In their latest project, Lane4’s research team have been stimulating lots of thinking around the business, and with our clients, about what the future of leadership looks like. With average company lifespan continuing to fall, they’ve identified some of the ways that leaders will have to think and act differently in order to remain relevant and future-proof their organisations.
To do this, I think that business leaders need to escape the pressure that comes from a society built around a constant drive for wanting more. Our society’s fear of recession and a relentless focus on GDP has resulted in a desperate pursuit of more profits, more growth, more output and more productivity, but to what end?
In a world with overwhelmingly more information than ever before and where we’re always ‘on’, I think we are getting to a point where the workforce is starting to say ‘enough’ to that relentless quest of growth for growth’s sake.
New Zealand is an early example of a country addressing this issue. The Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, and her Finance Minister, Grant Robertson, introduced a ‘well-being budget,’ announcing that the health of the country won’t be measured on economic growth alone, but by the overall wellbeing of its nearly five million people instead.
Such societal shift will undoubtedly require some bold politicians and chief executives. However, I do see that happening over the next 15 to 20 years, when the CEOs of large FTSE organisations will be those who have grown up being more tied to, and passionate about, wider social issues. They will help to lead the way on redefining ‘wealth’ and more leaders will understand that the health and wellness of a country and a company are interlinked. Whilst we may only be at the beginning of that journey now, I’m confident that I’ll see that shift in my lifetime.
In addition to these macro-level changes, I strongly believe that there are shifts individual leaders can make to contribute to a more sustainable business future – one where we value long-term business results rather than quarterly reports. These are just a couple of the things that have helped me focus on leading for the long game…
How to lead in a sustainable and long-term way
1. Stay connected inside and outside the business
As a leader, being connected to what’s going on is more than knowing the current revenue and progress against targets of my own business. Developing connections across the whole business ecosystem allows me to go beyond the metrics to hear what people are noticing, what they’re anticipating and tap into the mood across the organisation, as well as understand the impact our business has on our customers, partners and community.
Admittedly, this doesn’t come naturally to me. I, therefore, make a concerted effort to stretch myself to participate in more informal social networking opportunities, both inside and outside of Lane4. Additionally, I dedicate time to connect with the different levels of management in the business through ‘deep dive’ sessions.
I feel fortunate that with just over 200 people, I’m still able to stay quite personally connected, but that obviously gets harder as you grow. What remains important though is to keep your communication regular, bring your personality and most of all, be genuine.
2. Meet the changing needs of your workforce
It’s inevitable that as you grow into more senior roles within a business, over time you’ll move further away generationally from the people coming into the workforce.
To remain relevant, it’s vital to continue addressing the needs and desires of your changing workforce. Ultimately, if you don’t react and meet those demands, your current and future employees will find someone who will.
Younger generations have developed a somewhat mixed reputation, with Millennials and Generation Z often criticised for being ‘job-hoppers’ and demanding more from their employers than previous generations.
Our research shows that Gen Z feels the need to work for an ethical business more acutely than previous generations. They demand businesses display a social purpose that aligns with their own personal sense of purpose; this has led to a phenomenon dubbed by some as ‘Woke Capitalism’.
In recent years, I’ve certainly noticed more of a desire from people wanting to understand ‘where is my career going?’ and ‘is my work here fulfilling?’ Personally, I only see that as a good thing. These demands seem to have driven an increasing amount of structure in organisations’ talent pathways, which previously could be quite random. It is also encouraging firms to formalise their purpose and cultural values in a way that I believe benefits both employee and employer.
Importantly though, the psychological contract between what each employee demands of the organisation and what the organisation demands of the employee, must be balanced and explicit. Clear career pathways for the individual need to be matched with clear deliverables for the business.
3. Balance competing tensions
As the business environment becomes increasingly complex, leaders need to find a way to get comfortable operating in a world where they must constantly manage competing tensions. This requires understanding how to occupy seemingly paradoxical positions.
For example, I’ve always been passionate about developing a culture at Lane4 that is both empathetic and caring, whilst retaining a performance edge in order to drive long-term and sustainable business results.
It can be quite challenging to achieve both and I’ve seen other businesses swing the pendulum too far to one extreme or the other, where results are valued more than people, or people are valued more than results.
Similarly, I’ve found it important to balance tensions within my own character. Growing up in Yorkshire, I was raised from a young age to be humble and keep my feet on the ground. But, being overly humble as a leader has its dark side too – self-deprecate too much and you end up undermining your ability to inspire others, which ultimately affects your own self-belief.
Instead I strive to be both confident and humble: believing in myself and my ability to lead a successful organisation, whilst avoiding the arrogance of thinking I have all the answers or that I’m always right.
British Sport were very effective at introducing this concept to athletes in the nineties. Athletes would be encouraged to create a ‘belief wall’ where they could articulate the tangible and intangible things they’ve achieved, along with the attributes and qualities that have underpinned their successes. This helped give the athletes confidence as they went into their next competition, match or race with a mindset of ‘I know I can’, while still stressing the need for the hard work that had got them there.
Leading for the long game, today
Despite the complexity, volatility and ambiguity of the world we live in, I’m really excited about what the next five, ten, fifteen years and beyond will hold for leaders and their organisations.
What it means to be a leader is changing in the face of societal, political and environmental upheaval, and the importance of getting ahead of the curve has never been greater.
By resisting pressure to only deliver short-term results and thinking more widely about the impact and benefit organisations can bring to society as a whole, powerful legacies will be made.
Find out more about Lane4’s research into the five paradoxical mindsets future-fit leaders need to balance by downloading our white paper at lane4performance.com/5-mindsets