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The One Thing Every Leader Should Focus On For Sustainable Growth In The 21st Century

Written by: Clare Richmond, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Clare Richmond

When you look ahead to the next year, or a few months, or even weeks, how much of what you are planning can you guarantee will happen in the way you hope?

Portrait of beautiful smiling businesswoman with her colleagues.

How much of the way you operate is predicated on the belief that you can predict and control?

For most of us, even a cursory glance at the future will reveal that whilst there may be some elements within our direct control, increasingly ‘plans’ are subject to unexpected change caused by a myriad of unforeseen circumstances. This insistence on ‘being in control’ is the cause of huge anxiety and wasted investment trying to maintain the appearance of control and show that our predictions had indeed been right.

In the face of uncertainty, the role of leadership needs to evolve to learn the narrative and navigation of uncertainty and to enrol the widest possible intelligence to inform and progress our organisations and businesses. The rapid change world needs wider interpretation and more in-depth understanding, and the space to go beyond the confines of past thinking to express new possibilities and adapt to new challenges.

We Are Not Prepared To Tackle The Unexpected

In her book Leadership and the New Science Margaret Wheatley talks about the need for leaders to challenge their beliefs that what “Holds a system together is our leadership, our intelligence – not the intelligence distributed broadly throughout an organisation”.

This is uncomfortable for most of us. We haven’t been brought up to deal effectively with ambiguity but to create order through expert planning, and organisation. No wonder in the presence of growing levels of uncertainty our response is so often to retreat to earlier held positions and behaviours that expect leaders to ‘know’.

Instead, we need to face up to the reality of the situation. Ask what we need to learn, change, and understand. There is no shame in not knowing, just in not trying to find out. Adopt the Superpower of Not Knowing, ask questions and invite involvement from broad perspectives.

How To Make Progress And Exceed Our Goals In The Face Of Uncertainty

In my experience of working in complex environments the most expedient investment of anyone’s time and money is to equip ourselves and others to become resourceful self-organizers. Instead of wasting time trying to control the uncontrollable, nail down flapping uncertainty, focus instead on where we hold the greatest influence/impact and on truly understanding what matters most.

Until I set up a grassroots regeneration initiative, where I had both the freedom and the challenge of working in a completely different way the idea that the leadership role was not about being right, having control and creating order was initially an anathema. Fortunately, circumstances dictated my approach, and in doing so revealed how much more powerful leadership can be when we adopt a resourceful ‘Scavenger Mindset’ and assume the role of facilitator of possibility.

Without any money, resources or experience, my focus had to be on building capacity and confidence from within, with people and resources conventionally overlooked. I soon learnt that with the right conditions, anyone is capable of far more, greater innovation and collaboration, leading to more sustainable growth without the need for micro-management.

Your Greatest Strength Is You And How People Feel About You

The powerbase of any community, organisation or business is its people and the measure of how willing and able they are to go the extra mile. No matter how much money you throw at it, this can never be achieved if there isn’t a level of acceptance, tolerance for change, and strong working relationships. The skill I and every other Scavenger Leader learnt, was to refrain from handing down neat answers and detailed plans, instead create the optimum environment for everyone to contribute meaningfully.

When he set up The Real Junk Food Project, one of the most impressive Scavenger Leaders I met, Adam Smith, had no money, experience, or contacts. He described having to ‘work with anyone who walked through the door’ and yet within a couple of years, he had taken his idea to become an organisation with global impact. He focussed on creating the conditions where his random team of volunteers could become a high-performing team equipped to meet goals more by ‘map-reading’ than following detailed plans and targets.

I often think of the Gurkhas who I have been told operated in a similar way. Their task articulated it was left to the team to determine the best route to achieve their goal. Creating such teams require skills that in the past have been referred to as ‘soft skills’ but are increasingly seen as commercially critical skills. Understanding how to make the most of the people and resources you already have, nurturing talent and higher performance levels can only be achieved in learning environments where the dialogue is open and the direction clear. Now is the time to brush up on those skills!

To achieve sustainable growth and innovation you need to build strong working relationships capable of greater resourcefulness, inventiveness, and collaboration. Our greatest assets are ourselves and the people we work with and for – so focus on how to bring out the best in each and every one, particularly yourself.

Look Again, And Deeper At The People And The Resources You Have Available

  • How strong are your working relationships?

  • Who or what might you be missing or overlooking?

  • What is your narrative around failure and response to unexpected outcomes?

  • If not knowing was a superpower, how might that change the way you operate?

  • What matters most, to you, your team and your business?

  • Where do you have greatest influence?

  • (How do you know this is true?)

Follow me on LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!

Clare Richmond Brainz Magazine

Clare Richmond, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Clare is a leadership coach and social innovator. After founding her ground-breaking grassroots regeneration initiative Clare has been in demand helping leaders meet ambitious goals, without the need for ambitious budgets. Her book The Scavenger Mindset rethinks the role of leadership to reflect the new challenges and opportunities faced in the 21st century, and the critical need to now leverage ‘community’ to solve complex problems. Clare believes that we already have what we need if we change our leadership perspective and focus on facilitating the conditions where everyone can contribute at a higher level. Her mission is to embed those conditions into every organisation and business.



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