In the changing digital global marketplace, the executive faces a turbulent VUCA environment (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous). This uncomfortable milieu faces executives with challenging tension points and decisions that many have no experience or data to draw upon. Beth Comstock calls it the Emergent Era, where ambiguity rules and change is the new normal.

Most executives do not recognize the relationship between the changing environment, their role in the company and the requirement for radical change. This gap leads to executive’s feeling unprepared and companies not ready to take on the challenge of digital transformation.

The executive’s thinking needs to change from managing the current situation to creating a catalytic change in their environment both internally and externally. They must be self-reflective and humble striving to transform themselves to become more agile and flexible. They need to be prepared to break the “rules” and beliefs of the current organization to create a new culture and relevant business models. The executive’s mandate is to become a Catalyzer for comprehensive change in their organization- finance, marketing, organizational structure, product design and IT.

What is a Leader?

People who take responsibility, inspire and enable their team. This works in the world when the leadership team understands the variables, can project a decision path based on experiences and can observe and respond to their competitors’ outcomes in the marketplace. Today, Leaders live in an “outdated” world of unknown drivers and non-causal relationships. The role of “Leader” is an anachronism reflecting a past set of conditions. Executives must redefine their role to be a “Catalyzer” of change.

Why a Catalyzer?

The executive’s first task is to reflect on their identity… what value they bring to their organization. 21th century management is based upon the Cartesian method invented by French philosopher, Rene Descartes, and later expanded upon by physicist, Isaac Newton. The management approach researches a problem, creates a tool to fix the problem, tests the hypothesis and evaluates if there is a relationship between the solution and outcome. Based upon reductionist thinking, we break down issues into component parts, then isolate them and measure them for the cause and effect. Managers direct tasks; Leaders orchestrate.

In contrast, the Catalyzer initiates and increases the velocity of transformation while leveraging disruption. In the world of chemistry, the Catalyzer is kind of a “matchmaker.” In a test tube environment, the catalyst grabs the desired reaction partners dissolves the old bonds and quickly brings about the right Partners to make a new chemical compound. It speeds up, increases the rate of the chemical reactions, and saves energy without being consumed itself.

Peter Drucker invented management theory 60 plus years ago. During that period, the entire world has dramatically changed.  The command-and-control economy has evolved toward a shared economy. Hierarchical management structures have yielded to broken down siloes and open communication channels. Incremental change (10%) is scaled to exponential change 10X). Gen Z (26%) is now the largest consumer segment- globally connected, sharing the same global digital culture. 65% of children today will end up in careers that don’t even exist yet (World Economic Forum). Global survey found: ”There is a lack of belief in our leaders. Over two-thirds of the general population do not have confidence that current leaders can address their country’s challenges. The credibility of CEOs fell this year to 37% globally. Government officials are the least credible at 29%.” (2017 Edelman Trust Barometer)

Leaders Reinvented

Leaders must be reinvented to tackle the above challenges and disruption. They must accept their responsibility as Catalyzers. The executive’s choice is not –to be a “Leader” or not –but to acknowledge how prepared and committed they and their team are for the transformation process and their new role as catalysts for change.

The Leader works within the current business environment of mostly known variables (which he/she is trying to control), while daily the Catalyzer is challenged by new technologies, market disruptions and new expectations of connected consumers. They are creating the new environment day-by-day. The Catalyzer is working in a sped-up time implementing Lean methodologies, while the Leader could be working quickly but within a limited scope and efficiency. Both Leaders and Catalyzers can share the same core values but have a different focus on actualizing them; Leaders strive to translate them across functions, Catalyzers base strategies and operations on values to insure transparency and consistently. While the Catalyzer’s team is interdependent and collaborative, drawing on the strengths of each participant, the leadership team is often struggling to break through an old siloed mentality to form a cohesive group.

The current digital tsunami and emergence of artificial intelligence and block chain technologies demand executives to become Catalyzers of continuous change. The Emergent Era requires executives to face a world of ambiguity with no time to research, test, validate and then implement. The VUCA environment of speed and turbulence requires executives to rethink corporate culture and structure; reinvent business models; and design sustainable strategies. Based upon their commitment, businesses will transition from OLDCo to NEWCo, striving to become a force for change in their industry.

There is no choice!

Ira Kaufman, PhD is a Digital Transformation Strategist, CEO, Social Entrepreneur and Educator. His company, Entwine Digital, has been working with midsize and multinationals to design Digital Transformation strategies and train World Class Catalytic Leaders. He launched Institute for Transformative Leadership  atLynchburg College School of Business and Economics. His team is collaborating with Legacy International (NGO specializing in training future leaders) to develop the Global Transformation Corps as an interactive network of executives, experts, impact investors and emerging leaders to face the challenges and seize the opportunities of our 4th Industrial Revolution. He is co-authoring with Chris Horton, Digital Marketing: Integrating Strategy and Tactics with Values (2nd edition) and with Velimir Srića, Shattered World…The Business Challenge.