Our economy and the competitive environment within which we operate have taken on the fluidity and confusion of war. This demands the sort of leader who can manage effectively under "wartime" conditions.
Our reality has become non-linear, with the future no longer easily predictable, not even from today to tomorrow. Evidence of how the velocity and magnitude of change have increased includes the possibility that a company can reach $100 million of sales in six years, far less than the 16 to 20 years of a generation earlier.
The work environment has become much more Darwinian: The fittest survive, and many lose their jobs. Uncertainty is something we all have to learn to accommodate.
Doing five-year plans has become an unproductive use of talent and time, since our ability to predict where the world will go in five years, even granting a large margin for error, is very limited.
An obligation of corporate management is to enable employees to cope with the uncertainty and unnerving pace of change.
The primary job of the leader today is to manage change swiftly and nimbly. In a wartime economy, speed is a competitive advantage, and we must be able to execute fast.
As it is recognized that the business environment is in constant change, the leader must also recognize the stress this puts on most people.
The human brain is not designed to tolerate uncertainty, so rapid change increases anxiety.
A leader's job includes making an emotional connection, imparting a sense of direction and hope. With the right inspirational leadership, a sense of continuity in the face of change can be created that will translate into a sustainable competitive advantage as a company becomes "change-capable."
The greatest opportunity for leaders today is to set the context of change for their team members, a crystal-clear vision and set of values that can channel people's anxieties in productive directions.
Wartime leaders must have strong belief in their own vision and values.
They also need to be trustworthy and gain the confidence of their teams, thereby creating a consistent and calming framework for decision-making. Trust and faith in the leader give team members a sense of belonging, which is all-important in times of change.
If we accept that the management of change has become a critical success factor, we must alter our leadership styles. u Ms. Bird, an executive vice president at Wells Fargo Bank, is based in Sacramento, Calif.