Two Skills That Will Help You Navigate the Fast Pace of Change Across Your Campus

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photo of surfer on a wave

People who are responsible for leadership in higher education are at the vanguard of a powerful, persistent, and ever-present force: change. This really shouldn't be a surprise, especially to those who are familiar with the fast pace of technological advancement and the challenges it presents to the people who must adapt to it.

Experts have been talking about this rate of change for years. The 2017 Deloitte Human Capital Trends report highlights that "…technology is increasing at an ever-faster rate while human adaptability rises only at a slower, linear rate."

Two realities are associated with this trend:

  1. Technology changes will continue to increase at an exponential rate.
  2. If it hasn't already, the rate of technological change will soon surpass the ability of humans to adapt to it.

But, is this really news? Perhaps more accurately, is this really new?

Heraclitus, who lived before Socrates, declared, "There is nothing permanent except change." Today we live in a chaotic world that can be described by the term documented by the U.S. Army War College in 2002 as VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Chaotic, Ambiguous).

The current reality is that everyday life on campuses is more VUCA than anything resembling certainty and control. Yet many higher education leaders seem to be suffering because they seek a level of control that remains elusive.

What If We Are Asking the Wrong Question?

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos described it well when he said, "I very frequently get the question: 'What's going to change in the next 10 years?' And that is a very interesting question; it's a very common one. I almost never get the question: 'What's not going to change in the next 10 years?' And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two."

This perspective has direct implications for everyone who is a leader on campus. It is at the crux of the kind of influence you need to bring. Trying to bring certainty and control to VUCA environments is a lost cause. Instead, leaders would be better off learning to become more comfortable adapting to frequently changing situations and developing a level of comfort with uncertainty. More importantly, they would better serve those they are leading by helping them to become more resilient in the face of change.

Go Back to Go Forward

What would happen if we approached life on our campuses with the understanding that, at some point, everything is going to change? Accepting this is critical skill #1.

How would that shift the way you looked at adapting to change?

Think of change more like the ocean. Waves will come and go. Rather than fight the waves of change, learn to ride them like a surfer. Once you have the fundamental skills, you can ride any wave that comes along, regardless of its size and intensity.

What is the leadership equivalent of learning to surf? I would argue that it's mastery of the original human technology: language in the form of conversation. Specifically, it is the ability for leaders and teams to effectively talk about what is changing, how it impacts individuals and teams, how to adapt to it, and understand what's next. This is critical skill #2.

This is a new leadership paradigm that is connected to an unshakeable reality. Any change that requires people to respond to it, or make something happen because of it, will require people to communicate clearly through effective conversation. Leaders will therefore be required to lead these conversations and motivate and inspire others to action.

Imagine what could happen if we accepted change as the natural course of life. How could that help us engage in powerful conversations about how we adapt to change and understand the implications of change?

What would that mean to you on your campus? More importantly, what possibilities could that open up for you?

Dave Hasenbalg, President at Customized Solutions.

© 2018 Customized Solutions, LLC. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.