In the media

Survivor or reviver: what kind of leader are you?

Rachael Brassey

By Rachael Brassey

Business Leader

07 June 2022

Leadership is rapidly evolving. The Covid-19 pandemic brought unprecedented challenges for leaders but was also a catalyst for change. And disruption is coming from all angles: a new appetite for purposeful, inclusive business; demand for customer trust and transparency; technological acceleration and rapid innovation. So, how are some leaders finding opportunities in these disruptive forces and creating a more positive future for their organisations?

This article was first published in Business Leader

We spoke to over 300 leaders in the US, UK, Nordics and the Netherlands to understand what ingenious, inspiring leadership looks like right now. We combined the findings with our decades of cross-sector leadership expertise to inform our view that there is a new way to lead.

In doing so, we found a split between survivors – leaders who are just about hanging on and content to stay ‘as is’ – and revivers – those positively adapting and reinventing what they do. Encouragingly, almost two-thirds fell into this second, future-facing category. And it’s these leaders who scored highly across the four behaviours that will be critical to success over the next five years:

  • Nurture human optimism – help people have a positive mindset and approach, tapping into our innate capacity to adapt to new and complex situations with innovation and creativity. Leaders who can model optimism will bring their people along with them.
  • Empower teams to innovate – inspire people and teams to understand customers’ desires and give them the space and permission to imagine and deliver value-creating responses. This doesn’t mean throwing out what works: there are always learnings from what’s gone before. But opening space for teams to contribute creatively can be motivating and rewarding.
  • Build evolving organisations – where rapid change is the norm, and when aware, inclusive and responsive teams can make a success out of change. This doesn’t mean constantly changing things for the sake of it. People need a level of stability to do their best work. But when change is a given, leaders can create an environment where change is supportive, not scary.
  • Seek inspiration in surprising places – apply new perspectives and a broader lens to both existing technologies and evolving challenges. This is much more than copying someone else’s model or getting stuck in unhelpful comparisons. Leaders can broaden their perspectives by looking outside their own industry or geography for fresh thinking, encouraging their teams to do the same.

Success starts with a shift in mindset

Real change isn’t just based in what you do, it’s about how you approach things – keeping an open mind and flexible attitude. If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s the need to be more adaptable. You could think of it like riding a wave: stay fixed and rigid and you’ll wipe out. Stay relaxed and flexible and you’ll ride it out – and find new opportunities.

Five ways to grow and develop as a leader

While leaders can use our research to directly address the four behaviours key to the new way to lead, we also identify five surprising strategies that can transform leadership behaviour – both within your top team and throughout the organisation.

We found that leaders of the future, and those looking to shift from survivor to reviver, should:

  • Work in the growth zone to generate new ideas and opportunities to progress. From breaking down silos to rethinking timelines, leaders can create more opportunities for individual and collective progression by guiding people away from the lure of the comfort zone.
  • Cultivate kindness to empower teams to try new things and deliver their best work. This is the most direct way to encourage people to try new things and take risks, and it’s scientifically proven to be effective.
  • Catalyse internal disruptors to disrupt insular thinking and broaden perspectives, ensuring that the traditionally short-term view of the board is challenged to support bold and brave leadership.
  • Make authenticity everything to ensure that whatever the issue of the day – be it inclusion and diversity, the living wage, or equitable supply chains – that you live up to the purpose you espouse.
  • Create and embrace liminal spaces – the ‘messy middle’ of uncertainty created by hybrid working and other disruptions – where you demonstrate that the edges of comfort can bring the most opportunity.

Every industry will see massive change in the coming decade. So, leaders must change too. Our research shows there are concrete ways of leading that make a tangible difference to the health and happiness of our organisations and wider society. Those leaders who neglect the need for change risk being left behind, becoming irrelevant and ineffective.

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