How can you be a better leader for the new millennium? Your questions answered

Written by
Adam Kingl

26 Jul 2016

26 Jul 2016 • by Adam Kingl


Our recent webinar, in partnership with London Business School, examined how to develop your own leadership capabilities – and those of others in your organisation – to be fit for the future. Here, webinar presenter Adam Kingl, executive director of thought leadership for London Business School Executive Education, answers your questions around resilience, agility, and learning from failure. 

How do we tell people that they need to be agile in order to be successful?

It isn’t necessarily a matter of ‘tell’. If we agree with a premise of the webinar that in order to embed real change, we have to embed the capability of change – the incentives, processes, etc., then perhaps it might be more effective to suggest that a team, department or region adopt a ‘year of experimentation’. In this manner, the organisation practices agility without a general demand to be more agile. 

The issue with simply telling people to agile is that they don’t know really what that means in terms of what they should do differently tomorrow. So perhaps we ‘do’ agility and then identify, celebrate and cascade the means and the rewards of that activity.  

In this time of rollercoaster leadership, how do managers maintain their resilience?

One of the best metaphors for leadership I ever read comes, from all places, from the International Facility Management Association (IFMA). The IFMA surveys its members regularly to determine the top ten office complaints. Every time, the top two are ‘It’s too hot,’ and ‘It’s too cold.’ The lesson? You can’t please everyone. So leaders have to keep their eye on their vision for where their company needs to go, and use that as their compass. While we would all love to know that 100% of our people agree with every decision we make, that is probably a futile objective to pursue.   

Another important lesson comes from social psychology, which teaches that if your followers don’t agree with you, you can still gain commitment by encouraging dialogue. As long as people have the opportunity to express their opinion and discuss their and your reasons for your respective points of view, it is easier ultimately for them to align with the organisational direction.  

Finally, in dialogue with your people, it’s important to listen genuinely to them. Front-line employees frequently know more than their managers, especially if they represent the voice of the customer. It’s acceptable to change your mind if your followers persuade you – it’s not a sign of weakness. In fact, it demonstrates humility, respect and that you are making decisions objectively.  

How can you drive change on acceptance of failures if you're discouraged from suggesting experiments?

Change absolutely can originate from the bottom up. In my experience organisations actually love to learn – they love insight. So perhaps one solution is simply to run a small experiment ‘under the radar’. Whether one’s hypothesis is proven or disproven, sharing the insight that comes from the experiment should be welcome and positions you as proactive, innovative and responsible. I say ‘responsible’ because people can confuse ‘running an experiment’ with ‘running amok doing new things’. A good experiment is almost riskless!

What makes the Brexit situation the perfect situation for experimentation?

It may be a cliché but it also happens to be true that times of great change throw up threats as well as opportunities. Organisations that are willing to consider how they might benefit from dramatic, or even traumatic, change will almost always outperform those who play the ostrich, unwilling to consider how they might learn and act upon their new context. 

How can you embrace experimentation if your business is successful based on accuracy, quality, and predicted results?

Experimentation in business, as we discussed in the webinar, is completely based on the scientific method. So any organisation in the sciences should actually embrace experimentation more easily than others. 

The key is to explain the experimentation process accurately, and how it minimises risk. An experiment sets out a hypothesis, and then proves or disproves it under agreed parameters (limits of time, cost, and other resources). 

The most important output is the insight from the hypothesis being proven or disproven. So there’s very little risk in experimentation itself. If an organisation then changes its business as usual as a result of the insight from an experiment, then surely the organisation has taken a more considered, measured, and insightful approach to its change and innovation initiatives.  

How can you celebrate failure in a law firm?

As above, remember that in the context of experiments, there is no failure. A disproven hypothesis can have as much learning as a proven one. There is only learning, not success or failure. What an organisation chooses to do with that insight may certainly be subject ultimately to be judged a successful or unsuccessful initiative. 

So if a professional services firm wishes to be more agile, my argument is that they could begin that journey by starting to embed experiments as a means to be a learning organisation. If a company enhances its capacity to learn, it also will enhance its capability to be more agile.