After dealing with training of top leaders for a long long time, I seem to have hit upon the perfect 3 topics, interrelated, without which no top leader can function. These are – game theory, peripheral vision and situational leadership. Actually, all these three have the same core i.e  ability to handle uncertainty.

There is a vast difference between the environment in which middle management and top management operates. As you climb up, you deal with less of programmed (analytical), short time and simple decision making and more of unprogrammed ( creative), long term and complex one.

There is a difference between complicated and complex scenarios. In a complicated scenario, there might be a number of interactions but, once the right buttons are pressed, they always produce the same results.  An aircraft engine or a computer server is complicated, not complex. If you have the right engineering knowledge, you can trouble shoot any problem in a menacing looking engine or a huge server. On the contrary, a complex scenario is one in which too there are a number on interactions but here, the interactions themselves are dynamic. What happens once, may not happen again. A job of an air traffic controller is a complex job. The same radar picture can mean different things at different times, depending on the starting conditions and how many planes are queued up for lading/taking off.

If you hit me today I might offer my other cheek. But that is no guarantee that tomorrow too I’ll do the same. The dynamism comes from the interplay between my emotions and ego-state.

All growth scenarios are complex scenarios since the inputs themselves are dynamic. The most important part there is to make sense of the madness.

In a complicated scenario, you can sense- analyse and then respond. This won’t work in the realm of top leadership since you can’t sense directly. You have to make meaning out of the noise and for that you have to first probe. So the action cycle is probe-sense-respond.

This is well explained in the four quarter Cynefin model of Dave Snowden.

And how is this connected to Game Theory? Well, game theory is the art of taking decisions under state of uncertainty, where two competitors are taking simultaneous decision and the desirability of the outcome depends not so much on the excellence of your decision as it does on how well your decision matches with that taken by the other party.

And what about  peripheral thinking?

That too is a handy tool to deal with uncertainty. Peripheral thinking is explained as the ability to ‘detect the weak signals that will make or break your company’. Threats and opportunities arise first, weakly, at the periphery of your organisational vision. Focussed on your immediate goals, you miss them and notice them only when they move inwards and reach the boundary of your narrow vision. But, by then, they have also become big and unmanageable.

So, how do provide that vision to our top leaders that they remain focussed on their day to day jobs abut also gather useful data, and sense, from the small blips on the periphery.

And how is all this related to situational leadership?

Well situational leaders  select their style based on two inputs of the environment – the group and the task. For the group, they analyse/sense the capability and commitment of the group. But how about customizing their leadership style to the task. It is here that understanding complexity and uncertainty comes in. Different task scenarios ( simple, complicated, complex and chaotic ) call for different styles of the leader.

Stop wasting time of your top leaders in training that is not ideally suited for their specific needs. Empower them rightly.

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Write to me at alok.asthana@gmail.com +91 9821677859, Thane, India.

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