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Leading in Uncertain Times – Part 3: The Natural Tendency to Centralise

As I have mentioned in this series of short articles, we are in an era of unusual uncertainty in government, business and many facets of society. The impact this has on any team or workforce can undermine the emotional health of an organisation and pose significant challenges for its leaders.

Senior executives are always under the spotlight, and never more than in turbulent times as risk-appetite diminishes, organisations are constrained by external factors they can’t control, and there is a tendency for stakeholders to interfere and scrutinise. The temptation to pull up the drawbridge and shift into survival mode is acute.

I have seen organisations react like this before. In a typical scenario, the authority to make decisions is centralised, more and more information is sought by apprehensive senior leaders and cost-cutting regimes are imposed with little idea of the implications for future business – all of which contribute to a perception of nervousness at the top.

The impact of this down the leadership chain is significant. It disenfranchises bright people, demotivates them, slows the tempo of activity, reduces responsiveness and quells innovation. There are fewer minds working on the key challenges that bear on success. Agility, the ability to make well-informed decisions quickly, evaporates. The prospect of your most talented people moving elsewhere becomes a real threat to future performance.

Is there an alternative approach leaders might take in this situation? Yes. In Part 4 I will describe a leadership culture that enables agility in a crisis.

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