Energized Leaders Avoid Panda-Monium

Pandas are like complacent leaders—they don’t accomplish much.

July 16, 2015

Pandas Literally Evolved to be Lazy,” says The Washington Post.

Initially, the panda diet included meat and plants. About two million years ago, it became exclusive to bamboo—a hard-to-digest, low-nutrient food. Consequently, panda energy expenditures declined.

Like complacent leaders, they don’t accomplish much.

Consider impending evolutions in the financial industry and different attitudes leaders might employ as they anticipate and respond to change.

‘Let go of the illusion of control.’ --Ooguay, Kung Fu Panda

Change is afoot for those providing financial services, according to risk advisory company Willis Group. Leaders encounter paradigm shifts caused by six key mega trends:

  • Regulatory change and complexity;
  • Technological change, including digitalization;
  • Changing consumer behavior and demographics;
  • A global talent and skills race;
  • Challenges to existing business models; and
  • Changing investment and capital sources and returns.

“The financial sector is becoming increasingly segmented” and “The complex needs of financial institutions will demand increasingly sophisticated leadership in the future.”

Might managerial impatience lead to pandemonium? Those tasked with leading change must consider the “Dangers of an Impatient Strategic View,” as outlined by consultancy group Switch and Shift.

Changing an impatient attitude is difficult, but “a company’s survival may depend on it.” Five considerations and actions:

  1. Know market trends.  Trends are not straight-lined and zig-zag with evolution. “Sound strategic leaders will not just pull the plug during a zag.”
  2. Establish timelines.  Initiatives need guideposts to monitor progress and align with zigs and zags. Determine one-, two-, and three-year markers; incorporate long-term views.
  3. Enthusiasm is key.  Leaders must exude enthusiasm about their strategies. Find and know sources to keep enthusiasm alive: key adopters, consumers, partners, and others.
  4. Learn and tweak the plan.  New insights may require adjustments.
  5. Be transparent.  Keep all stakeholders apprised.
  6. Balance patience and impatience. “Impatience is not a good reason to kill a strategic plan,” but enduring patience can be imprudent: “There is nothing worse than a slow death.”

In your overall strategies, keep in mind broader management trends as described by Bain and Co.

As the economy rebounds, managers feel exuberant with potential for business growth, “perhaps too exuberant,” as they may not consider potential disruptions.

Aging populations, emerging economies, scarcity of resources, global markets, and digital technologies can offer opportunity but also pose risk.

Executives are largely upbeat: 74% find current financial performance “strong” and 55% think economic conditions are improving for their industry. And, 75% feel better positioned for what lies ahead.

However, “Executives who believe that their companies are more competitive because sales and profits are rising in the midst of a recovery risk making some wrong moves due to complacency.”

Survey results of executives in 2004 showed 86% believed “innovation is more important than cost-reduction for long-term success.” That was the case for 74% in 2014.

And in 2012, 64% thought “Our management actions favor long-term results over short-term earnings,” compared to 58% who held this belief in 2014.

‘There is no charge for awesomeness—or attractiveness.’—Po, Kung Fu Panda

Management heroes will consider the human element necessary for effective leadership.

A Society for Human Resource Management survey identifies impactful priorities for HR professionals as they help their companies succeed. “Managing talent and improving leadership development ranked as the most critical HR issues facing organizations by approximately one-half of respondents each.

“Building leadership capability will be important for organizations as they prepare the next generation of leaders to succeed those who will soon be moving into retirement,” notes the article.

In order to improve leadership development, 58% use internal coaching from upper management and 49% use 360-degree feedback to measure leadership skills. In managing talent, 75% will source locally while 58% will hire employees from the competition.

Other human resource issues of importance identified by the survey include managing cultural change, demographics, and recruitment challenges.

Managers in the Digital Age Need to Stay Human,” says the Harvard Business Review. Technology allows for greater collaboration and staff connections, but employee engagement is still an issue as in 2013 only 13% of employees in 142 countries were engaged, and almost 25% “actively disengaged.”

Four considerations to facilitate good management and engagement in the digital age:

  1. New leadership skills are required to manage engagement.  Managers should “position themselves between the chaos of change and their people,” invest in staff with professional development opportunities, “focus on a higher purpose” to direct the organization, and “leave no one behind” in the chaos of change anxiety.
  2. Engagement management starts with supervisors, not at the C-suite.  Supervisors need to be developed with care. “Many current leadership development programs do not adequately prepare supervisors to create work environment optimized for engagement” as many supervisors “are often more transactional than transformational.”
  3. Make engagement personal.  Daily communications, “knowing” employees, and personal employee growth and development in their jobs are critical. “A key ingredient in highly engaged workplaces is leaders who are personally involved.”
  4. Engagement means everyone.  Engaged teams have not only enthusiastic leaders, but enthusiastic members. Everyone has responsibility to participate. “A key way to create engaging workplaces is to define and develop followership as a formal part of leadership development.”

To successfully adapt to not only to change specific to the financial industry but also greater environmental evolutions brought about by new technologies and consumer demands, attuned leaders will avoid both complacency and chaos as they set strategy and energize team members.

Attentiveness and action are key for effective leadership and will culminate in successful business outcomes.

 LORA BRAY is an information research analyst for CUNA’s economics and statistics department. Follow her on Twitter via @Bray_Lora and visit the CUNA blogThe Research Roundup: Economic Perspectives.