We live in a world in which accumulated knowledge doubles every 13 months, and technology advances at a faster pace than humans can adapt. “In this kind of environment, no one knows all the answers; probably not even all the questions. Uncertainty is the new paradigm.”

That’s Thunderbird School of Global Management CEO and Director General Dr. Allen Morrison, speaking as part of the 2017 Global Speaker Series. (For more about these uncertain times, check out We Live in Uncertain Times. Thunderbird CEO & Director General Allen Morrison Explains Why.

How is a corporate leader to thrive in this new paradigm, this environment of uncertainty? “In order to stay ahead of the curve, leaders need to focus on two things,” Morrison explained. “First, building key capabilities into the organization. Second, building and maintaining your own competitive edge.”

Building key capabilities into the organization

“If we want to build powerful corporations that can sustain us through these turbulent times we need to think about bridging the gap between what we can do today and what we need to do tomorrow,” said Morrison. That means focusing on five core categories of organizational capability:

1) Structure. “Continuously reflect on the structure of the organization. What does it enable you to do well and what does it prevent you from doing?”

2) People. “Building capabilities is about building the competencies of your employees,” explained Morrison. “Chances are, left to their own devices your employees will stay at the status quo level and not invest in developing their own capabilities. Look at your people as true assets that need investing.”

 “Look at your people as true assets that need investing.” – Click to tweet

3) Process. “Think about the processes and systems of the organization,” Morrison advises. “Systems – for communication, IT, performance evaluation, rewards, and all the others – constantly need to be tweaked and in some cases reinvented.”

4) Culture. “Do you have a culture that embraces change rapidly or resists it?” Morrison explained that the most successful organizations have cultures that embrace best practices, promote fast execution, promote due process and fairness, and appreciate diversity and its benefits.

5) Leadership. “Ask yourself ‘How strong, how cohesive, how aligned is your leadership team?’” Morrison advises. “Do you have the right people on the team? Are they not only doing a good job as individuals but also as a team?”

“Each one of these five core categories of organizational capability is a big topic we could spend a lot of time discussing,” Morrison said. “It’s a good investment of your time to tackle each one of these.”

Watch Dr. Morrison's full lecture here

Building and maintaining your own competitive edge

“In addition to building the capabilities of your organization, there’s the individual component,” explained Morrison. “You as a leader. Most young professionals today will work for at least 12 different organizations between graduation and retirement. So it’s important to think of yourself and building your own capabilities as well.”

There are four keys to individual leadership capability, Morrison said: drive, character, savvy, and mindset.

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Morrison told the story of meeting with Maurice Raymond “Hank” Greenberg, the former longtime CEO of AIG. “Hank has had some challenges over last 10 years, but he has come back in full force. Now he’s the chairman and CEO of C.V. Starr. He’s 91 years old. He was on beaches of Normandy, helped liberate the concentration camps. I asked him what was the key to his success and he said, ‘You have to love what you do.’ His typical workday is 18 hours, 7 days a week. Often we shortchange hard work. Hank is the poster child for hard work.”

 “So do you have the drive? What you need to stay competitive?” Drive, Morrison said, nurtures the other characteristics of leadership.

 7) Character. “Successful leaders have character,” Morrison explained. “Character is about ethics. About having high ethical standards in how you treat people and how you make decisions and how you perceive the benefits and costs of decisions. It’s also about your ability to connect with people – particularly those with different values and cultures, who may live in different parts of the world and speak different languages. Can you connect emotionally with people?”

“Global mindset is perceiving the world as full of opportunities, not traps to be afraid of.” – Click to tweet

8) Savvy. “Savvy comes from the French term savoir-faire, which is knowing how to do things,” said Morrison. “Leaders can be gregarious and ethical and driven but unless they actually have skills they’re not going to be worth a lot other than as great drinking buddies.”

9) Mindset. “Global mindset® is thinking about the world as if it were devoid of many of the artificial barriers we set up,” explained Morrison. “Mindset is about how you perceive opportunities. How you perceive people. How you interpret what people think and what they say. Having a global mindset is about perceiving the world as a world full of opportunities – not one full of traps to be afraid of.”

“These are all topics we spend a lot of time talking about and studying and addressing at Thunderbird,” Morrison said. “And the world recognizes us for it.” Morrison told the story of meeting with the former president of Sri Lanka, an eager Thunderbird fan. “Same story with the former president of Switzerland. And the former head of Austria. They know Thunderbird because of our reputation as an educator of great global leaders.”

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What have been your keys to leadership success? Have you seen these or other capabilities help organizations thrive (or not)? Share your insights on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

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