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Why pirate leaders need one eye on the future

Updated: Jan 9

Rebecca Cullum, Leadership & Culture Consultant, LinkedIn

I’ve spent my whole career in the corporate world, with the last 8 years working directly with leadership teams. I’ve seen a lot in that time, the good the bad and the dysfunctional.

But one thing that stands out is a scary lack of focus on the future.

Teams I have observed are almost entirely focused on fighting today’s fires with the occasional nod to a strategy or road map. Five or even ten year vision documents may list the number of people the team will need but what they are missing is who those people need to be. What behaviours and mindset they will need.

My experience is in the tech industry, but I’m sure I speak of most organisations, when I say that the pace of change is rapid. It shows no signs of slowing and is most likely going to keep increasing.

This puts leaders in danger of always being two steps behind. What it looks like in reality is the frantic scramble to reorganise, re-plan and keep a stressed-out team engaged. Pirate leaders need to build a future-proof team.

So, what do I mean by a future proof team?

Future-proof behaviours and mindset look like this:

  • Flexibility

  • Adaptability

  • Growth mindset

  • Curiosity

  • Resiliency

  • Trying new things and being ready to fail

  • Learning and growing

Future-proof leadership looks like this:

  • Ensure your future-proof behaviours are aligned to your strategy: A future proof team will be able to articulate the skills and behaviours their people will need in order to deliver their strategy. A key way to imbed this is to concentrate on building a learning culture, an environment for your team to develop and grow with clarity on the skills and behaviours they should prioritise.

  • Build a team with the right people and the right mindset: We can’t predict the future…even pirates didn’t make much use of crystal balls. In an uncertain and fast-moving reality, the best thing we can do is focus on building the behaviours that will underpin whatever comes our way. The behaviours and mindset our teams display will be the difference between a team that embraces challenges and adapts quickly to change and a team that stalls in the face of uncertainty. Think of it as building a strong foundation that will enable us to weather the storms.

  • Put in place a clear plan for attracting and retaining talent: Don’t let recruitment be an afterthought. Part of any future proof team should be clarity on the desired behaviours and mindset which naturally leads to clarity on the gaps in our existing teams. Once we can identify behaviour gaps then we already have a plan for the people we need to bring in. Skills are easy to learn, behaviours and mindset are the gold you look for in new talent.

  • Clarity on desired behaviours and mindset also gives you a focus area for development, mentoring and coaching: Reward and recognise the behaviours and mindset when you see them and provide further development opportunities for your key talent. In building a learning culture I would also encourage including learning targets in your teams’ objectives. Build a team where you can’t be a high performer without actively learning and displaying the future proof behaviours.

Start today!

My one tip to get started would be to focus on building a learning culture. A team that is learning, growing and curious is already on their way to being future proof.

Role model the behaviours and mindset you want to cultivate, then recognise and reward those who you see learning. Talk about the books you are reading, encourage your team to read a book together and discuss it, share some TED talks to get people thinking. Take one step at a time and take your team on the journey with you.

You don’t need a crystal ball; you need a future-proof team.

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