I recently questioned the extent to which proposed changes in employment law would benefit British business. Instead I suggested effective leaders are a far better way to improve our business prospects. This is a theme I have been exploring in more detail via my own research. This research has given me the opportunity to interview key personnel in businesses across a variety of industries ranging in size from 50 staff all the way up to global blue chip companies.
To date the findings have been interesting. Firstly there is a perception that the old certainties which existed before the economic downturn do not exist and may never exist again. Quite simply, the world is a more volatile place that it was in the latter parts of the 20th century and very early 21st century. Not only do we have adverse economic issues but we increasingly have less certain resource, climate and political issues to contend with.
Consequently, many businesses are challenging their existing practices and are searching for more sustainable business models. This isn’t sustainability in the context of the environment or corporate social responsibility (although it may include both of those). Rather, sustainability is being used as a term to describe adopting a successful long term approach to business which stands in sharp contrast to the ‘profit at all costs’ model. Businesses still want to make money but the key difference is that making money now isn’t at the expense of making money in the future.
So how does a backdrop of volatility & a desire to create a sustainable business model impact our approach to leadership? Certainly, businesses who think sustainably, are accepting the need to put a bigger emphasis on leadership as opposed to management. Key themes have emerged around the type of leaders needed. Terms previously not always associated with industry such as ‘moral’ have been used. This is because the sustainable leader needs to truly consider the needs of their people, their customers and their stakeholders and not just pay lip service to them. To work successfully against a backdrop of volatility, those same leaders need to be able to put on different leadership ‘hats’ to fit different situations and be entrepreneurial. To be successful with both sustainability and volatility those leaders must be able to motivate, involve, empower and engage their people. Arguably above all else, these are leaders who can accept those at the helm of a company don’t have a monopoly on wisdom.