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Five Key Skills of an Effective Context Leader

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“It depends on the context.”

How often have you heard a coaching client use this phrase? In the standard definition, context is “the situation within which something exists or happens.” It’s the setting or environment that surrounds an event and provides the framework within which the event can be understood.

All of us make decisions based on our broader understanding of a situation. We bring together experiences, skills and knowledge to provide a viewpoint or perspective that is uniquely ours; we rely on this to make sense of the world around us. This is how we usually think about context.

In the modern workplace, we need a new and expansive definition of this term. I use the expression “context leader” to describe those leaders who can scan their environments and successfully form new insights, bringing together past experiences and new input. Context leaders synthesize data and create new connections, using their consolidated perspective to make better, more informed and more inclusive decisions. And, they share this context openly to scale their leadership across the breadth and depth of their organization.

Because of the speed at which we need to make decisions, context leadership is becoming increasingly important. The amount of data in existence is rapidly increasing—a recent IBM study indicates that 90 percent of the world’s data has been created in the past two years. Additionally, researchers predict that 65 percent of today’s primary school students will hold jobs when they graduate that don’t yet exist. Many people use the term VUCA to describe this rapidly moving world: Coined by the U.S. military, VUCA stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.

In a VUCA world, our coaching clients can no longer rely solely on subject matter expertise. The knowledge we have has a shorter lifespan than in the past, and there is far too much of it to not be highly adaptive. So, even those leaders who are specialists need to play another, equally essential role of consolidation, filtering and synthesis. This is where new leadership behaviors come into play: Context leaders need new skills that help them manage incredibly complex organizations that are operating in a volatile, uncertain climate—but in a lean and agile way. Here are five key social leadership skills that are required of a modern context leader:

Transparency: Context leaders must create clarity around mission and vision that the organization can align around and must share this openly with the broad organization. This shared perspective can help them scale to ensure a broader set of people, including those outside their direct organization, are working toward a shared and common purpose.

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