23 Mar 2020 20:08 IST

Enable people to become catalysts for change

Today’s uncertain world needs leaders who can think critically and are resilient and compassionate

In a world which is as volatile and uncertain as in contemporary times, nurturing people to respond proactively and adopt a flexible mindset is a critical skill, especially given the kind of inflection point we are at today. This skill of thinking critically, on your toes, managing a fluid, ever-changing workforce, and developing and nudging teams to make decisions with high impact, is to serve as a catalyst for change.

To quote, Simon Sinek, “Leadership is not a license to do less; it is a responsibility to do more.” In these times of crisis, we need to develop more responsible leaders who will be catalysts of change and work in new environments where the real world is merging with the virtual world; and multiple intelligent systems are evolving with artificial intelligence and robotics. Developing people to be catalysts for change will create leaders, who give rather than seek, who are resilient, empathetic and compassionate human beings. Developing people who mostly believe in transparency, trust and authenticity, while handling conflict and conflicting situations, is what is required.

An emerging leader who is a catalyst of change would need to nurture a world view of what one might call ‘oxymoronic’ behaviour for developing people. This oxymoronic behaviour would entail behaviours such as reflection with action; less with more, being comfortable with ambiguity like harmony with conflict. When people develop capabilities with a mindset and attitude to win some and lose some, when required, they learn to lead and motivate teams, and exhibit sustained victory despite obstacles.

Leaders must learn to nudge people into decision-making, like a true catalyst, in the words of Thaler & Sunstein, authors of the book Nudge. Equip people to be able to nudge followers into taking decisions which must be chosen.

Ineffective leaders are not able to develop people capabilities and may not believe in the exponential potential of others; they may be so lost in a reflective mindset that they forget to take action when required.

Leaders who are unable to inspire tend to be risk-averse and take the wait-and-watch option, have a myopic mindset, and fail to develop teams with complementary skills. To develop others to become catalysts of change, the leader should be able to lean-in, to make powerful timely decisions which make long lasting impact and help others grow. By observing these leaders in action, future catalysts are created. This helps put together a leadership pipeline, leading to a chain of sustainable leaders who create lasting change.

Developing such capabilities can deal with a context which is dynamic and evolving at the speed of light, and thus needs such people interventions. Specifically, checking one’s ego, remaining grounded and stable in mind is required, especially in times of technology-intensive, remotely functioning workplaces.

Such a workplace believes in creating a lasting, engaging, employee experience. Believing in oneself and that there is nothing but an illusion of control is necessary to develop people who go beyond cognitive ease. “Cognitive ease, happens when a false statement repeated many times, leads people to believe it is true, when it is not.” Stepping out of this illusion develops future leaders who have learning agility, are diverse in their thinking, and are dynamic to ever evolving change.

Personalities like Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai make their presence felt by thinking fast and slow, as stated by Daniel Kahneman. The Nobel laureate, and propounder of the Prospect theory, Kahneman says that: “What you see is all there is: ...when information is scarce we tend to believe what we see without reasoning. Our mind makes a coherent story with the limited resource.” . People who are able to discern the cognitive ease traps and who are able to question the obvious and the mundane are the ones who will be able to propel people towards developing capabilities which will be able to handle change with ease.

Finally, it’s important for leaders to develop and convey a sense of calm, even while blazing new trails. We speak of multiple intelligences that must be acquired, and the most sought after of these are emotional and spiritual intelligence. Coming the full circle of being self aware, managing oneself and making ourselves accountable, knowing when to walk into a situation and when to walk out of one are all reflective of a leader who can hold their equanimity in explosive situations, as much as in uncertain times. While these might seem difficult attributes to develop, they are achievable as long as one is grounded, humble, and unswerving from the goal.

(The author is Professor, HRM, Dean Graduate Programmes and Student Affairs, and Chair-PGPHRM, with additional Charge of Student Counselling at MDI Gurgaon.)