Setting Fear Aside: Embracing Change for a Future of Possibilities

Posted on July 4th, 2024 by Sarah Babb

How many of us have an idea brewing in our heads or are yearning for a change? We may have a business idea or want a career change, or we are confronting a change that is thrust upon us. Yet we do not take the next step. We hold ourselves back. Anything to avoid a perceived loss. Author, Dr Tara Swart, speaks of our “survival responses” that supposedly cause us to avoid risk, to shun change, and to side-step those things that we cannot control. It’s time to break free from this pattern, set fear aside, and explore the untapped potential that awaits when we embrace the possibilities of change.

Recently, I hosted a table conversation with senior executives. Many of them had founded initiatives, such as a business or network, and yet found themselves fearful of moving forward.

Here are six constructs that we touched on to help with their process of moving forward – the process of taking the next step. Of course, as leaders and executives, their strategy and planning skills were not in question here. It was their mindset that prevented them from moving forward.

If you find yourself in a similar situation and need to set fear aside, consider the following six mindsets:

1. You Are Not Alone

One of the emotions you try to avoid is shame, so you often do not share your new idea. Identify at least two trusted critics (who have no vested interest in your choices but have your well-being at heart) and share your idea with the intent of crafting it further. This offers immediate relief and provides the comfort that you are not alone on this journey. Have an open mindset of humility and curiosity and learn from all and even sometimes surprising sources. This will connect you to people and show you a way forward.

2. You Are already Halfway There

Start by identifying what you already have, and this will set things in motion. One thing I have learnt from working with building scenarios is that the analysis starts with the present, not the future. Ask yourself what has already been seeded and what you can grow from there. For example, you may already have a product, a network of support, infrastructure, or an opportunity to take your idea forward. Your mind often defaults to what won’t work, what you don’t have, or why it will never work. And what you should realise is that your idea is already working. The ball is already in play, and you can choose to follow the path that is already there.

3. It Need Not Be Forever

Your fear of failure can often trick you into thinking it is all or nothing. That if you take this step, you will lose everything. But what if this is not the case? What if you set fear aside to follow this path, and it is a ‘both/and’ scenario, not an ‘either/or’ scenario. Adopt a playful mindset. Experiment initially. Test it out. See how it fits. Let go of exactly how it should be and how it should play out. Just see. See what is there and what is opening up for you. Or what is not working for you. Play with what is real, not what you wish to be so, or what you wish not to be so.

4. Remind Yourself Why You Are Doing This in the First Place

Too soon you get lost in the details and the ‘what if’s’. Keep a picture or a note to remind yourself why this is important to you in the first place. Connect with that initial spark of joy and excitement. This is the will and the passion and the reason that will keep you going and keep you coming back for more.

5. The Time Is Now

Adam Kahane of Reos Partners used to ask often: What is my next simple elegant step? This is a powerful question when you are fearful and lost in the web of details you spin around your current state. Just ask: What is my next simple elegant step? And take it. Just for now. And then ask the question again. And again.

6. Keep Moving – There Is More Around the Corner

I was reminded of an experience I had while scuba diving in Mozambique many years ago. I was on a mission to swim with the dolphins, who were just not playing along. We simply could not keep up with them, and after the fifth attempt, we were feeling rather dejected. We decided to take the small speedboat around the corner of the bay. And there right before us was a gentle giant of a whale shark. She must have been 10 metres long. I had the great privilege of snorkelling alongside this magnificent creature for about 30 minutes. It was not that we had planned this or that we had expected it, but it turned out to be the most memorable moment of my lifetime. And in life and business, we can live by this creed: there is always more around the corner. We may not know what it is, we cannot see it, but always trust there is something bigger and better for you. This may not be easy, but just keep moving and be open to what is waiting – just for you!

7. Embark on a Fearless Future: Setting Fear Aside for a Journey of Possibilities

In closing, remember that the journey toward realising your aspirations requires the courage to set fear aside. As you navigate the twists and turns of business and life, allow yourself the freedom to experiment, learn, and adapt. Your fear of failure is not an endpoint but a stepping stone towards growth. Embrace a playful mindset, stay connected to your initial passion, and continuously ask yourself: What is my next simple elegant step? The road ahead may be uncertain, but by setting fear aside and keeping an open mind, you position yourself to discover the unexpected treasures that await around each corner. So, take that step, keep moving, and let the fear that once held you back become the fuel that propels you forward into a future brimming with possibilities.

Sarah Babb is a highly experienced executive and organisational and leadership change specialist. Read her bio here.

Posted in EDTalks, Resilience | No Comments

Forging the Future: The Crucial Role of Reskilling and Upskilling in New Economic Paradigms

Posted on March 5th, 2024 by Sarah Babb

With the 2024 convening of the World Economic Forum and AU Summit behind us, we can see a critical undercurrent shaped the discourse: the imperative need for reskilling and upskilling in the face of evolving economic landscapes. This article delves into how education and training are not just adjuncts to economic frameworks but foundational to realising the aspirations of sustainable, inclusive growth.

The stark disparities illuminated by global reports on poverty, unemployment, and inequality signal a failing system. The International Labor Organisation’s outlook on rising unemployment and the persistent issue of working poverty underscores an economy in disarray, unable to secure dignified living for all. Amidst this backdrop, the clarion call for new economic models resounds louder than ever. Yet, as we venture into realms of regenerative, circular, and donut economics, the question of equipping our workforce with the necessary skills to thrive in these paradigms becomes paramount.

The transition to economies that prioritise ecological sustainability and social equity demands a workforce adept in not only the technical know-how of green technologies but also in the soft skills of creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration. The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report anticipates a significant transformation in job profiles, with new roles emerging in the domains of digital, green, and care economies. This shift is not merely a trend but a necessary evolution to address the dual crises of climate change and social disparity.

However, the journey towards a sustainable and inclusive future is fraught with challenges. The current educational and training systems are largely designed for a bygone era, emphasising skills for jobs that may no longer exist in the near future. The gap between the skills possessed by the current workforce and those required for the “jobs of tomorrow” is widening, threatening to leave many behind, especially the youth, women, and older workers.

Brazil’s Skills Accelerator initiative exemplifies a successful model for bridging this gap. Through strategic partnerships between national bodies and private sector companies, the program has made significant strides in reskilling and upskilling, impacting millions. Such collaborative efforts highlight the potential of targeted education and training programs to prepare individuals for the emerging job market, thereby contributing to a more resilient and equitable economy.

Moreover, the skills needed for the future extend beyond mere technical proficiency. The top ten skills identified by the WEF, including analytical thinking, resilience, and leadership, underscore the importance of a holistic approach to learning. Developing these competencies is crucial for fostering a workforce capable of innovation and adaptation in rapidly changing environments.

The call to action is clear: governments, educators, and industry leaders must unite in reimagining our educational frameworks to align with the demands of future economies. This entails not only revamping curricula but also embracing flexible learning pathways that recognise the value of lifelong education. By investing in the development of a diverse set of skills, we can ensure that individuals are not only employable but also equipped to contribute meaningfully to a sustainable and just society.

In conclusion, as the world grapples with the complexities of transitioning to new economic frameworks, the role of education and training in this transformation cannot be overstated. By prioritising reskilling and upskilling, we can pave the way for a future that is not only economically viable but also socially equitable and environmentally sustainable. The discussions in Davos must, therefore, extend beyond theoretical models to practical strategies for building a workforce fit for the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow.

Sarah Babb is a highly experienced executive and organisational and leadership change specialist. Read her Bio here.

Posted in EDTalks, Skills Development | No Comments

Challenging the Status Quo: Unveiling Gender Disparity in Leadership

Posted on November 2nd, 2023 by Sarah Babb

In the 2023 Global Gender Gap Report from the World Economic Forum, Sub-Saharan Africa’s parity score is the sixth highest among the eight regions at 68.2%, ranking above Southern Asia and the Middle East and North Africa. However, progress in the region has been uneven, revealing persistent gender disparity. Namibia, Rwanda and South Africa, along with 13 other countries, have closed more than 70% of the overall gender gap. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali and Chad are the lowest-performing countries, with scores below 62%. Based on the constant sample, this marks a marginal improvement of 0.1 percentage points. At the current rate of progress, it will take 102 years to close the gender gap in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In South Africa, a nation known for its dynamic diversity, women hold only 28% of business leadership positions, as reported in the 2016 McKinsey Women Matter (Africa) Report. While some contend that progress is being made towards achieving gender equity in leadership roles, the numbers tell a different story. The question that demands our attention is whether women still find themselves underrepresented in senior management positions.

The answer, backed by a barrage of data and research, resoundingly affirms that gender inequity persists, and it is costing us dearly.

The Gender Disparity Stakes Are High

In an era fraught with economic and political challenges, strong leadership is the bedrock of resilience and success. Yet, a staggering 18% of women leak from professional positions to senior management, representing an alarming loss of leadership talent—an opportunity missed.

The picture becomes even bleaker at the board level. While women initially comprise 47% of the professional workforce, this figure plummets to a mere 13% in boardrooms. McKinsey’s research reveals a striking correlation: companies with at least a quarter of women on their boards boast an average earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) margin a remarkable 20% higher than industry averages. This glaring disparity not only signifies lost opportunities for business but also underscores the financial benefits of diversity.

Beyond the Gender Disparity Numbers

While correlation doesn’t imply causation, interviews conducted by McKinsey with industry leaders highlight the multifaceted benefits of diversity. From improved risk management to more informed decision-making and enhanced board dynamics, the ripple effects of diversity extend far beyond financial performance.

The March 2017 Grant Thornton International Business Report reinforces these findings. Surveying 5,500 male and female business leaders, it revealed that as boards diversified, risk management became more robust. This observation is underpinned by the distinct responses to risk brought by women—a nuanced and balanced approach.

However, the challenge transcends mere numerical equality. Gender bias woven into workplace structures erects invisible yet formidable barriers for women. The gender wage gap, where women globally receive, on average, 77 cents against every dollar earned by their male counterparts for similar work, stands as a stark testament to this bias. Research by Eagly & Heilman identifies disparities in opportunities, rewards, access to networks, and support systems for women.

Making Bias Visible

To confront gender bias, it must first be made visible and addressed through education for leaders and staff alike. Cultural assumptions inadvertently favor men while disadvantaging women. Business landscapes often lack female role models, perpetuate gendered career paths, limit women’s access to networks and sponsors, and subject women to “double binds.” Traditional notions associate leadership with masculinity, constraining women who excel in male-dominated domains.

Unconscious bias further manifests in the “glass cliff” phenomenon, whereby women are disproportionately appointed to organisations in crisis or at risk of failure. Coupled with the “savior effect,” it perpetuates the myth that women leaders are weak and less capable.

Women as Token Appointments

Decision-makers often reserve plum positions, including leadership roles, for in-group members, predominantly men. When women ascend, they may feel like token appointments based on quotas rather than competence. Increasing the visibility of women leaders can alleviate the pressures of tokenism, expand their professional networks, and bolster their performance.

Building a Leadership Identity

Stepping into leadership roles necessitates women to internalise a leadership identity—a challenging feat that requires credibility establishment. Companies should foster communities where women in similar positions can exchange experiences, offer emotional support, and facilitate mutual learning.

Turning the Tide on Gender Equity

The path to gender equity demands concerted efforts:

McKinsey offers four essential actions for businesses to combat gender imbalance:

  1. Making gender diversity a top priority for boards and CEOs.
  2. Anchoring gender diversity strategies in a compelling business case.
  3. Challenging limiting attitudes towards women in the workplace.
  4. Implementing fact-based gender diversity strategies, tracking pay levels, attrition rates, promotions, and organisational health.

Diversity and inclusion are no longer mere HR programs; they have become central to successful business strategies. As companies move toward gender equity, built-in gender bias is dismantled, unlocking the full potential of women in leadership. With greater representation, businesses gain broader perspectives and innovative problem-solving approaches.

Diversity is the key to success—a key that unlocks the full potential of the talent pool, rather than depriving organisations of half of it. As the world grapples with complex challenges, addressing gender disparity and achieving gender equity in leadership is not just a moral imperative; it’s an economic necessity.

Sarah Babb is a highly experienced executive and organisational and leadership change specialist. Read her Bio here.

Posted in EDTalks, Leadership | No Comments