Elevate operating systems of leaders to navigate disruptive conditions



In 2015, the Brandon Hall Group reported that 71% of organizations do not believe their leaders are capable of moving their organization forward. Given the accelerating change, pressure, ambiguity and complexity fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, we imagine this percentage to be at an all time high.

In light of this, you would do well to pause and ask how well your organization supports and develops your leaders. Specifically, ask yourself: “Has the development of our leaders kept pace with the high rate of change, pressure, ambiguity and complexity that our leaders face?” “

Whatever your answer, the purpose of this article is to help you learn how to improve the ability of your leaders to navigate these disruptive conditions.

Upgrade Ability of leaders to navigate disruptive conditions

To understand how to elevate your leader’s ability to navigate these disruptive conditions, it helps to compare a leader to a computer. If we wanted to elevate a computer’s ability to navigate complexity and perform well in the future, would it be better:

  • Download programs that expand its functionality?
  • Upgrade the computer’s operating system?

Most leadership developments are like downloading programs to a computer. This is called horizontal development, which focuses on improving the knowledge, skills and capacities of leaders. The basic principle of horizontal development is that if a leader is unable to perform a certain function, the deficiency can be resolved by helping them learn more or do more. While this form of development can be useful, it ignores whether the new program is even compatible with the underlying operating system. Often this is not the case.

Upgrading a leader’s operating system requires another form of development called vertical development. Vertical development focuses on elevating a leader’s ability to make sense of their world in more cognitively and emotionally sophisticated ways. The basic premise of vertical development is that if leaders struggle with some level of change, pressure, uncertainty, or complexity, it indicates that they are making sense of their situation in a less cognitively sophisticated way and emotional, and that they can improve. their ability to navigate these disruptive conditions by elevating their cognitive and emotional sophistication.

Steve Ballmer vs. Satya Nadella

To demonstrate the power of vertical development, let’s compare and contrast Microsoft’s last two CEOs, Steve Ballmer and Satya Nadella.

Steve Ballmer was CEO of Microsoft between 2000 and 2014. During his tenure he saw Microsoft’s market capitalization and share price cut in half. Towards the end of its tenure, Microsoft was overtaken by its main competitors: Apple, Google and Amazon.

Satya Nadella took over in 2014, and since then Microsoft’s market capitalization and share price have risen almost six times at the time of writing.

These leaders share similar “programming” (horizontal development), but their cognitive and emotional sophistication (vertical development), or their “operating system,” differentiates them from one another.

Steve Ballmer’s operating system seems to be programmed to stand out. Every time he took the stage he walked in like a rock star dancing and amplifying the crowd. He didn’t have a mission statement for most of his tenure, so rather than being driven by a mission and a goal, Microsoft focused on competing and catching up with its competitors through the development of products (such as Microsoft Surface, Windows Phone, Zune, Bing), which often fall short of expectations. He was so competitive that he didn’t want his kids to use Google or an iPod. Finally, he implemented a stacked performance management system design to identify employees who “stand out,” which has decimated Microsoft’s culture. Towards the end of his tenure, Ballmer had a 40% approval rating on Glassdoor.

Satya Nadella’s functioning appears to be much more cognitively and emotionally sophisticated. Instead of being programmed to stand out, it is programmed to contribute and add value. He does not go on stage to make pomp and glamor. He enters with the deliberate aim of clarifying and improving, usually with an emphasis on the mission statement he developed at the start of his tenure: to empower every person and every organization on the planet to ‘do more. Its approach to competitors is one of collaboration, recognizing that they can go further and work further with them than against them. Finally, he mainly focused on creating a more agile and innovative culture with an emphasis on growth mindsets. In 2019, Nadella was recognized by Glassdoor as having a 97% approval rating (no official rating has been released since).

How to help leaders grow vertically

How can we help leaders be more like Satya Nadella?

The key is to focus on the central aspect of vertical development: making sense in the most cognitively and emotionally sophisticated way. Psychologists and neuroscientists have identified a fundamental factor in the creation of meaning: their state of mind.

In fact, this is what Satya Nadella has focused on to elevate Microsoft’s culture leading to the spectacular growth they have experienced. His experience helps us identify the specific mindsets to focus on to upgrade the operating systems of leaders so they can better handle change, pressure, ambiguity and uncertainty.

When Nadella took over as CEO, he saw that Microsoft’s culture socially urges leaders to focus on appearance (fixed mindset), reason (closed mindset), avoid problems (prevention mindset) and moving forward (inner mindset). But he wanted and created a culture that made leaders socially focus on learning and growing (growth mindset), finding the truth, and thinking optimally (open mindset). ), achieve goals (promotion mindset) and uplift others (outward mindset).

In our conversation with Microsoft employees focused on developing leaders and the organization, they readily admit that Microsoft is not perfect, but they are on the right track, and we can validate that with the rise of the course. their shares and market capitalization.

To learn more about mindsets, join Ryan Gottfredson on August 29 at the ATD 2021 international conference and exhibition for the session, The Leader’s Mind: The Next Frontier in Leadership Development.


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