The changing world – conversations with MBA students

Publishers of Truth, 1988 (acrylic on board), Waddams, Ron (1920-2010) / Private Collection / Bridgeman Images

Over the last week or so I’ve been working with MBA groups – online of course.  In the midst of Covod-19 I posed the question ‘how our the world different now?’ And to explore the question I posed the following lines of inquiry:

  • How does your world look right now?
  • What sense of making of the future?
  • What are you leaving behind?
  • How do we capture the very raw (and fleeting) experience we are going through right now?
  • How is our decision-making changing?

Each one of these questions is fascinating, but here I am going to focus on the last one – how is our decision-making changing?

Key themes that came up in one conversation included:

  • Dispersal of decision making, particularly to the frontline.
  • How rapid decisions are having to be made.
  • How many of the assumptions that are there to help decision making are having to be redrawn.
  • Through all of this navigation is possible and is taking place.

However, there were two overarching themes that emerged which are important to draw attention to, these are trust and the changing role of senior leadership.

When it comes to trust we can spit this into two. Firstly, on an optimistic note, the here and now, our ability to decide in a rapidly changing context. Secondly, being pessimistic, the implications for the longer term, what problems are we storing up.

In this rapidly changing world it seems that we are more trusting in each other. Perhaps we have no choice. To trust someone is also to take a risk and to be vulnerable. But in trusting people, being prepared to take a risk and for this to work out well adds to a reinforcing cycle that enhances working relationships and enables us to see the potential in others.  Setting up hospitals from scratch that can treat thousands, how we are supporting hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable people, local authorities turning upside down how they provide services are all evidence of what can be achieved. I suspect all of this is dwarfed when we add up the small everyday efforts that millions of us are making.

But are we storing up problems for later, what might be the shadow that we might miss? In being adaptable and fast moving what are the rules and governance arrangements that we are leaving behind? Where does this leave democracy and the ability for citizens and elected representatives to shape decisions and to hold the powerful to account. These are questions that are not only important on the national political stage but are very real in all avenues of life: healthcare, police, where and how we work, who we mix with etc. Being generous, it will take time for the pulleys and levers of scrutiny to catch up, but it is a question that we need to keep on top of.

In all of this where does this leave the role of the Chief Executive and the top team? Leading from the front, or supporting and enabling the front line? Local knowledge, context and expertise are key. More than in any other time senior leadership is about enabling others to make good decisions, to make sure people communicate with each other and to provide the resources they need. In short, this is a form of more humble leadership that shapes, reassures and enables.

Click here for a video on how our world is changing and implications for MBA students.


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