Interview Dr. René Kusch: “Self-Awareness is dead”

Marcel Ramin Derakhchan11. June 2018

In the first part of the “Perspectives” interview, Dr. phil. René Kusch explained what companies should do when dealing with terms such as “VUCA” and “Agility”. To what extent this is changing the role and skills of executives, is explained by the owner of RELEVANT Managementberatung in his continued conversation with Marcel Derakhchan, Manager of DLA Digital Leaders Advisory.

Dr. Kusch, change processes have at least one thing in common: becoming aware that things need to change makes people uncomfortable. And its implementation will certainly be very difficult, sometimes even painful. So, will topics such as “agility” not rather unsettle managers than help them?

Dr. René Kusch: While we will continue to experience a lot of change, many over-estimate the impact VUCA, digitalization, agility and work 4.0 have on the core of future requirements. The reasons are twofold. First, many managers think, that the required behaviors will be the opposite of what has previously been successful. However, this is frequently not the case – e.g. despite the need to increase flexibility (which is part of agility on the microlevel), a great amount of structure will be needed in the future. Second, many do not have a clear understanding about the core of those buzzword. Often, people think that “agility” justifies their unwillingness to not obey to rules and structures. This is just not the case. E. g. Design Thinking, Scrum, etc. are highly process-oriented, to keep process costs at a minimum.

The same principle applies to leadership in the context of work 4.0. While – in general – we might need less hierarchical leadership, we certainly need more employees who are able and willing to increase their responsibility on every level of organizations. This also explains, why transforming a previously hierarchically operating company into a “swarm”- organization with grass-roots democracy requires a long time.

The differences between the leadership styles required in organizations sometimes seem insurmountable …

Dr. René Kusch: Exactly, and this is true especially as, even today, in most companies the board of management has clear expectations regarding executives: they want them to be as knowledgeable as specialists and move forward as quickly as generalists. Many managers have been successful in the past because they controlled everything, knew every detail. In many contexts, however, this reduces speed and today, is no longer tolerated by many employees who want to be engaged instead of controlled.

What should managers do instead?

Dr. René Kusch:  There is not ONE right answer. However, managers who practice the art of combining the best of both worlds with a long-term perspective typically report greater satisfaction when dealing with the complexity of their job. Hereby, it is helpful to clarify how the future of the industry and employees’ needs will look like. Additionally, while going through transitions managers should be aware, that it requires way more than just applying ONE method (e.g. Design Thinking) to become an “agile organization”. See also Part 1 of the interview.

Managers are responsible for setting the stage for a successful transition. While supposedly everyone knows something about agility etc., there is often a great lack of basic knowledge about what the future brings and how to get there. We experience, that allowing team members to share and discuss how they deal with the complexities of their current job, to honestly ask questions, and to discuss expectations reduces misunderstandings and worries significantly.

This certainly also affects one’s own management skillset, doesn’t it?

Dr. René Kusch: Absolutely. Manager benefit, if they ask themselves the question when their success strategies from the past will also be their success strategies in the future and when they will not. For example, ambition, accuracy or the ability to generate attention are not THE, but only SOME components of successful leadership. When it comes to collaborating successfully with people, other components are likewise important. Emotional intelligence, team orientation and the ability to make others – instead of the own person – effective.

To increase speed and attract as well as retain talent managers need to foster a sociocratic / holocratic culture in which employees organize themselves. As one important ingredient of it, the manager needs to learn to get out of the way and encourage the team to take more responsibility. This is especially true for each manager’s personal development (see also: in German).

Managers are therefore constantly challenged to reflect on and develop their leadership personality. In this context, you also speak of the manager’s “autopilot” – what does that mean?

Dr. René Kusch: The autopilot covers personality-based behaviors which are particularly easy for a person and which he or she typically likes to apply. We help managers understand their “autopilot” and gain insight from it: What can I do easily? How is this helpful in the context of VUCA and when is it not?

We apply online personality questionnaires from Hogan Assessment Systems to describe manager’s reputation during standard operating procedures, as well as during stress and pressure as well as the manager’s mindset and values. They help to understand: “How am I wired? Which patterns of behavior do I typically show? How do others see me? Which behaviors have made me successful in the past? How can I address challenges more effectively by expanding my personal behavioral portfolio (see also in German)?

This reminds me of classic seminars on self-awareness …

Dr. René Kusch: Self-awareness is dead. Only STRATEGIC self-awareness matters. None of our clients is interested in just reflecting personal behavioral patterns. However, managers are willing to do so if it provides them with insights in how to apply their strengths and how to deal with new situations. Interestingly, the number of managers taking time for increasing their strategic self-awareness is growing.

Overall the range of behaviors required from managers increases. We provide support in how to deal with and prepare for VUCA situations. With increased strategic self-awareness the likelihood of a leader’s ability to actively and successfully deal with the future increases.

Dr. René Kusch  is the owner of RELEVANT Management Consulting. He consults organizations in talent identification, selection and leadership development. With evidence-based methods and on the basis of many years of expertise working with managers and their teams, Dr. René Kusch has developed solutions which are pragmatic and effective in the long term. RELEVANT is an official distributor for Hogan Assessment Systems.