Mindfulness: In the Context of Leadership Skills in VUCA Times
Davelene Marshall, Global Director L&D at Alexion Pharma, led a discussion at the Inspired HR and LD conference on mindfulness in the context of leadership skills in VUCA times. In this workshop, Davelene explores key questions for leaders of the future: what will make our business iconic, and how will I lead to create that?
Davelene begins the session by asking all attendees to take part in a moment of mindfulness. “We love talking about mindfulness, but doing it is sometimes tricky,” she says.
VUCA is an acronym that stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Davelene’s session focuses on sharing ideas on the future of leadership in this environment.
“I am passionate about two things in particular,” Davelene says. “Leadership and the future. If you put the two together, I’m in heaven. But what does that look like? How do we gear ourselves up for it? We don’t really have the answer.”
The workshop attendees are asked to imagine that they have just been promoted to their dream role. In preparation for their new job, they might think about many things: how they will approach the job; the dynamics of their new team; their new boss; the pressure of KPIs; the resources available; new technologies; perhaps moving to a new location. “When we talk about VUCA these are exactly the sort of things that cross your mind,” Davelene explains.
Davelene shares an extract from a Deloitte study on human capital trends in the future of work, asking attendees to imagine they have been given this list on the first day in their new leadership role.
“The first thing they’re highlighting is that, in the future, it is really important that leaders at the C suite work together in harmony as one team,” Davelene says. “That’s a new, interesting idea.”
Citizenship and social impact is also a key trend to be considered. “It takes on many different shapes,” Davelene explains. “Diversity and inclusion, the environment, it’s everything out in the bigger world that we are a part of.”
The Deloitte article states that traditional careers will become a thing of the past, with people choosing to have more experiences instead. This will have an impact on the talent in teams.
“The next one is the workforce ecosystem,” Davelene says. “Many companies have a lot of volunteers as part of the workforce ecosystem. That’s the way the future will be. You’re going to have a small team and you have to get your resources from somewhere else: the gig economy, Millennials, Gen Z, workers who are going to live to 100. How are we going to deal with that? There are so many challenges.”
Davelene also discusses the increasing importance of wellbeing in the workplace. “It’s beyond just an action or a strategy but something people expect you to do,” she says. “As you approach your new team, how are you going to do it? What are you going to do if they all want to have long vacations? How are you going to deal with that as a manager?”
There will be a trend for new rewards, so leaders will have to consider ways to reward new ways of thinking and behaviours in the workplace.
Another important focus will be people data analytics. “When is it enough?” Davelene asks. “How much data do you need, where do you start, where do you end?”
Other human capital trends to be considered include AI and robotics, the hyper-connected workplace, and longevity.
“There are all the things I want you to continue imagining,” Davelene says. “Put yourself in that leader’s shoes.”
The Deloitte study asked organisations to rate the importance of each trend and how ready they felt to meet expectations for it. The results showed a significant gap between the perceived importance of each trend and the readiness for it.
“The future always feels like it’s really far away, but maybe as I’ve asked you to imagine the scenario, it might feel closer than we think,” Davelene says.
Davelene refers to another Deloitte study that suggests there are two powerful forces that will shape the future of work: artificial intelligence, and on- and off-balance- sheet talent.
“Artificial intelligence is very exciting, but as a manager and a leader right now, maybe it’s still a bit in the future,” she says. “The real one is the second one. In the organisation I used to work with, we were a very small team, having to look after many different things. The only way we could do that was to use different kinds of talent – freelancers, gig workers, contractors, having very specific projects, very specific skills that you buy in so that you can get your job done.”
Davelene asks attendees to imagine the CEO of their company wants the business to become iconic. “What does that mean?” she asks. “What do I need to do, and how will I lead to create that?”
The first idea for a new leader is to mobilise intelligence. “It means you don’t have the answers,” Davelene explains. “It’s not about you. It’s about mobilising the networks you have, getting people connected, getting that information out. Your role as a leader is to create an environment where others can do great work.”
The next step is to own less. “I’m not just talking about outsourcing,” Davelene says. “It’s this whole idea of letting go. When you let go, suddenly so many options open to you. You will have more networks, you can be more agile, because you don’t own this big weight. You can be more flexible and think about things differently.”
Davelene also suggests coordinating more and planning less. “Think about your mother, if she wants to meet another lady for tea. How would they go about it? Call each other and set up a date,” Davelene says. “How does Generation Z organise a meeting for coffee? They sit there with their phones in real-time, they say, ‘I’m here, where are you?’ Not ‘let’s meet’. I think that’s a great way of thinking about your talent.”
The fourth step is to become a talent agency. “By that, I mean utilising the whole workforce,” Davelene explains. “Make sure that you have the right people to do this fit for purpose work. You have a particular project and you need very particular skills. How are you going to get it?”
The final step is to lead to create context. Davelene believes the role of leaders is to create context for their people. “There is so much going on, you need to give it a framework,” she says.
Leaders are torn between being proactive and reactive. “Businesses expect you to do things faster all the time,” Davelene explains. “Every time I think I’ve broken a record, I seem to do it better and faster next time. That is what is expected of you.”
This is in conflict with the need to slow down. “You’re getting pulled by the business, you need to deliver, but then there’s your private life – you are getting torn between these two things,” Davelene says. “How do I keep this balance? How do I ultimately do more with less? That’s what the world of work is expecting.”
Davelene discusses the concept of time management versus energy management. While working at one of her previous companies, a colleague tragically lost her son in an accident. “When she was ready to come back to work, we had a meeting, and she said, ‘I have two hours of energy. How shall we use it?’” Davelene explains. “Wow. This is different thinking. How are you going to manage your energy? How are you going to manage your team’s energy, not their time?”
A ‘roots and shoots’ model by Deloitte provides a framework for leaders to think about managing their energy and unlocking potential.
“The roots are your values, your foundation, your purpose,” Davelene explains. “The shoots are analysing the thinking, the creativity, the experimenting. In the middle, where it comes together, is where your passion and your purpose meet. That will give you the energy. You’ll know what action you need to take. We need to slow down to speed up.”
Davelene shares a case study from a company she previously worked for. “I was speaking to one of our colleagues about all the changes we had been through,” she says. “Four CEOs in four years, restructuring every year – what kind of skills can you give leaders?”
The colleague organised a voluntary leadership team meeting, with a consultant who brought simple mind tools.
“The training was voluntary but everybody went because there was just so much going on,” Davelene continues. “They would choose one skill a week, like a nightly detox – so every night before I go to bed, I need to detox for 90 minutes before, no blue screens. Simple, one action. One skill.”
Each week, a new skill would be chosen from the list and everyone would commit to that skill. They would then come back together as a group to reflect on what they’d learned.
“It was really simple but the most powerful, impactful training we’ve had in a long time,” Davelene says. “People loved it. They wanted to come again and again.”
The session ends with some questions for attendees to consider, referring back to the ‘roots and shoots’ model: “What are you doing to give your leaders the space to develop these shoots? Do you give them the space, and how do you create that space, to make sure that the roots and foundations are solid?”
Davelene adds one final thought: “Learn to grow, not to know.”
Check out Davelene’s full masterclass at the LD & HR Inspired Conference below.