpowers lead to more valuable discussions and value-creating decisions and actions, whether in the face of disruption and uncertainty, when novel opportunities present themselves, or when trying to grow and scale for future growth.

The Superpowers help identify, unlock, and unleash organizational capabilities and potential, often making the improbable possible. The benefits are unmistakable. Performance improves, and stakeholders receive greater value with less relative risk and uncertainty. Here's how:

  • Customers receive more value since they are better understood and served, their needs fulfilled, and their expectations surpassed. They, in turn, are more loyal, stay longer, buy more, and become more profitable as symbiotic relationships develop.
  • Employees feel more valued and receive more value. Why? They are better understood and actively engaged. Leaders seek, welcome, and listen to their diverse perspectives, irrespective of background, position, or level. Instead of being hindered, they are enabled and empowered to do their jobs well. They have more opportunities to develop and grow and earn greater rewards. They feel a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves.
  • Shareholders realize greater total returns as their stakes increase in value as revenue grows, profits improve, and relative risk and uncertainty decrease.
  • Community and social interests are addressed as leaders and their organizations focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) concerns. Leaders recognize that the organization’s success and sustainability are dependent and linked to the success and sustainability of the surrounding communities and environment.

Each benefit reinforces and supports the other, resulting in a virtuous cycle. To sustain these impacts, the Superpowers must become part of the organization’s fabric and continually be used and improved upon.

Where and how do we start?

That depends on where you are. Every organization and everyone can have a different starting point based on their history, current circumstances, and practices. 

Here are five suggested questions to start the discussion:

  1. How is the organization currently performing? Is this good or bad? Why?
  2. How did you get to or end up where you are?
  3. Where are you going? Choose a time frame and define what success looks like then. 
  4. Do you (your organization) already use The Five Leadership Superpowers? How do you know this?
  5. How well are you and the organization positioned to get you where you want to go in a turbulent and uncertain time? How do you know?

The goal is to discuss and build a consensus on the present and desired future state. Then discuss what it will take to get there. Based on that, here are four steps to consider individually or in combination with one another:

  • Speak to your leadership team about the case for The Five Leadership Superpowers™ and what they are.
  • Educate yourself and your organization on The Five Leadership Superpowers, learn what each entails, their collective value, and how/where to apply them through a public or customized education program.
  • Conduct a capability assessment in your organization and on yourself individually to see the current state of the Superpowers. Review the results and determine a roadmap for individual leaders and the leadership team to address capability gaps.
  • If you struggle to answer these questions and reach a consensus, conduct a more comprehensive organizational future readiness assessment. This aims to build a case for change, mobilize the leadership team, clarify the strategy, define capability and performance gaps, prioritize areas to focus on, design a high-level roadmap forward, develop an implementation plan, begin execution, and track progress.

While these are steps you can take on your own, it is best to have the assistance of a subject matter expert, who can be objective and candid, and create a constructive and safe environment for necessary discussions. Furthermore, having someone who has done this can help avoid common pitfalls.

Ready to act now, 

  1. Schedule a 45-minute complimentary discovery call to share your situation and learn more. To schedule, go to https://calendly.com/jayweiser.

  2. Email me at jay@jayweiser.com to be notified of upcoming training sessions or to express interest in scheduling training at your organization.

  3. Connect and follow me on LinkedIn at https://linkedin.com/in/jayweiser or on Twitter at @Jay_R_Weiser.

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