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Leading Through Disruption and Change: Reaching the Best Path Forward

Leading an organization during a time of disruption or change is often the most difficult challenge leaders can face in their career. It may also be their most defining moment. The challenge itself can eventually take a back seat to the actions leaders take when attempting to respond to a situation. While the difficult situations themselves may be remembered, when looking back, the response taken and the leaders responsible are often what is most remembered by employees, clients, and shareholders. Whether dealing with a large, external disruption like a pandemic or a more contained situation like a strategic change within the business, the decisions leaders make on how to address the situation will have lasting impact, good or bad. How can leaders better ensure the decisions they make will lead to the best path forward?

Many leaders still approach their role as someone who needs to have all the answers. Some may even view the simple act of asking others their opinion as a weakness or as something they don’t need to do. Granted, many have extensive experience and have often encountered similar challenges or situations. However, it is important to remember that even the best idea can fall short if others don’t agree or aren’t fully behind the execution or implementation of the needed actions. Also, some decisions can have unintended consequences if not thought through from all organizational perspectives. For instance, the marketing team might like a particular solution, but it could have a public relations outcome with negative organizational impact. Or the product and services network may want a particular solution, but the operations or IT teams lack the capabilities to implement. Bringing others around the table to solve challenges as a team will pave the way to more successful results.

Many leadership experts refer to aspects of this approach as collaborative, inclusive, or participative leadership. There are similarities in these styles specific to engaging others in decision making and we will look more closely at the steps, benefits, and broader outcomes of bringing leaders and critical expert resources together to strengthen decision making, ensure results, and build leadership capability. 

Bringing Leaders Together

Situations vary and challenges come in all shapes and sizes. Having a disciplined approach to addressing problems enhances organizational capability while building agility and a strong network of leaders. Whether a leader pulls together a small team of five or a larger team of 10, these three steps will ensure a thoughtful and comprehensive approach to planning the best path forward.

  1. Define the challenge or problem. Often a leader’s first impressions of a problem are only the symptoms created by a deeper or more complex situation. Or preliminary assumptions are made based on the simplicity of a targeted solution addressing only one area of the business. Bringing others together to discuss the challenge in detail helps uncover root causes and ensures a broad view of the impact on the organization, including clients and staff. If the situation is an isolated problem, then alignment happens quickly as solutions can be more apparent. More complex matters require deeper discussion, more perspectives, and thoughtful review to ensure the problem is fully vetted. Defining the issue clearly and with specificity lays the foundation for a comprehensive approach to addressing even the most challenging situations.
  2. Scope key outcomes. Before jumping into problem solving, it is important to agree on the outcomes of any solution. This process ensures that all aspects of the situation and impacted areas are considered in the action or response plan. This approach also allows leaders to think about not just the solution and its execution, but also how it will be received by stakeholders. Unless key outcomes are carefully examined, unexpected negative reactions can derail the efforts to address the situation and unintentionally create more challenges, or a missing piece of the solution could derail or postpone the effectiveness of other efforts.
  3. Agree on decisions and solutions. Agreement on decisions and solutions cannot be taken for granted. Whether there is a single solution or multiple actions that need to be implemented, it is critical for all members of the team to be aligned. This alignment ensures that there is role clarity on who is doing what and expectations are set for engagement and supportive cooperation related to departmental inter-dependencies. This step also underscores the importance of full team buy-in and support of the actions needed, as well as consistency in communication and messaging throughout the organization. 


Benefits to the Leadership Team

Adhering consistently to the steps above yields benefits for the leadership team and the organization including:

  • Diverse perspectives. Gaining insight into a problem and its impact on all aspects of the organization is critical to building an effective and lasting solution. Leaders, staff, and expert resources from multiple areas bring varied perspectives and experience specific to core issues, implications, and risks presented by a problem or challenge. Without this diverse insight, potential solutions could lack applicability and effectiveness throughout the organization.
  • Collaboration. Collaboration is the most effective way to bring creative ideas and problem solving through the engagement of others. When brought together, with a focus on a common goal or challenge, people work more effectively sharing and leveraging knowledge and experience to build the best possible solution. Collaboration also ensures the full scope of the situation is addressed through an integrated approach across functions.
  • Buy-in and commitment. Individuals want to be a part of a working team that values the knowledge and experience they bring to the table. When they are included in the problem solving and decision-making process, they are more likely to support the solutions, make the execution of those solutions a priority, and communicate with positivity and commitment. Buy-in and commitment are together the most important aspects of ensuring successful implementation of any initiative and are key in ensuring that an effort receives dedicated focus, key resources, and timely execution.
  • Organizational performance. Effective leadership has long been recognized as a key driver of organizational performance and overall success. When leaders engage together to solve complex challenges and align on the solution(s) they become more effective and efficient. And their teams thrive on aligned focus, engagement, and positive outcomes. The organization’s performance through its people improves exponentially.

Lasting Impacts of Bringing Leaders together to Solve Challenges

Leaders who use a disciplined, collaborative approach to problem solving not only reach optimal solutions for the problem(s) at hand, but they also lay the foundation for positive, long-term impacts beyond the problem itself including:

  • Building trust with the leader and among the team
  • Utilizing full team capabilities and promoting cohesion
  • Establishing a culture of collaboration and cross functional cooperation
  • Enhancing organizational understanding through cross functional insight
  • Strengthening relationships, improving overall workplace engagement and satisfaction

Leadership teams that consistently work together to solve problems present robust solutions to important business challenges, gain alignment and support across the organization, and build agility, improving organizational performance. In these critical times of disruption and change, the moment becomes less about one individual leader and more about the team working together for the success of the organization.

To learn more about collaborative, inclusive, or participative leadership styles the articles below provide additional information and insights.