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What Leaders Need to Know: How to Develop a Global Leadership Strategy During a Time of Unprecedented Uncertainty

Business is changing — and changing rapidly. In 2022, a revolution (not just an evolution) in the thinking and planning of leaders is more important than ever to experience a globalized competitive advantage.

Leaders and managers across all levels of an organization should view strategic innovation amidst a wealth of global issues, by avoiding the trap of “siloed thinking” that often leads to defeat.

The growing concerns surrounding the pandemic will remain constant. However, leaders can not ignore typical market constraints — volatility and uncertainty. If there was ever a need for unprecedented and overarching thinking, it is now. Adaptation and flexibility should be a critical part of a strategic approach.

According to a recent report issued by Gartner, “traditional strategy approaches were not designed for a rapidly changing world, and leading enterprises are responding by adopting an adaptive strategy approach.” Further, Ian Cox, Senior Director and Analyst at Gartner says that “an adaptive approach to long-term strategy is more fitting for a world in which business models are transforming more frequently, and often more radically. The faster the rate of change, the more adaptability becomes a key imperative.”

The Impact of Market Volatility

An important starting point for leading strategy in an uncertain environment is the understanding of the primary drivers of volatility in the broader global business environment. The drivers of uncertainty and volatility pose the following questions:

  • What are the major drivers of volatility and uncertainty in the organization's business environment?
  • Which external forces and trends should be informing the strategic choices and decisions that are made?
  • How can leaders use an increased understanding of environmental changes to develop and execute strategic plans?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is in Play

One of the biggest innovations that is impacting organizations and industries is the fourth industrial revolution, also referred to as industry 4.0, or the digital transformation.

This digital transformation can be comparing to other major industrial revolutions as shown in the diagram below. For example, steam engineering, the assembly line, or the Internet era represent past industrial transformations. Current manifestations of this digital transformation can be seen through AI, the Internet of things (IoT), or products and services provided in a digitized world.

Source: Otanez, A. (2017). Understanding the Impacts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

We also see dramatic shifts in how work is performed. And these shifts are clearly defined by a new adaptation of how talent pools, skills, and capabilities are deployed across the organization.

In a period of 30 years, we have seen everything from artificial intelligence (AI) to 3D printing. The implications of these trends are immense and growing. Think about how products are manufactured, and services are provided in a digital world, and how it dramatically transforms the roles of leaders and unique organizational design.

Leading Through Uncertainty

This new world demands ingenuity and divergent thinking about how work processes, the attraction and retainment of talent pools, and coordination across divisions, regions, and global business units will foster newly imagined success.

The bottom line is that leaders must make effective decisions that are vision-driven and well-informed.

Rather than avoiding these challenges, leaders must learn to acknowledge and embrace the discomfort as an expected and normal part of the learning process. As described by Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, “leaders must shift from a “know it all” to “learn it all mindset.”

Harvard Business Review suggests the following to lead through change:

  1. Embrace the discomfort of “not knowing”
  2. Distinguish between complicated and complex
  3. Let go of perfectionism
  4. Resist oversimplification
  5. Don’t go it alone

Performance Expectations Must Evolve

Uncertainty and volatility are largely part of the dramatic shift in performance expectations to higher and more transparent corporate social responsibility outcomes.

The rise of corporate social responsibility created new priorities based on social performance outcomes, including community impact, employee and workforce investments, diversity and inclusion initiatives, ethical supplier practices, and other stakeholder outcomes.

This is the first time in history that such a large segment of the consumer economy is effecting significant formal change in big business. This change is different than the single-minded focus of providing shareholder return. It’s now much broader focus and commitment to corporate purpose. And this renewed since of purpose and promise is customer-centered and to provides value in the current context of environmental stewardship.

Let’s come back to the notion of revolution and view volatility and uncertainty as an opportunity, rather than a threat. The type of volatility taking place should, and will, create the imperative for leaders to creatively execute strategic mindfulness across the organization.

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