In the prologue to my recently published collection, “Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development,” I write:

For experienced and developing leaders, the emerging environment is likely to offer a Dickensian world filled with Best of Times opportunities and Worst of Times challenges.  Now might be a good time to revise your thinking on your role as a leader and to begin cultivating the skills and experiences required for success during the exciting and perilous journey ahead.

What I Wanted to Say

I stand behind the words … and in fact, my only regret is that I didn’t say something a little stronger, such as:

Wake up! Change now or become leadership road kill! Either start cultivating the new leadership skills or stand in front of a mirror and practice saying, “Would you like fries with that?” because this may be your money phrase in the not so distant future.

“Hey, Who Moved My …”

Much of the pablum that is passed off for guidance on leading others ignores the reality that the context in which we lead has changed from just a few years ago, and it continues to change faster than any of us can truly understand.

Now before your fingers burn a path to your keyboards to remind me of the timeless nature of and attributes of leading, I get the point in spades. Character always counts, no one ever screwed up by showing respect, your job is to develop people, you better be able to inspire people to act … paint a vision and all that great stuff. It’s good … it’s timeless and UNLESS it’s blended with the new skills of leading, it may prove to be USELESS. Context is King.

Meet King Context-7 Ways the World of Leading and Managing Has Changed

While it’s a bit disheartening to realize that those of us with some experience and a bit of gray are vestiges of a bygone business era, we truly are. That doesn’t mean we can’t be relevant, but first, we have to understand and accept some of the important contextual changes in our world of business:

  1. Our management structures and approaches are products of late 19th century and early 20th century thinking. As Gary Hamel offers, they were designed for another goal…to get people out of the fields and into the factories and to optimize their ability to do the same thing over and over.  They weren’t designed to cope with the need for rapid innovation, constant change and frequent disruption. Gary is right…the practice of management must change to cope with a world where exponential change is the norm.
  2. Oversight as a core task of those in power is no longer the point, yet it is still widely practiced. I still find managers uncomfortable with the idea that work might actually take place somewhere and sometime when employees are out of sight. Oh, and yes, imagine that it might take place at some point in time when the “normal” work day has ended. My guidance: “get over it.” Control is no longer the point.
  3. Technology tools aren’t necessary evils, they are tools essential for survival, connectivity, speed and idea sharing. Too many leaders struggle to know which end of a tablet is up (answer: neither)…much less, how to turn the power on and use it. By the way, if you’ve not purchased an e-book, grabbed your news from Flipboard, tweeted about something interesting to a group of industry peers and used Evernote to capture a few great web sites for future reference in the past few hours, please grab your hairnet and watch out, the grease is hot by those fries. You’ve got to participate in the activities of the day to understand their implications for the world of work.
  4. Ambiguity is the order of the day. Get over it. By the time things become clear in most markets, the opportunity is missed. You need to build capabilities in your organization to go from idea to execution to learning to refinement, and to do that, you need great people who are comfortable that you’ve got their backs.
  5. The Silos in our organizations are still there and they are still rusting in place. Teams that cross boundaries are now the principal means of getting work done and silo control is a game no longer relevant. Your goal as leader is to help teams form fast, support their efforts to execute and then ensure that they are able to disband and reform on the next opportunity.
  6. Your Cultural Intelligence may just be the most important asset that you aren’t doing anything about. It’s a global world … we’re all working across cultures, and chances are your workplace is (or should be), filled with diversity. Learning to tap the different world-views of your colleagues is a critical mission for leaders today … and it takes deliberate effort to learn and understand how to competently navigate across cultures.
  7. The most important tool of management you probably don’t know enough about is Project Management. Too many treat it like an administrative process instead of a critical tool to enable value creation, learning and strategy execution. Heck, I struggle to find leaders who even get that project management is so much more than an endless stream of Gantt charts and status meetings. It’s time to dig in on this important new way of getting work done.

The Bottom-Line for Now

Welcome to the leadership blender, where speed and adaptability are essential for survival.  Control is something from a 1960’s era sitcom (Get Smart), where ironically and fittingly, Chaos was the primary adversary. Sorry, Chief, but Chaos won. Adapt, or repeat after me, “Would you like fries with that?”

This blog originally appeared at

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