The ability to reinvent yourself and your organization will be one of the most important competencies to have in the 21st century – which makes leadership more important than ever. Leading in today’s digital world, however, is very different from leading just 15 years ago.

These are the key takeaways from Cognizant’s Women Empowered Executive Dinner, held recently in Los Angeles, where keynote speaker Kate Sweetman talked about reinvention and leadership in “the age of disruption.” Sweetman is co-founder and chief client officer of global management consulting and training firm SweetmanCragun Group, and also co-author of a book on reinvention.

This topic was of particular interest to those of us who are actively engaged with Cognizant’s Women Empowered initiative, which is focused on fostering the growth, development and advancement of women in the workplace. While Sweetman’s message was pertinent for leaders of any gender, it’s of particular interest to organizations that are striving to embrace gender diversity because they know it will impact their ability to grow and innovate.

As Sweetman tells it, global forces have precipitated vast, unstoppable and accelerating shockwaves of change. These shockwaves, she says, are a result of the cumulative impact of numerous drivers, including new technologies shaking up how we live and do business, ever shifting regulations that businesses must continuously adapt to, new types of products and services that increasingly have digital at their core, and the influence of younger generations and diverse populations that are changing the expectations for how businesses are supposed to operate.

It’s incumbent on leaders, Sweetman says, to help themselves, their organization and the individuals within the business to learn how to anticipate change and accelerate their ability to adapt to it.

Self-Imposed Blindfolds

What really struck me about Sweetman’s presentation is our propensity – both as humans and as organizations – to unwittingly but also willingly put on blindfolds to not only the changes affecting us but also our role in adapting to them. These blindfolds create barriers that keep us from properly evaluating the size and nature of the shockwave – and mar our ability and willingness to change.

The good news is that because these blindfolds are self-imposed, we’re also completely in control of taking them off. First, though, we need to recognize them for what they are. The six most common blindfolds, according to Sweetman, are:

  1. Arrogance: Overbearing and unwarranted display of superiority, self‐importance or false pride.
  2. Not allowing negative feedback: The inability to hear anything negative about the project, company or ourselves and confront the brutal facts, believing these will get in the way of agendas, deadlines and commitments.
  3. Dismissing competitors’ success: Refusal to accept competitors’ successes as valid and downplaying competitors’ strategic and product innovations, often because of our own past successes.
  4. Believing we know what’s best for the customer: An inability to empathize with customers’ frustrations and needs, and a lack of inquisitiveness into finding new ways to perfectly align with customers’ current and future needs.
  5. Believing problems don’t exist: Blindness to or dismissal of organizational or individual problems, to protect oneself and/or the company.
  6. Avoiding the unavoidable: Failure or refusal to see the writing on the wall, even when the issues are huge and insurmountable.

So, take a look in the mirror. Do you see any of these blindfolds obstructing your ability (or your organization’s ability) to recognize and respond to change? If so, it’s time to adopt new mindsets, skillsets, toolsets and behavioral sets that energize us to the possibilities of change and develop the capacity to capitalize on them.

The Reinvention Formula

Sweetman believes that individuals and organizations can learn to deal with sudden and disruptive change, and even get ahead of it, if they can become alert to what is happening, develop a plan for action, and have the desire and discipline to act on it.

They can do this, she says, by ensuring that the elements of the “change quotient” outweigh the cost of change. This can be calculated by using what she calls the Reinvention Formula: (D x F x A x E) L > C (see diagram below).

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The left side of the equation is the change quotient, and the right side is the cost of change. If the cost of change is greater than the change quotient, then the reinvention effort is likely to fail.

Sweetman believes that reinvention is the price of admission to play in today’s digital economy. Within Cognizant and our Women Empowered Initiative, we do, too. We look forward to continued engagement with thought leaders like Sweetman at our future Women Empowered events, where we’ll cover other key topics that are particularly pertinent to women leaders of today and tomorrow.

Chell Smith

Chell Smith

Chell Smith is Senior Vice-President, Consulting & Transforming Client Relationships, at Cognizant. She is responsible for crafting unique experiences that help clients... Read more