Leadership – like a plane taking off against the wind; three tips to tame the wind

So – is it that as long as a leader’s biomarkers fit an individual organisation culture, it’s all smooth sailing for the leader? After all, the last three blogs of this leadership organizational-vital (OV) series identified fundamental factors required to succeed in leadership: that like priests, leaders are ‘anointed’ by the omnipotent; the culture in a particular organization determines the leader’s success i.e. that leadership efficacy is impacted by the fit between organizational culture and individual leadership biomarkers. And finally, that corporate culture determines whether a leader can influence all four OV’s [leadership, strategy, design (architecture), and people] or not.

Well, it is not always true that when all the above three variables are realised, leadership success is bound to accrue. To the contrary, leadership is like a plane taking off in high winds. Pilots have to manoeuvre incredibly complex crosswind situations, even when the integrity of the aircraft is right.

Skilling for taking off in high winds
Pic.: i.ytimg.com

Henry Ford said that ‘the aeroplane takes off against the wind, not with it’ – leadership is akin to this. While a combination of all three factors outlined above brings about successful leadership, of equally critical importance is the individual leader’s ability to manage the pressure, complexity, and vagueness in the modern business environment – this is what we call on this blog, the crosswind factor

Like managers in the modern game of football, leaders at the modern organisation live off the pressure of the job. When there is no pressure at work, the leaders get anxious and ask if something is wrong. Working under pressure, in complex crosswind situations, is so very typical that the lack of it causes anxiety for leaders. A modern and successful leader’s affinity for anything normal is very low. You have to ask why many still want to be leaders.

No wonder, many millennials do not want to be leaders in their lifetime. They understand the burden that comes with the job and aren’t willing to accept such pressure. Welcome to the new generation of workers that puts well-being and happiness first, ahead of the material rewards that accrue when we become leaders. Yet on close analysis, the millennial generation is ahead of the game. The millennials not only understand but have applied in their favour, three of the four fundamentals that drive successful leadership:

1. That Leadership is a calling – not every Tom Dick and Harry can be a leader
2. That organisational culture vs. individual leadership biomarker ‘fit’ is key to succeeding as a leader
3. The corporate culture determines the level of influence and control a leader brings to the job, and in the same vein, their success or failure

Yet even when leaders get the balance right across the above three factors, they still have failed. Leadership is a dangerous game. Football provides the best examples of quintessential leaders that have failed at their job. Jose Mourinho one of the most successful football managers was sacked from his managerial job at Chelsea football club in 2015; Pep Guardiola, a genius, has not been sacked and may not be, but has had a less-than-successful season at Manchester City football club; Arsene Wenger, despite all his accolades at Arsenal football club, is on the way out – it’s only a matter of time.

Painfully, Quintessence at leadership, may not always save a leader the sack.

In effect, leaders are vulnerable to the effects of high winds during takeoff – and leaders need to master the art of predetermining the strength of the winds and mitigating against the same. Even with the four vitals (leadership, strategy, Design [architecture], and People) under control, turbulence is a given and can bring down even the most powerful and agile leaders

Leaders that build bionically-balanced organisations pre-determine the strength of the winds before take-off. Pre-determining wind-strength is not an exact science. There are many ways of doing the latter. However, the Effectiveness lab recommends three soft-fundamentals that leaders can use to seamlessly predetermine wind strength

The three soft-fundamentals are premised on the hypothesis that organisational turbulence, the crosswind factor, can be abrupt but not all the time. If leaders bother to scan their environments, listen to individual stakeholders, process what they observe and hear into: firm assumptions, what-if scenarios, business trends, etc. they will be able to determine wind strength before take-off and avoid or mitigate the effects of  any crosswind factors

Only when leaders correctly estimate takeoff wind power, will they appropriately deploy the four organisational vitals. While the organisational vitals in themselves can help tame wind strength, the complexity of organisational ecosystems is such that the crosswind factor at takeoff can also undermine the efficacy of the four vitals.

Therefore, in addition to the three leadership success factors outlined at the start of the blog, understanding, mitigating, or preempting crosswind difficulties is another fundamental requirement of successful leadership

Three tips for taming crosswind factors in leadership:

1. Accept dissent from your rank and file:

As leaders, we at times look far afield for answers to what may undermine success at the entities we lead. However, the answers are not always far afield – they are the teams we lead and work with every day. The combined brain power of teams is so powerful that identifying what may cause trouble at organisations should not be difficult. Yet, leaders fail to exploit such collective brain power – and when they do, it’s in so artificial a manner that all they get is superficial rubbish

Smart leaders create space for dissent in teams and from such dissent, comes clues to what is or may go wrong. Few leaders have got the mental toughness to openly accept dissent. However, by allowing dissent, leaders get to know the unwanted truth both in the internal, but also the external business environment.

Painful as the outcomes of open dissent may be, smart leaders have been able to use them to pre-empt trouble in business. No amount of analysis and forecasting will match the soft-power of dissent in predicting trouble within business value chains

2. Take the pulse of the frontline staff:

Frontline staff are a good barometer for business value chain trouble spots. As well, regularly taking the pulse of your frontline staff alerts you to what is going well or not, from the customer satisfaction point of view. Frontline staff interface with clients, and because they get feedback firsthand, they know very well what the business is doing right or not. It is surprising how leaders disregard this source of knowledge and spend millions on customer surveys. We don’t even know the real impact of such investigations.

Putting processes for capturing frontline staff perspectives on value creation and customer satisfaction is key to preempting or mitigating high winds at take off.

Ask leaders how many times they have asked their front-desk or sales staff what customers aren’t happy about. At best, they will say hello to such staff and walk straight to their offices. What a missed opportunity?

Leaders should create safe spaces in which to engage staff

3. Putting together the organisation’s jig-saw

Leaders can choose to be the superficial type that only warms their pedestal at the top, or, decide to play the bandmaster that has a bird’s eye view of the entire organisation. Like an aeroplane’s frame is built to withstand all kinds of environmental pressures, effective leaders have the innate skill to shape institutions in a manner that withstands all sorts of crosswind difficulties. They are attuned to understanding what is taking place across the OV’s, without necessarily doing the work themselves. There can be a thin line between leaders knowing and keeping abreast of what is happening and meddling in other people’s work. Leaders that calibrate organisations to effectively deal with crosswind difficulties during take off have mastered the art of knowing and guiding without meddling

Leaders – please control the four OV’s [leadership, strategy, design (architecture), & people] and learn the soft-skill of taming crosswind factors, and you will have moved further along the road to presiding over a bionically-balanced and smart entity.


[Case Study: The fall of NOKIA and how the company mismanaged the four organisational vitals (OV’s) and the crosswind factor: 

Many years ago before Apple and Samsung, if you didn’t own a Nokia mobile phone, you were considered the very conservative type.  The Nokia phone was the in-thing; engineered by the best in Sweden.

Today, Nokia is a non-entity after it was acquired by Microsoft and had its name changed.

Nokia missed the crosswind factor and, failed to bring bionic-balance to the four organisational vitals 

The rest is history!]


Categories: You, the Leader!

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2 replies


  1. The four (4) leader archetypes – situate your individual leader brand – Gabazira's blog
  2. Strategy Management – the new normal (3) – Gabazira's blog

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