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The Vision of Leadership

Jason George(US)
"Seeking Responses in Times of Uncertainty" - unter diesem Motto stand der diesjährige ISC Wings of Excellence Award. Hier der Aufsatz des Drittplatzierten Jason George aus den USA.
Fighting the current to get to the shore
Testing her will-just fifty yards more
Battered and tossed by the waves' fierce attack:
Just one thought in her mind-"Don't look back!"

There have been times when reflection has seemed to be the rule of the day. After unexpected setbacks or radical changes in the environment, some leaders might feel that a period of cold-eyed analysis is in order. But looking backward has often been the favorite pastime of those who have no vision of the future, of those for whom promise and potential are less appealing than past history. But in the case of this swimmer battling to reach the shore, backward glances can only slow her down, hindering her progress. Energy that is not expended in the single-minded pursuit of her goal will be energy wasted. In situations like these, every action counts.
By its very nature uncertainty tends to catch people unawares. It can be brutal, both in its onset and its long-term effects. Something drastic, like a shipwreck, can suddenly plunge a person into a high-stakes game in which they are an unwilling participant. Such a heightened sense of tension demands an even more judicious assessment of the situation. In times of uncertainty, the best leaders will always eliminate options that don't lead to their well-delineated and clearly-understood objectives. The swimmer's target and her means of reaching it are clear, and a single-minded focus on the distant shore is crucial; in this case it can be a matter of life and death. There are remarkable tales of survival that can be attributed to this type of clear decision making when all around was unsettled. When uncertain times threaten to complicate matters, strong leaders will focus ever more strongly on the dry land ahead, knowing that the solutions to their problems lie there.

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Lesson 1: Directions that do not point to the objective should be ignored.

Steady and slow across the long footbridge
Gripping the ropes that span the high ridge
Old painted slats now rotted and brown
He recalls the warning: "Don't look down!"

Uncertainty also leads to fear and panic that can be crippling and ultimately destructive. The reaction is neither surprising nor unnatural; when the floor has given way around someone, their initial response might be to frantically cling to the first support available. But being gripped by fear, though an understandable reaction, can be devastatingly counterproductive. The goal of the man in the above scenario is clear: he must traverse the deep gorge via the unsteady structure of the rope bridge. In such a situation it is of little help to brood on the dangers of the surrounding environment-the response to this uncertainty should be a renewed resoluteness. No assistance is forthcoming from elsewhere; the objective in this case is clear and uncomplicated. If a sudden gust of wind should set the rope bridge swaying, looking down will only serve to complicate and further confound progress. In times of uncertainty, ignore dangers that serve only to muddle your view of the objective. The comfort of traditional confines and pathways may be suddenly blown apart, forcing one to find new directions and make decisions that properly accommodate them. Focusing on circumstances beyond your control serves to diminish your effectiveness as you attempt to navigate uncertainty. Instability tends to accentuate and exacerbate weaknesses and shortcomings. Fear of loss, fear of failure, fear of the unknown-leaders may be suddenly forced to come to grips with all of these things. But times of volatility are most assuredly not the time to learn how to overcome them. Preparedness is essential-you know you will have to cross that bridge up ahead. Deal with your fear of heights before you get there.

Lesson 2: Plan ahead for the paths you know you must take-don't focus on things beyond your control.

Clouds swirl about the small plane as it flies
Lightning and rain adding to the wind's cries
With sweat on his brow the pilot knows in this trial
Whatever may come-"Watch that dial!"

A small plane can be a very frightening place to be in a storm. The relatively small size of such aircraft in the midst of nature's fierceness can lead to nerve-wracking discomfort. In many such cases, pilots lose their bearings as vertigo sets in and are unable to even ascertain which way is up. The measured response when all around is chaos is to trust in your training; the artificial horizon on an airplane dashboard will indicate your position relative to the ground. Despite how hard it is, the pilot must choose to rely on this gauge and not what his instinct tells him. It can be difficult to resist the temptation to trust your eyes instead of your instruments, but the results of such a choice can be disastrous. When the climate changes and becomes increasingly unstable, leaders may feel that the principles and lessons carefully learned in earlier, more secure times are suddenly inapplicable. However, as in the case of the troubled pilot, those directions learned beforehand may be the only things that will allow you to land safely. Flying through stormy weather requires you to trust your training even more, not less. It is no time to begin flying "by the seat of your pants.

When crisis strikes, a leader's instinctual responses may be compromised by the very circumstances of the situation he finds himself in. The pilot who faces turbulence would be committing a grave error if he chose this time to begin relying on visually-based flight. It is much the same for the leader who thinks he can come up with entirely new paradigms, as it were, on the fly.

Lesson 3: Remember your directional indicators, and continue to rely on them in uncertain times, even if it's hard to do so.

The markets seemed changed and stocks rose sky-high
Gleeful executives grew smug with delight
A sober reminder, this uncertainty
With your head in the clouds, just what could you see?

Perhaps one of the greatest fallacies that people rely on when determining their approach to uncertainty is that "positive" upheaval does not bring with it the same risks that are faced in more negative situations. Recent turmoil in the world's markets and the utter collapse of certain sectors suggest that this misplaced confidence was indeed running rampant in the corridors of businesses everywhere. Rapid shifts in the economy were occurring but, due to the fact that they were perceived as positive, leaders behaved as if they did pose any threats to their long-term well-being. Thoroughly chastised now by the harsh reality, most leaders should now be aware of one essential tenet: don't assume safe uncertainty exists. Manage the risks both when prospects are suddenly bright and when they become gloomy.

Remember: uncertainty doesn't change the fundamental rules of the game. Sometimes it means that you should adhere to them even more closely. The euphoria that caused many business leaders to lose their grounding also blinded them to what was actually going on beneath the surface-they couldn't see very much or very far with their heads in the clouds. Risk is a two-way proposition, and sudden positive shifts can embody many of the same challenges as negative ones. The mirth that once characterized many sectors has been replaced by this somber realization. Treat shakeups-of markets, governments, institutions, etc.-with circumspectness.

Lesson 4: Stay vigilant, even when it appears that there will be smooth sailing for miles, for danger may lurk on the horizon.

The nations are rumbling, the world's in a roil
Tensions and stresses are reaching a boil
In this volatile mix it might all come unglued
With vision grown hazy, what's a leader to do?

Recent geopolitical uncertainty threatens to amplify many of the concerns that we have been facing in recent years. Suddenly the world we are in is caught in a swirl of volatility, and we find that clear perception and perspectives are at a premium. It may be hard to disentangle the many threads of information that we find coming at us from every angle. Today's particular uncertainty is more risky than most, for by their very nature geopolitical upheavals are overarching and have far-reaching impacts. But when the daily bombardment of conflicting information seems overwhelming, the best leaders will realize the importance of maintaining clear sightlines.

It is very easy to be swept up in an ideology and to succumb to the forces of inertial thinking. But allowing one's decisions to be guided by these forces, as uncertainty causes them to shift, is a recipe for ineffective and possibly gravely erroneous decisions. If growing obstacles obscure your vision, get them out of your way. See the original picture in the context you understand. Don't be driven astray by the whims of current perceptions.

Lesson 5: Don't let the obstacles presented by uncertainty deflect you from your true objectives; your goals have not changed-stay focused on them.

Don't look back.
In times of uncertainty, some leaders may choose to look backwards, hoping to find a non-existent direction that will more quickly satisfy their desires. But like the woman stranded at sea, these other directions are only distractions.

Don't look down.
In times of uncertainty, some leaders may cower at the thought of the danger that surrounds them. Like the man crossing the bridge, the only direction that matters is straight across-keep your focus dead ahead.

Don't look away.
In times of uncertainty, some leaders may rely on the wrong things to chart directions, like the pilot who cannot trust his instruments and tries to trust his own unreliable eyesight.

Don't look over.
In times of uncertainty, some leaders may cast aside their normal frameworks for assessing the directions they take. Like the executives who failed to see the risks in the changing climate, some leaders may start assuming that potentially beneficial uncertainty has no downside.

Don't look around.
In times of uncertainty, some leaders may fail to keep their objectives squarely in their sights, like political leaders who are being sidetracked by the confusion of current circumstances.

The vision of leadership is characterized by the correct incorporation of these five perspectives. In times of uncertainty, an understanding of these requirements can allow leaders to make choices that transcend temporary difficulties. Remember what you knew when stability and prosperity were the norm. What was important to you then? Don't let present, temporary uncertainty change it. Your answers remain in front of you, waiting to be discovered and seized. Don't allow instability to cause further turmoil in your choices. But when trying to find the correct vision, questions may still arise. The true, objective-focused vision of leadership will continue to provide the answers to questions that can drive leaders off course.

1. Reader's Digest Canada, January 1993 (Swimmer)
2. National Trust (UK) Web site (Rope bridge)
3. Dallas Observer, May 24, 2001 (Pilot)
4. Financial Times, multiple recent dates (Market uncertainty)
5. New York Times, multiple recent dates (Political turmoil)
Dieser Artikel ist erschienen am 23.05.2003