The principles of effective leadership skills
With Lead Coach – Ragil Ratnam
The principles of effective leadership skills – What makes a good inspirational leader?
Mr. Ragil Ratnam, Lead Coach at Pure Growth Asia (Chairman of South African – Thai Chamber of Commerce) shares his insights on the important principles of effective leadership skills and how to evaluate good leadership characteristics in a post-pandemic world.
This event was hosted by The Thai-Norwegian Chamber of Commerce (TNCC) at the Seven Peaks Software office.
Why good leadership is important in a post-pandemic world
COVID-19 has created significant challenges for the leaders of many organizations. But is COVID-19 really the cause of those problems or just a catalyst to uncover the underlying issues we already had? In Ragil’s opinion, the pandemic has proved that the approach to good leadership characteristics of many company leaders is actually causing problems in their organization instead of solving them.
We all probably know what makes good leaders. Many research papers, such as Harvard Business Review for example, always come up with research on what are good leadership characteristics, the principles of effective leadership skills, what makes a great CEO, and what differentiates them.
People prefer leaders who make quick decisions even if they are wrong, rather than leaders who don’t decide at all or take too long to decide. Leaders who engage with their people are also well-liked.
There is a whole bunch of criteria that we believe leaders should have. And along with this is the concept that the CEO, the leader of an organization, is the person who moves it forward.
The statistics below support the idea that the CEO brings great value to a company. In 2000, the CEO-to-worker compensation ratio was 360.5 times, which means that the average workers have to work 30 years to earn the same amount as the CEO.
But is the CEO really worth that much? Ragil disagrees.
COVID-19 in Thailand
When COVID-19 hit Thailand, the lockdown has affected the business, the investment, the employment and tourist factors. The only key driver of the economy during that time was government intervention.
Companies are struggling, not because of COVID but even before that. Is this because the leaders are not in action or not educated enough about the development?
Using the principles of effective leadership skills to solve today’s problems
Ragil suggested that the core of today’s problems result from two main reasons.
Firstly, today’s world is becoming complex so fast that we don’t know what is happening. And secondly, today’s leaders are not prepared to deal with this complexity. Therefore, they are making decisions and thinking in ways that would’ve worked years ago but no longer work now.
So to effectively solve these problems, we need to find new ways to think and to approach problems.
The Cynefin Framework
One way to tackle the complex problems leaders are facing today is by using the Cynefin Framework, created by Dave Snowden, which covers the different ways to approach problems and find solutions.
This conceptual framework is developed to identify the four domains of problems and contests which include different ways of finding solutions for each domain.
As Ragil said: “ If we cannot classify things, they are a disorder.”
Most of the time, we can put things into categories and boxes. For simple problems, like fixing a broken pen, we can easily solve them with basic practices.
For more complicated problems, like fixing a broken car, we may not be able to solve them by ourselves. Nonetheless, there are solutions we can take, like asking for an expert’s help.
Problems may not be simple but there are solutions we can find through instructions and steps. This is called good practices.
However, that is not the case for most problems in reality. The world we are living in is called VUCA (an art word that stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity). Most of the problems we are dealing with are independently interacting with one another in a sequence of uncertainty that we cannot control.
Such complex problems require independent decision-making. To the point where best practice doesn’t work, we need emergence practices to try things out.
A good example of emergence practice is the Build, Measure, and Learn model; first seen in the Lean and Startup book by Eric Ries.
There is no direct line of solution to the problem. There may be several paths we can take to solve a problem, but they are also constantly changing along the way. So we need to try one step, see whether it works, find the way forward, and keep doing it in a cycle.
If we have no idea of what is going on, then we are in chaos. A clear example of chaos is February 2020 when COVID hit the world. In a situation like that, we can’t even stop to think, we take action. Resulting in countries’ lockdowns, some were still open and weren’t even sure how they were going to do with varieties of policies.
Soon, we sorted it out by moving the problems into the complex box trying to figure it out step by step
Mr. Ragil Ratnam said “One of my favorite characters in Game of Thrones is called Littlefinger and he said something really powerful”.
“Chaos isn’t a pit, it’s a ladder. If you can find your way out of chaos faster than everybody else. You are way ahead of it”. It is a chance to climb. Some try to climb, fail and never get to try again but those who overcome the chaos see the opportunities of what is there up the ladder.
How to evaluate good leadership characteristics
To answer this, we need to know how approach today’s complex problems. The ideal solution for most of us these days, especially with the advent of technology is to look at the data and analyze its patterns. However, there is so much data around us that we may not know which one to use.
In Ragil’s opinion, we cannot just depend on big data alone. More importantly, we need to be able to understand how to make decisions based on those data.
Ragil suggested 3 key principles to help us approach the world in a human-centric way: Purpose, Sense-making, and Empathy.
The Golden Circle of purpose
The idea from Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle is that whatever we are doing, why we are doing it? What is the fundamental reason why we are doing it nowadays? We must figure this out. And often, we get lost in how to do things every day.
We should strongly urge everyone to think about the why and how to figure out our purpose.
In another book called Discover Your True North by Bill George, CEO of Medtronic, he talks about finding crucible moments in life that gives you purpose.
For instance, it could be something that happened in your childhood or in your early life that made you who you are today. That perspective can give you purpose to the reason you do what you do.
There are 2 approaches to sense-making, in Ragil’s point of view.
The first one is the inside-out model, the default view for most of us. Here we based the world view on ourselves. We make decisions based on our assumptions and fit the world to them. This approach is most effective when things are simple and certain.
However, in the real world, most things are uncertain and constantly changing. The better approach to this is the outside-in model. Starting with the outside, we figure out what makes sense in the world before finding our places in it.
Tendency to Default to the Inside-Out Model
- Assumptions, biases and orthodoxies are our starting point (they can also limit the questions we ask).
- Solutions that have served us well in the past might serve us well now (but they can be limiting to future growth).
- Elevates quantitative data to create insights and inform decision making (which can be insufficient).
The Outside-In Model
Focus on getting the people, the data and problem solving right
- Embraces a nuanced, humanistic perspective.
- Goes beyond the numbers, immersing in what the data is telling us.
- Approaches the problem with equal parts empathy, creativity and logic.
Empathy is more than putting yourself into someone else’s shoes or being able to feel what they feel. Beyond that, compassionate empathy means being compassionate to fellow human beings and trying to do something not just to improve your lives but also the lives of those around you.
To summarize the principles of effective leadership skills outlined above, Ragil suggested three main key principles that are vital to helping us leaders tackle the complexity of today’s problems in a human-centric way.
We need to find our lives purpose, make sense of the world with an outside-in approach, and show empathy to those around us. Only then will we be able to develop emergence practices to solve complex problems in this post-pandemic world and move towards a sustainable future.