Wednesday, July 3, 2019

The Corporate Board’s Synthetic View

There’s no magic formula for leadership effectiveness. Vision, influence, empathy, creativity, and learning agility are all key elements of digital leadership.

Digital is about changes, closer to reality is that 'change' is continuously happening in such a dynamic environment of a company. Businesses need to recognize the change and help leaders meet the challenge via business savvy and agility. Improvisation, fact-finding, analysis and synthesis, trial and error, all are necessary ingredients of leadership. In particular, senior leaders at the board level should shape the synthetic view in order to understand things holistically, drive change radically and lead the business transformation deeply.

The synthetic view is future-oriented, perceives “what could be”: The board leaders need to focus outward on the horizon for future opportunities and pitfalls. A leader is a person who is focused outward scanning the horizon, looking for future opportunities or possible perils. At the industrial age, businesses are considerably static, with the slower speed of changes. Therefore, analytics is a predominant management style, while analytics describes “what is,” it is about breaking down of a complex system into pieces that are small enough to be understood, in such a way that you can reassemble them as you broke them down to gain a deeper understanding of "what is." However, with the accelerated speed of changes, leaders and managers have to spend more time on pondering the future and perceive “what could be,” under the “VUCA” digital normal. Thus, the synthetic view stands out because it’s based on the relevance of the past and present for the future desired transformation or outcome.

The synthetic view is a holistic perspective: Digital is about hyperconnectivity and interdependence, synthesis is about understanding a thing by examining it as a whole. Interconnections and interdependencies are distinguished, wise choices and decisions are made via the full cycle of analytics and synthesis. A holistic perspective is a zoom-out view and works well when deploying, conceiving, or rethinking a system. The zoom-out synthetic view helps the board understand the dynamic business ecosystem, diagnose the root cause of problems at the strategic level, and ensure that the business as a whole is superior to the sum of parts. Solutions are also made from a much broader and encompassing view that is not possible with linear or analytical thinking only. The digital business today is not only just about working within the industry, but also permeating cross-ecosystem which is dynamic, continuous, and interactive. There needs to be a better appreciation to examine a situation and understand the problem from different angles and zoom out to see the larger system and their part in the mess, in order to come out with the optimal solutions without too many side effects.

The synthetic view has a longer timeframe: A business needs to make money, just as a human needs to respirate, but that is not their purpose. A different living-context may require a different set of values being adhered to. The synthetic perspective from the board can see a full business picture more vividly via a longer timeframe. Thus, it will help them scrutinize the strategy from the long term perspective. In addition, the digital era upon us means change, the emergent strategy is nowadays a fact. The BoDs should leverage Systems Thinking - the full cycle of analytics-synthesis thought processes to oversee business strategies and help business leaders manage such Strategy-Execution dynamism effectively. To make the role highly effective, digital Board of Directors not only need to be forward-thinking, but they also have to be further looking, and thinking longer-term, guide the executive team toward the right direction and play the management advising role effortlessly.

There’s no magic formula for leadership effectiveness. Vision, influence, empathy, creativity, and learning agility are all key elements of digital leadership. Leaders themselves must get out of their own comfort zone to gain the different viewpoint first, before inspiring the team to continuously learn and grow, to create such constructive discomfort for sparking creativity, challenging the status quo, and taking dedicated effort to drive changes and improve organizational maturity.


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