‘If you don’t doubt yourself in a constructive, positive way, you are borderline dangerous for your company.’ This is my favourite quote from our CEO Report because it speaks to the humanisation of leadership and is an example of the impact we are trying to drive through our work in corporate education.
Doubt is a relevant mindset in a volatile world. Brexit, Trump, and the fourth industrial revolution are part of a future accelerating towards us. The unthinkable, impossible, and unacceptable have been reframed. In a rebased view of “normal”, the role and relevance of facts, experts, corporations and professions is open to challenge. The compact between business and society is under review.
Doubts are to leaders, what nerves are to elite athletes: a source of focus and insight when harnessed constructively, a threat to peak performance when not
A mindset that enables leaders to tolerate doubt can change the trajectory of individuals and organisations with a tangible impact on shareholder and stakeholder value. As the CEO Report notes, ‘doubts are to leaders, what nerves are to elite athletes: a source of focus and insight when harnessed constructively, a threat to peak performance when not’. To embrace doubt is to be inclusive, confident, and open. It sits at the heart of an approach to leadership that is decisive, adaptive to its context, and generative in creating possibilities.
This raises an interesting question – how do you build a mindset that sits comfortably with doubt? At Oxford Saïd, we are trying to foster this by integrating knowledge, insight, and foresight through pedagogical processes that build leadership capacity and capability within organisations.
As educators, we understand how to enable leaders to extend within their own zone of proximal development. Recognising that knowing exists at different levels, our role is to create psychological safety and space for individuals to explore and rehearse. The opportunity to practice an extended version of oneself enables leaders to step up and assume greater responsibility and influence in traditional and new corporate forms.
How do you build a mindset that sits comfortably with doubt?
Successful transition is built on improved self-awareness, an understanding of team dynamics, organisational behaviour, and the management of change. At the frontier of praxis we are able draw on our faculty and practitioner community to debate and apply our understanding of issues including happiness at work, the value of contemplative practices, the anchoring role of purpose, the impact of changing career structures, and the future of work, amongst other considerations.
Navigating the landscape of doubt is underpinned by the capacity for critical thought. Using information to handle ambiguity and build foresight helps to create the agility to deal with “varieties of capitalism” in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world. At Saïd Business School, we are able to convene and leverage the intellect and experience of the University of Oxford, academe, and the world beyond. This gives an unrivalled perspective on both the present and future, harnessing fields as diverse as robotics, neuroscience, English literature, philosophy, and ethics. Our approach to scenarios explicitly supports leaders in exploring multiple, possible futures.
A focus on mindset represents a more holistic interpretation of the purpose and contribution of Customised Executive Education. Our work with Ricoh and Serco is reflective of this approach. Increasingly we are moving beyond traditional programmes, towards more emergent and integrated interventions.
Navigating the landscape of doubt is underpinned by the capacity for critical thought
The ability to tolerate and constructively harness doubt is a tangible example of how participants must be able to transfer learning into practice for corporate education to be effective. Questions of impact, ROI, and how to take interventions to scale are dominating the conversation in a customer centric market for L&D.
For many of our clients, corporate learning is about building a collective capability and mindset. At Oxford Saïd, we are proud of the public value created through the Major Project Leadership Academy with the Cabinet Office. Constructive doubt is a core competence of senior responsible owners and has dramatically improved the delivery of major projects on behalf of the government in the UK. This example showcases the unique power of Custom Executive Education in building critical mass and creating a movement for change. Through Custom we can increase shareholder and stakeholder value; create and sustain professions; improve public policy execution; build nations, and realise human potential.