#101 How to Live and Thrive in Complexity with Sonja Blignaut

What does a “good” leader look like? What do you want from someone who is leading your organization? Times are changing, our environment is always in motion, our world is forcing us to think outside of the boxes we have created. As humans we create these boxes in order to give ourselves a sense of control and certainty, but the time has come to rethink the way we lead.

Sonja Blignaut joins me today to dive into our complex world and talk about how we as leaders need to reframe what we think is leadership. Sonja provides a very realistic and human approach to complexity. She highlights 5 points to thriving in complexity as a leader. 

Key Points from this Episode:

  • Complexity is multiple aspects in a system that interact with each other in ways that are not linear. Each thing is changed when they interact with another thing and you are not able to predict the changes. It is a messy environment.
  • We need to let go of what we think of as “Traditional Leadership” and what being a “good leader” looks like when we are faced with complexity. It won’t do us any good to be stuck in old expectations.
  • Leaders need to normalize the idea that the world is uncertain and that will always be the case. One easy way to do this is to say “I don’t know.”
  • Instead of drilling down to time-based goals(6 month or 5 year), it can be more helpful to focus on a direction than being very specific so that you can be flexible within complexity.
  • Being fully present in complexity is key.
  • All of us live and thrive in complexity every day, in social situations, in family events, even just in driving on roads. For some reason though, we decide that experience is not valid to bring into the workplace. Instead we walk into work and think everything is going to be ordered and we can control it. We need to let go of that.
  • Here are 5 points for leaders to take to better deal with complexity:
  1. Be open to diversity. In addition to being open to different races, cultures, genders, it is important to have a diverse set of perspectives and ideas on your team and within your organization. Oftentimes it is easy for an organization to have employees who end up all thinking alike. We need to be aware of multiple perspectives so that we can catch our blind spots as well as diversifying the way we do things because the only constant is change and you cannot do the same thing the same way for too long.
  2. Be curious and cultivate it. Be open to being surprised. Over the past few decades we have become obsessed with being efficient and that has made us extremely task focused. There is no time to be curious in this efficiency world. 
  3. Have the courage to be vulnerable. Acknowledge that situations are not always enjoyable and foster co-responsibility so that everyone can work on the problem together.
  4. Get closer to the front line. We need to understand as leaders that it doesn’t serve us to outsource the frontline workforce; those are the people who are representing your brand and have the best relationship with your customers. Instead of living in a fixed hierarchy, it’s time to evaluate how to create an adaptive hierarchy.
  5. Empower those who are closer to the complex problems to bring the solutions to your problems. As leaders, don’t get so stuck in the day-to-day. You need to take time to think strategically. Get off the dance floor and get on the balcony. Once you are on the balcony, you can start seeing the patterns and then start influencing the patterns. 
  • Leaders don’t give themselves permission to step back and think. Managing the tension between taking time to think as well as having the courage to make decisions even when you think you don’t have enough information.
  • Take time to reflect and have a group around you who will challenge you and ask difficult questions. 

About Sonja

Sonja Blignaut is a thinking partner for leaders, change-makers (individuals and teams) who need to lead in uncertainty. She enables strategic agility and creates future-fit organisations. Sonja co-creates and delivers fit-for-context interventions to enable responsive and adaptive organisations. She looks after the global Cognitive Edge network and is the South African partner for Cognitive Edge for over a decade. Sonja is certified in various individual and systemic coaching methods and a sought after speaker, with experience at various conferences locally and internationally, including TedX. Visit the Cognitive Edge website to learn more – www.Cognitive-Edge.com.

I hope you liked this episode! Please rate and leave a comment on the podcast. Let me know in the comments – how can you bring more of yourself, your human-mess, into your work so that you can better deal with complexity?

Thanks for listening and stay cool!