It takes as many as 25 people to successfully execute a heart transplant, and each has a role unlike the other. Each role on the day must have been carefully prepared for and each member of the team must work within a slim margin of error for the endeavour to succeed. Each person is expected to have been trained for at least a decade, and is currently on some continuous professional development programme. It is the nature of things that the higher the level of responsibility, or the more specialised an area of operation is, the greater the amount of skill, effort, relevant experience and depth of know how required to succeed.
Coming to aviation, the assembly of an airplane needs over 200 professionals working towards creating the best user experience, (while ensuring the plane never crashes, of course!). Take for example; engine parts have to be tested by an array of experts to verify ability to function even in the most difficult weather. The more sensitive the focus area of an expert, the more the amount of preparation required to pull it off. The expert cannot afford to get it wrong and this has contributed to technology’s rise as a complement to human decision making.
Commenting on his 20 years as a soccer team manager, Arsene Wenger recently suggested that team managers of the future would not need to be extensively knowledgeable in the game. The ‘new’ managers would likely be able to select their players with the aid of technology as computers would have relevant data on player performance trends and strategic team choice options based on the selection of the opposing team. Part of the point is this; making significant progress in an industry, asides having a clear sense of direction, requires a dizzying number of events, some occurring contemporaneously, and a large number of people working in partnership. While this highlights the importance of leadership and one’s ability to work in teams, there is need to recognise these concepts not as possible outcomes of leadership strategy sessions, but as a basis for decision making.
The World Economic Forum’s report on the future of work suggests that placing a premium on one’s ability to contribute to a group and an ability to lead in complex situations are good starting points. On the back of projected workplace and business environment complexity is the need for continuous self improvement. The coming challenges of the business world and life in general will not be solved by yesterday’s insights, regardless of how long they’ve worked. There’s always some new shift just around the corner; some new service the customer is going to demand, some new industry wide regulation, some unique way the world of work is going to evolve and as such, some adjustments that must be made for careers to survive, stabilise and then prepare for the next round of adjustments.
So, it might be good to start or stay on the treadmill of self improvement, doing the morning stretches, having the critical conversations with industry thought leaders, scanning the environment and asking; what is coming, what might we be missing and what improvements need to be made? In his book, Only the Paranoid Survive, Andy Grove made it clear that it is far better to initiate the new wave than to be called upon to respond – because not much time is given the responder to prepare (by way of adjusting business models and the like) and even the entire industry might be on its way out.
This means that advancement demands a certain vulnerability on the part of leadership; a willingness to be wrong, learn quickly and let go of what may have worked decades hitherto (and in some cases, might still be working).