Leadership in uncertain times

The water sector is in transition. For almost 100 years urban water managers were concerned almost purely with three major issues.

1. Delivering a reliable and clean potable water supply at minimum cost

2. Moving wastewater away from population centres

3. Moving floodwater away from population centres

Risk was the enemy and a static highly centralised, controlling management approach was employed.

Now much of the world is facing water supply pressure, and climatic variability is increasing, making for planning uncertainty. Technology is changing rapidly. The population is much better informed so everyone is a stakeholder, and  we cannot afford the ecological consequences of a pipe-bound, one-way water “cycle”.

Centralised, highly-controlling management cannot deal with rapid change and the new complexities of water management.

I read an interesting paper over the weekend on 10 qualities required of a modern leader, working in a changing and complex environment. This list comes from Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an uncertain world by Bob Johansen, and I think it is highly relevent to the water sector.

  1. Building skills: Can you build and grow things while connecting with others?
  2. Clarity: Do you see through contradictions to a clear vision?
  3. Dilemma flipping: Are you able to turn dilemmas into opportunities?
  4. Immersive learning: Can you immerse yourself in unfamiliar environments and learn from them?
  5. Quiet transparency: Are you open and authentic without advertising yourself?
  6. Bio-empathy: Do you see things from nature’s point of view, learning from natural patterns?
  7. Constructive depolarizing: Can you calm tense situations and bring together people from divergent cultures?
  8. Rapid prototyping: Do you learn from early setbacks and fail in interesting ways?
  9. Smart mob organizing: Can you create social change networks through electronic media?
  10. Commons creating: Are you a collaborator, nurturing shared assets that benefit other parties?

the employment “contract”

When you start a new job you usually sign a written contract. But this is not the most important contract you are entering into.

You have also agreed to a social contract with the line manager who hired you. You have  been hired to accomplish a certain task, or take on a certain set of responsibilities.

If you leave that company before finishing the task, or before the line manager has had a decent return on training you for the position then, you have broken that “contract” with your line manager.

Breaking this contract is what makes people perceive you as being a “jumpy” employee. They fear that the cost of hiring you may exceed the benefits.

You can move jobs every year, but if you have completed your social contract every time, a new employer will not perceive too much risk in hiring you.

Career and Age

While it is illegal to discrimate against employees on the basis of age in most markets, it is still an almost universal practice globally.

Virgin Airlines in Australia was recently found to have discriminated on the basis of age in their hiring practices. The authorities were not able to find any evidence of systematic discrimination during the hiring process, but instead did a statistical analysis of the age of all Virgin Airline employees, found a huge skew towards young people, and Virgin was found guilty.

This is unlikely to happen to many firms, and age discrimination will continue to be an issue for anyone over about 35. Employers now just use euphamisms like “over-qualified” to mean too old, or just use alternative reasons to reject candidates they feel are “past it”.

Being “too old” usually means that you are outside an age band which the employer considers typical for the given level of seniority. They may feel that an older person cannot be shaped as easily, or won’t be flexible enough to adapt to the corporate culture. If their qualifications and experience exceed that which is required, they will be concerned that the employee will get bored and discontented in the role. They may be scared that the employee will be more qualified than they are.

While we all know these concerns are unjustified, things are not going to change in a hurry, so it is important to factor this into your career plans. You may be 25 now, able to walk into a job any time you want in a talent short market, but in ten years time in the middle of a recession, things will look very, very different. It is hard to imagine, but make sure in 2017 you don’t find yourself across the desk from an interviewer (who was 15 years old in 2007), looking at you with contempt in her eyes and saying “we will call you”.

 Plan ahead. Make your you have a skill-set which will remain in demand, and keep it up-to-date. Don’t put yourself in a position where you have to apply for jobs you are “over-qualified” for.  Network heavily. Specialise, but have foresight, and if your specialisation will be extinct in ten years, make sure that you know what the next big thing is going to be in your industry.

Plan ahead!

Hot career planning tip

If you are considering whether or not to take a job, and you are having trouble deciding if it is the right move for you, try this trick.

 Put a date on your resume 3 years in the future, and write the job into your resume. Look at your resume with the opportunity included and examine how you feel. Are you happy to be that person? Does the job seem to lead naturally into the next role?

This will help you make sure that you are accepting the job for strategic reasons, not opportunistic ones.

Career narrative-Explaining your career to a potential employer

“What business now values is someone who can cross-fertilize ideas from one business to another. The formation, development, dismantling and reformation of relationships…is expected in all aspects of life in the post-boomer world.

from The Big Picture, by Bernard Salt (Hardie Grant Books)

Fortunately, in most working cultures around the world, there is no expectation that employees stay in a company for life. However, if you’ve made frequent job changes, you may well be asked to explain why in an interview. This is something that people often struggle with, getting into long-winded explanations of job changes. This can get you into real trouble, especially if you say anything negative about past employers, but even just because it takes up too much time and puts you on the back foot.

What you have to do instead is create a “career narrative”.  A career narrative is a consistent and coherent story that makes sense out of your career, and most importantly makes the job for which you are interviewing the next logical chapter of the story.

The thread for your narrative will vary from individual to individual – the quest for knowledge, wealth, seniority, respect – but it must match with your reason for taking the job and with the ethos of the organisation you are applying for. At the end of the story you should be able to segue naturally into “and that is why I want to work for you and do this job.”

Questions welcome in the comments section.

So you are thinking about quitting your company

So many people leave their job for the wrong reasons. Quitting almost always has a negative impact on your Career Equity (more on this later). By working for sometime within an organisation, you build up a knowledge of how that organisation works, as well as a network of trusted colleagues, and therefore give yourself an advantage over outsiders when career opportunities come up. By leaving that environment you give that away.

 I was a recruiter I often used to sit there in interviews thinking “you really shouldn’t be quitting” but not really able to say so. After all, my job was to get them to work for my client. .These days it is my job, and I can say exactly what I think!

There are a handful of reasons why most people quit.

1. I hate my boss

This is by far the most common reason why people leave their jobs…and it is sometimes a valid one. However if you love your company and your work, you should certainly not let someone drive you out. Instead, channel those negative feelings into positive action, building new areas of responsibility and doing such a great job that you are promoted and your boss ceases to be your boss, or your problem. If your boss IS the company, then hating the boss equals hating the company and you should probably clear out fast. My last comment here is that if you hate your boss in every company you have worked in, then perhaps the problem lies with you.

2. There are no internal opportunities

This could be potentially a good reason, as long as you are leaving for a better opportunity elsewhere. But do look at your situation carefully and assess whether the reason for the lack of opportunities is that you are not qualified or strong enough to be offered them. Or maybe someone is just waiting for you to jump up and take, or even make, the internal opportunity. However if you know there are other potential employers who would be killing each other to offer you the fantastic job you have always wanted, then go for it.

3. A great opportunity elsewhere

Now this is a great reason for leaving your current employer. But evaluate all opportunities carefully. First of all ask if it is really so much better than what you have now. There is an element of risk,and cost, in every change, and you would not believe how many miserable people I have met  2 months after they quit for a great opportunity which turned out to be not so great. Do your due diligence and a careful SWOT analysis! If it is too good to be true, then it is probably too good to be true. Is it within your capabilities? Will you be successful? Does the potential gain outweigh the risk/cost?

Finally and most importantly, will this opportunity take you another step towards your career/life goals? Don’t be opportunistic about opportunities! Make sure the change fits with your career strategy.