Resilience and a DevOps attitude: the two key traits great leaders need in 2020 by Aran Dadswell
Technology has superseded what many of us dreamed possible – machines are augmenting human capabilities, and as DeepMind founder Demis Hassabis observes as we start the new decade, “really this is just the beginning”.
The 21st century workplace requires transformed and transformative leadership skills and capabilities. According to BP’s CIO of Energy Trading Ayman Assaf, many clients are “technology hungry” and many employees are “technology passionate”. But that’s not always the case. A previous colleague of mine with a long and illustrious career trading in Money Markets/FX has a common fear – he envisages the majority of his role being automated in the foreseeable future. So where does that leave him? He’s been ‘front office’ for over three decades, still doesn’t really understand ‘the cloud’, could barely cobble together a powerpoint presentation and, lacking any real impetus to develop new skills in the autumn of his career he, understandably, doubts he’ll find the right ‘sunset project’ to carry him through the next decade or so to retirement.
The changed work landscape requires leaders to transform thinking; identifying opportunities to enable teams to thrive with creativity, courage and innovation while expanding skillsets to complement and leverage technology.
I believe this requires leaders to adopt two core elements: a ‘DevOps’ attitude and resilience.
The first thing: A DevOps attitude
A banker friend recently moved into a new digital role, and was accused of being “so Waterfall!” when he put forward an idea. If you don’t get that reference, it’s in relation to a traditional software development methodology in which processes such as design, development and implementation are stepped through sequentially and, for the most part, separately. I still remember when ‘Agile’ emerged and those of us in IT were encouraged to become green belts, black belts and scrum masters and amend our working styles to become more responsive and communicative. The rise of DevOps has upped the ante yet again demanding an entire software development framework be more holistically collaborative and delivery driven.
Leaders need to adopt a DevOps attitude. They need to be inclusive, genuinely open to failure, values-oriented and authentic. According to HSBC’s Technology COO Hussain Baig, “Technology is a people business”. By developing a DevOps attitude, leaders can develop and transform people and teams more effectively. This is not limited solely to tech teams nor to leaders in technology – a DevOps attitude is industry-agnostic, as any industry these days is a people business. What does it entail?
Inclusivity – in the DevOps world, collaboration is key and every opinion counts. Gone are the days when cowboy developers could ignore protocols and release code to production before it was sufficiently validated and verified – thanks to DevOps there are too many involved stakeholders invested to allow that level of stupidity to occur without the collective team taking a stand. At the other end of the spectrum, also gone are the days when a risk averse operations analyst could prevent innovative solutions from being delivered by hiding behind layers of bureaucratic approvals. An inclusive team is the sum of all parts and provides a broader understanding of impact and risk. Leaders need to be inclusive in the same manner; armed with a depth of knowledge on the work, workplace and workforce and an ability to manage and, often more importantly, leverage diverse perspectives.
Genuinely open to failure – being open to failure needs to be heartfelt – there needs to be a level of significance high enough to mean something, there has to be a possible ‘sting in the tail’. DevOps embraces a ‘fail fast’ philosophy which involves a far greater risk than that of the old Waterfall methodology days. A great leader will be open to failure, thereby enabling their teams to do things that he or she might secretly freak out about behind closed doors, whilst maintaining an optimistic demeanor and championing ideas and projects, because by being inclusive (see above) they have sufficient information anyway to make good judgements to manage risk and continuous improvement simultaneously.
Values oriented – DevOps has three core values; disciplined, visible and transparent. If you don’t know what your values are already, then NOW is the perfect time to identify them. In the 21st century, when so many aspects of life and work are data driven, this information is key to your well-being whichever way you look at it – emotionally, mentally, spiritually, physically. And not just from a personal perspective – this applies equally to your professional well-being. Data science is about extracting knowledge and insights from data, and if you don’t know your personal and professional values, you’ll have a difficult time suitably aligning your decisions and actions to an effective leadership style. Great leaders have a mature level of self-awareness, regardless of age, and will find opportunities to thrive in values-driven organisations that align with their own value sets, and they are able to consistently demonstrate disciplined, visible and transparent behaviour.
Authentic – TED Speaker and vulnerability researcher Brené Brown observes that “we love seeing raw truth and openness in other people, but we’re afraid to let them see it in us”. Science reveals that humans non-consciously pick up clues on strong emotions like anger, and yet it’s only this century we’re really starting to acknowledge emotions in the workplace. DevOps works when there is a genuine, real belief that business objectives can be met, or complemented, by a collaborative effort towards a common goal. One could say the same for great leaders, and a DevOps attitude is about bringing your ‘best self’, which requires authenticity, vulnerability and a growth mindset.
The second thing: Resilience
Around the turn of the century a popular UK Saturday morning show called ‘Soccer AM’ attempted to introduce a new word – ‘bouncebackability’. They challenged pundits to spread the word by frequently using the word. In leadership development, resilience (thanks to Tim and Helen of Soccer AM I still think of it as bouncebackability) is commonly regarded as a core leadership skill. Clinical Psychologist Rick Hanson proposes
that mental resources like determination, self-worth and kindness lead to resilience which in turn builds inner strength, which fosters well-being and ultimately manifests in greater resilience – a virtuous circle. In a VUCA world – one which is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous – resilience may be the most powerful antidote to ensure leaders can maximise their own potential, and that of others.
Change, even for its evangelists, is scary. If we don’t know all the answers or what may happen next a threat response is automatically invoked, whether we like it or not. It’s not you, it’s your brain – it’s just how things work for each and every one of us. Building resilience therefore becomes multi-faceted, in that change can manifest in a multitude of ways and therefore responses and reactions work most effectively when they are
targeted and appropriate.
In my research on resilience three common elements have emerged: balance (from homeostasis, quantum physics and Newtonian mechanics, to the concept of ‘everything in moderation’ and work/life balance), emotional intelligence and mindfulness. These skills and capabilities will make the leaders of today and tomorrow resilient and – when combined with a DevOps attitude – well equipped to deliver on the magic that continues to unfold in the 21st century.
As a starting point for 2020, I challenge you to go back to the traits mentioned earlier and ask yourself (answering really honestly):
Am I inclusive, genuinely open to failure, values-oriented and authentic?
Am I resilient?
How are these traits demonstrated in my leadership?
Disclaimer: Views and opinions expressed in ‘The MWC Community Hub’ by contributors are independent from those of the Mindful Workplace Community and the Mindfulness Initiative.