What skills do leaders need in a VUCA world?

Vinay Kamath Chennai | Updated on January 20, 2018

Gautam Kumra

Resilience and self-awareness are key, says McKinsey & Co Director Gautam Kumra

A VUCA world presents leaders with new challenges every day. What are the skills that leaders need in today’s rapidly changing business environment? Gautam Kumra, Director, McKinsey & Co, and founder of the McKinsey Leadership Institute in India, believes some of the qualities that leaders need are evergreen: skills and character, problem-solving strengths, decisiveness and a result orientation are always important.

“There are a few more in the sphere of character, which are increasingly important today, and one of them is resilience. Leaders can fail invariably, and the willingness to pick yourself up and move on defines one’s resilience.”

Kumra says the ability to be centred and being able to lead yourself is key. “Many times, you get too influenced by what happens around you and by people, but doing what you are good at is important. One also needs a soft touch to get the best out of the people you lead. You need to get them to achieve their full potential.”

Speaking to BusinessLine on the sidelines of the annual convention of the Madras Management Association, where he was the keynote speaker, Kumra said no leader is complete in everything, so, leaders should be self aware and complement themselves with people who can fill in for what they are not good at. “The biggest frustration I find is when leaders are not self-aware and don’t make the right adjustments and that leads to costly mistakes,” he says.

Today’s younger leaders are a reflection of the world we live in, says Kumra. New industries such as digital and retail are being born, where you don’t have seasoned leaders to lean on. “I do believe the time-frame in which you can develop leaders is getting compressed. The kind of challenges, experiences and global exposure to different roles and opportunities, means that people are getting ready earlier than later. It’s less about age, and more about the kinds of experiences you get. Earlier, you took 20 years to go through experiences which, today, you can get in 10 years. Companies and people who reach out for those opportunities can progress faster,” he elaborates.

Developing a leadership pipeline for an organisation is not a trivial challenge. It starts with the mindset of the CEO. If he or she is not inherently convinced about the need to develop leaders, they will not lead the organisation well through its journey.

“Leadership is about breakthrough performances, meeting stretch targets and supporting your people on that journey. You have to match people with the right opportunities. Leaders have to build a culture where people understand and have a common vocabulary around developing leadership and putting it on the senior management agenda. Like you review performance, do you spend time to review the leadership pipeline?” he asks.

Published on March 04, 2016

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