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Anand Shukla
Chief Executive, Daycare Trust and guest blogger for The Work Foundation
Anand  Shukla

The challenges of leading in volatile, fast-moving times

Authors: Anand Shukla Anand Shukla, Chief Executive Daycare Trust

14 August 2012

The economic downturn has made the world more volatile – and in turn requires leaders to be able to respond quickly and decisively to the new context within which we all have to operate. 

I have found that a key challenge for leaders is not so much how to develop strategy, rather how to adapt their organisation’s strategy in this volatile world – to be focused on what the core offer of the organisation is, to be intellectually fleet of foot in looking around the organisation to find out who has the best ideas.

Organisations must be nimble. I was speaking to a leader in another charity which had gone through a major strategic review, and had found 12 months on that the new processes and systems had already been overtaken by external events.

In this bewildering new environment where decisions are required often under extreme uncertainty, the biggest challenge that leaders face is staying on top of all the things that they need to know.

Dealing with information overload is the one common core challenge facing leaders today. A recent survey by McKinsey of US companies illustrates the scale of the problem – 28% of the office workers’ workweek is spent reading and answering email. Even worse, emails aren’t even enough to ensure that employees have all the information they need.  A further 19% of their week is spent gathering information – and 14% on communicating and collaborating internally. The effect of this mad communication overload means that leaders do not get the time and space to focus and reflect on the things that really matter.

This communication flow also brings added personal pressure for leaders. Leaders are expected to be constantly available and are expected to listen and make decisions very quickly.  This requires leaders to have a stable psyche, to put it mildly! My experience as a leader in the last two years has convinced me of the importance of having someone to talk to in total confidence. One of the best attributes of the Clore Social Leadership Programme is the provision of coaches and mentors to provide a safe space for Clore Social Fellows, and to discuss the challenges they are facing.

The ease of information flow has paradoxically made it more difficult to sift out the information that leaders need, and perhaps more significantly, to find the time to focus and reflect on the key strategic challenges facing our organisations. The cumulative impact of the era of recession and constant availability has made a personal support infrastructure a vital weapon in every leader’s armoury.

Anand Shukla is a 2012 Clore Social Fellow.