Dr. Marianne Erasmus Roux shares insights on top leadership challenges
Memory Nguwi (MN) engaged in a discussion with Dr. Marianne Erasmus Roux (MR), a distinguished leadership development expert, exploring the Top Leadership Challenges in a Global Landscape.
MN: How do you define effective leadership in today's rapidly changing global landscape?
MR: Leaders in the new world of work understand that organisations and humans are complex and evolving and that they cannot control it. They therefore intentionally share power, co-create, integrate and collaborate with others to ensure the organisation can respond to new challenges in an agile way.
They continuously develop and transform their own and others’ abilities and use diversity, curiosity and design thinking as a leverage, in order to make sense of, adapt to and innovate strategically in ambiguous and fast changing contexts.
MN: What are some key challenges leaders face in leading diverse and multicultural teams?
MR: The opportunity is great as diverse teams outperform other teams by a significant margin, but the challenges are also great to form a cohesive team that can leverage everyone’s input, thinking and energy. Most importantly, leaders need to create a psychologically safe environment where people are allowed to be vulnerable, make mistakes, learn, challenge and contribute equally.
MN: What are the most important leadership skills needed to navigate through times of uncertainty and crisis?
MR: There are six mindsets and practices leaders need to constantly work on to thrive in complexity and uncertainty.
Contextual intelligence – because of the complexity and uncertainty of today’s leadership context, leaders need contextual intelligence – the awareness of the continually changing context and the ability to behave in a contextually intelligent manner using hindsight, insight, and foresight.
Personal agility and curiosity – The mindsets and practices of Personal Agility and Curiosity are Growth Mindset, Self-Awareness, Emotional Agility, Grit, and Focus. You can build these by re-aligning your mindsets, actions, emotions, and thoughts to your values and become more conscious of your behaviour.
Ethical and moral maturity – Ethical and moral maturity is characterised by depth and consistency of moral judgments and advanced abilities to navigate ethical dilemmas.
Identity – “the sub-component of one’s identity that relates to being a leader or how one thinks of oneself as a leader” (Day & Harrison, 2007, p. 365). Identity is important in leadership as it grounds you in understanding who you are and helps define who you want to be.
Collaborative behaviours – Collaborative behaviours are about breaking down silos and building networks, partnerships and ecosystems to get work done. Relationships are at the core of these leaders’ behaviours and how they spend their time. It is intentional and focused.
Future-fit competencies – You will need to continually add some critical new skills and knowledge to your skills backpack as a leader. You must understand new technology and its impact on society, your industry, and your business; you need to understand how to solve complex, messy problems; you need to understand human-centred design and agile ways of working. These are all critical to the future of work. You also need to understand the more human side of leadership: storytelling and coaching. There is a myriad more, but I start by giving you a few critical ones I continually see as I work with different organisations and leaders.
MN: How can leaders foster a culture of innovation and adaptability within their organizations?
MR: For me it lies in a couple of mindsets and practices that leaders drive continuously:
- Use generative change methods to tackle adaptive challenges – use everyone’s voice in the room, experiment with suggestions, learn and scale
- Make sure the input is leveraged from all levels and all stakeholders – get input as close to the customer and market as you can
- Practice “seeing around corners”, a term coined by Rita McGrath – scan and make sense of the environment, continuously, spot inflection points and adapt
MN: With the rise of remote work, what strategies can leaders employ to lead virtual teams and maintain productivity effectively?
MR: First, leaders need to let you of the presencing mindset – the way of leading with people visible in the office and room. Just because they are there does not mean they are more productive or delivering better work. Work out together what work is best done in person and what work is best done remotely, what work is best done individually and what work is best done collectively. Once you get that you can co-create ways of working that optimize how people work best.
MN: In your experience, what are some common mistakes that leaders make when managing change within their organizations?
MR: Here are my top couple:
- They do not ascertain whether it is a technical or adaptive challenge – the two challenges need very different approaches
- They do not include the right stakeholders and voices from the start which leaves them wanting to “impose” or “manage” the change once they have come up with their solution
- They scale too fast instead of doing small experiments and learning from them – fail fast, fail early.
- They always use the same quick fixes like restructuring or training instead of deeply understanding what will deliver lasting change
MN: How can leaders cultivate a strong sense of purpose and engagement among their employees?
MR: Involve people, listen to them, co-create with them, give them meaningful jobs and ongoing development and feedback.
MN: What role does emotional intelligence play in effective leadership, and how can it be developed?
MR: I think emotional intelligence is important, but has not been developed or applied well. The same for growth mindset. What is really needed is for people to become really self-aware of their strengths, blind spots, fears, assumptions and mindsets and think about how well that serves them and those around them. They need to develop new mindsets and practices.
MN: How can leaders create a continuous learning and development culture within their organizations?
MR: I think a skills first approach is the way to go. Map the current and future skills requirements of the organisation and assess what people have broadly and what their gaps and interests are. Then curate ONGOING learning for them, not quick fixes. Also, develop an internal talent marketplace so that people can select projects they want to work on. This leads to great development and motivation to learn. Make sure there is enough time put aside for people to learn. The best practice is 100 hours a year – this might mean you keep people 80-90% busy and make time for learning and reflection. This does not just inspire employees, but future-proofs the business.
MN: What advice do you have for aspiring leaders who want to impact their teams and organizations positively?
MR: You need to really care. People don’t want perfect leaders, but they say to us they want people who care – care about them, care about the customer, care about results. And leaders who show up as “humans” and treat them like “humans” and not “numbers”.
MN: Are leaders made or born?
MR: For me, 100% made – it is a choice and a set of mindsets and practices.