The HR Leader of a Fortune 200 company recently shared with me that his biggest challenge is that some of their senior leaders who have been successful in the past, will not be successful in the current market dynamics. His company’s challenge is certainly not unique.
Today’s business environment is VUCA, an acronym from the U.S. Military that stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. CEOs and leadership teams will need a different set of skills to succeed compared to those needed in the past. In efforts to adapt to a VUCA world, have organizations sufficiently built a new culture and opportunities for their executives to learn these skills?
Today, companies are less forgiving if not less patient. It pains me that an increasing number of senior executives reach out to me for advice after recently finding out they are being let go.
Why do some executives miss the signs that their careers are in danger?
Some situations and signs are more transparent than others. In the case of planned M&As, rumors reach all levels beyond the senior executive team. Planned investments are placed on hold and communications about short to medium term strategies become less defined. Cultures can shift after new top leadership is appointed and misjudgments are often made about the value a well-entrenched senior executive can bring to a new boss. Cultural shifts create unclear expectations and can result in executives missing certain cues when it comes to career security.
HR Leaders must facilitate the right kind of conversations, however these cannot happen until a company’s new DNA is established. Senior executives must not depend on HR Leaders to recognize these warning signals and intervene on their behalf.
Many senior executives who have been successful in the past develop a form of myopia that blinds them to changes that are happening. Success often breeds arrogance followed by a sense of invincibility, regardless of changing dynamics.
The best leaders are able to adapt to a VUCA world by keeping their egos in check, and by letting go of what defined success in the past. Executive coaches play a key role in helping senior executives adapt to shifts in organizational dynamics but leaders who thrive best are those who take the initiative to own the responsibility of adapting. Pragmatic leaders know they are only as good as their future successes and that the value they bring to a company is temporary.
Mindfulness is a must and requires being attuned to what is occurring in one’s surroundings while reserving any judgments. Senior executives must be aware of their tone, facial expressions and body language while responding to new and challenging situations.
Success requires humility to reign in one’s ego and seek valuable feedback. When was the last time he/she checked in with the boss about business goals? Are “current” priorities still relevant? Have the measure and scope of success changed?
Self-awareness is a key tool in managing one’s career. In retrospect, the most recent senior executive who reached out to me was in denial of these signs and I could only hope that he was ready by the time he was let go. Self-awareness is required to gain wisdom that it might be time to move on, without burning bridges.
Leaders who thrive are always adapting and networking to build alliances internally and externally. Forging connections fosters an instinctive ability to listen and learn from industry customers, suppliers and competitors. These relationships can help a senior executive understand new skills required for future success and identify the warning signs of a career in jeopardy.
Great leaders are adaptive and recognize that success is rarely achieved in isolation.
Victor Filamor is a Principal at Stones International. Victor has nearly a decade of experience as a retained executive search consultant in the consumer goods, industrial and life sciences sectors. He brings over 20 years of experience in general management, marketing, sales and operations with Fortune 500 and multinational companies across Asia. Stones International is a member firm of IIC Partners Executive Search Worldwide, a top 10 global retained executive search organization with 53 offices in 35 countries. Follow Victor at @VictorFilamor on Twitter.
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