x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Masterful leaders turn grit into pearls

The Life: Working in the emerging markets is complex - it is complicated. Perhaps this comes from being in an environment that is full of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.

Working in the emerging markets is complex - it is complicated. Perhaps this comes from being in an environment that is full of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, what the military call Vuca to describe their new reality. We can borrow this as a primary descriptor of the emerging markets business scene.

It is clear; here in this region we are not leading in the midst of a stable, static environment. Each day brings a new set of challenges given the business Vuca.

It is easy to externalise this complexity by seeking, even begging for, someone else to remove the complications. Managers blame the directors for the complexity and the directors blame the chief executive. The chief executive even blames the market for its volatility, rapid changes and unpredictable nature.

Things are not supposed to be simple; we are in the emerging markets. You have to bring simplicity from the midst of the complexity - you need to provide what I call simplexity. Leaders today must first and foremost be able to master enormous complexity with environmental challenges that include unfamiliar regulations, flexible business models, vast amounts of vagueness from stakeholders and seemingly incomprehensible cultures.

Consider this: "How do you lead at the rapid pace that your owner or shareholders want to move at, but remain risk free?" Or: "How do you grow in the midst of an uncertain market?" Leading here is complex. These challenges illustrate when facing incredible complexity you need to simplify it, providing simplexity.

Any leader can recognise the complexity around them. But then it is too easy, when not blaming someone else, to become paralysed by it. So how do you as a leader provide simplexity out of the complex challenges the emerging markets bring to your desk.

Just looking at things differently can make all the difference. Leading in the emerging markets means you will have to use imagination to make sense of the growth and speed. Imagination is the key to creating simplicity from the midst of complexity. It is how you make sense of the world and see what you are not seeing.

When it comes to providing simplexity, your gut may be a better barometer than your brain. The way we are conditioned to think often stands in the way of imagination and makes us complicate what does not need to be. Although in business we are wary of people who trust their gut, they are often able to simplify matters, especially compared with rational decision-makers.

A tip for bringing simplicity from complexity is your ability to envision yourself in someone else's place. You could call this rolestorming, which is like brainstorming while taking on someone else's identity when you do it. This allows you to perceive the world from their point of view; you are stepping into the worldview of another person. The worldview is the result of arranging perceptions into existing imagery by imagination. You need to be able to take objects from real perceptions and create new or revised ideas.

To provide simplexity, you must appreciate and accommodate different perspectives and interpersonal dynamics, integrate multiple disciplines, work across cultures and interpret diverse and multiple streams of information.

Simplifying complexity is different from having surety; it's OK to be uncertain. If you're like many leaders, uncertainty makes you panic. It can ruin a plan. It can make you lose sleep. It can stop you in your tracks. Most people try to avoid it. One could argue that ambiguity is simply the way things are in a post industrial world.

So set aside your need for clarity and surety, instead focus on not transferring uncertainty and ambiguity to others. Simplify the complex world of business - provide simplexity.


Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging-market leadership, an adviser and the author of The CEO Shift. He is the founder of the Emerging Markets Leadership Center