We’re all living and working in an increasingly fast-paced and ever-changing world.  For business leaders, today’s environment can lead to challenges as well as opportunities to innovate and grow by capitalizing on the rapid speed of change. To succeed and excel in today’s business climate, it is imperative for leaders to consider and approach their roles differently than they have in the past – particularly in three key areas:

Adapt your strategy to stay relevant: Customer and stakeholder needs have changed with shifts in the market. Therefore, it is vital that business leaders assess their strategic approach based on considering what’s most relevant to their clients and in their markets. Previous choices that have been made may not be completely relevant in today’s environment. Leaders should be prepared to evolve their strategy in ways that build relevance with customers, while still providing value. For example, if a new market entrant is attracting your organization’s traditional customers, it’s likely that a new approach – or an adjustment – will be needed for your customer to maintain market share.

Take a balanced approach to the fundamentals:  Leaders need to make balanced decisions and understand trade-offs, optimizing costs without going too far.  Reactive kneejerk-type actions can negatively impact an organization – both from a value standpoint as well as among employees. Maintaining focus and clarity is critical to firmly solidifying your organization in the market. This also means staying true to what opportunities you will not pursue. Applying this discipline will help protect profitability in a more balanced way. The balance of growth and profits, value and cost are important to maintain long term. Assign goals and provide guidance to employees to support a longer-term balanced view on profitability.

Communicate for strength: With so much change and ambiguity in today’s business world, it is natural for stakeholders and employees to sometimes feel concerned. But lack of communication during such times can easily lead to lack of trust, giving way to unwanted negative rumors and poor engagement among employees. It is critical for business leaders to foster an open dialogue across the organization, especially during uncertain times. In particular, leaders should embrace the following approaches:

  • Acknowledge business changes and challenges with all employees
  • Outline steps the organization is taking to deal with challenges – including how its business strategy is adapting over time
  • Ask for support and ideas from employees – make sure the communication goes in both directions

These guidelines can help leaders maintain confidence and drive collective ownership within the organization. In addition, the mood, tone and body language of business leaders has a strong impact on organization’s energy.  One of the best ways to restore confidence is to feel confident yourself.

Implications for Leadership Development:

Leadership development is increasingly viewed as a strategic lever for organizations. But many leaders aren’t ready to take on the challenge of today’s business climate because they are not properly trained. In a global 2013 study conducted by Harvard Business Publishing, 43% of the more than 400 talent development professionals surveyed say that the most significant goal for leadership development is to drive business transformation. If business leaders are to achieve in the three areas outlined above – to help their organizations transform and succeed over time – they also must develop the following core capabilities:

  • Strategy: Understanding that strategy is not just a deliberate choice anymore but that it emerges and evolves based on changing business realities. Strategic decisions should be based on real-time customer input.
  • Adapting and refining business models: Ability to fine-tune a company’s business model to stay relevant in an ever-changing market. Making incremental changes in customer value proposition, company’s profit formula and value chain can have significant positive impact.
  • Disruptive innovation: Looking for un-served/ underserved market segments and identifying quick innovation opportunities that are in alignment with company’s strategy.
  • Leading proactive change: Ability to lead change agendas through consistent, transparent communication and a clear vision or roadmap.
  • A strong leadership mindset: Leaders in this rapidly-changing business climate need to more quickly embrace their new leadership roles – truly thinking of themselves and behaving as leaders, which is a more time consuming and challenging transformation than learning discrete skills.

To be successful in today’s dynamic business environment, leaders must work toward building relevance, managing business fundamentals with a balanced approach and guiding employees through open, two-way communication. Those leaders who leverage opportunities to adapt, innovate and learn can make ever-changing times invigorating and advantageous for themselves, their employees and their organizations.