We do not need to read journals or study research results to know that the world is changing rapidly. We just need to look around and see what is happening. Our lives are being transformed by technology, bringing with it some real benefits and many thorny problems. We are experiencing social change on a massive scale, from the role of work in our lives to the attitudes towards diversity and inclusion. And we are now all aware of the damage the human race has done to the planet and the pressures from the younger generations to reverse this trend.
Yet parts of the corporate world have continued along the existing path ignoring many of the changes happening around it. It is as if many organisations believe they are immune from societal, economic and technological change, continuing on their course in the assumption that many of the disruptive factors are just short term and if ignored for long enough will disappear.
The prime focus for most leaders is still the bottom line. Whether it is increasing profits, maximising shareholder value or saving public funds, short-term financial goals win out over all others. The hard-nosed, numbers-driven leader is still seen by many as the model for success. He, or occasionally she, has risen to the top by working in a traditional hierarchical structure promoted by people who themselves were successful in a 20th century culture.
The world has changed and leaders are in danger of being left behind. We are at a critical time in history with a generation joining the workforce who are asking how we have managed to get the planet in such a mess.
“Sustainability” has moved from being a lobbying cry from environmental protesters to being a question being asked of every aspect of modern life. It is now a subject that has reached the boardroom agenda, though many CEOs are not sure how they should react.
To run organisations that are sustainable into the future, leaders need to focus on the purpose of their business and pay attention to the societal dimension of being an employer. Just understanding the workings of a business and keeping the shareholders happy is definitely not enough. The effective leader now has to keep abreast of a rapidly changing world, with digital technologies accelerating the rate of change and the millennial generation expecting a new relationship with employers.
This is not just a small step in the evolution of leadership. It calls for a mindset change from the short-term, numbers-driven approach of the 20th century to a sustainable, long-term, people-oriented form of leadership. In attempting to run organisations like machines we have forgotten the human factor. We need to re-humanise the priorities of leaders. We have gone beyond the era of valuing only the MBA. Now we need “Masters of Business Purpose”.
This article is the first in a thought leadership series from the FutureWork Forum (FWF), published in collaboration with the EFMD as a special supplement in their Global Focus magazine. It has tapped into a unique resource to answer some of the questions now facing leaders. All the contributors are Partners in the FWF, a collection of experienced managers and consultants who have applied their minds to this problem. They all have a common interest in how the new world of work impacts organisations and how leadership and management have to adapt or die.
The FWF has been a friend of EFMD, for many years, collaborating on various projects where our interests aligned. For the past few years, FWF Partners have become increasingly concerned and dissatisfied with the general apparent lack of concern by leaders for “the wider good” and the impact of the “de-humanisation of work”. Their recent book, Conquering Digital Overload, gave direction for leaders to help them address the issues in their businesses that the so-called “digital revolution” is clearly having on employees.
In the article series a number of FWF Partners seek a “Leadership for a Better Future”. How can leaders regain the trust so clearly missing and re-generate the collective value to be achieved by empowering people? How can we restore faith in “the system”, the governance of how companies are managed and led?
These articles display a wide-ranging critique over how leaders – and by extension those who help to train and educate them – need to re-focus their mindsets and efforts to address those needs that are within the scope of companies and organisations.
They start with a statement of the problem: the “Apocalypse of Leadership,” which shows how capitalism and the pursuit of financial goals has led to frustration and anger among employees and the wider public.
The “Responsible Leadership” approach explains how authentic and respectful leaders are key to business success and the “Productive Leader” supports this by promoting genuine employee empowerment.
“Building Sustainability” shows that running a profitable business is compatible with saving the planet while “Always Learning” emphasises the need for leaders to keep up with the changing business environment.
Other articles touch on productivity, talent, innovation and technology.
Together they provide a unique guide to re-humanising leadership, ready for the challenges of the next decade.
Authors: Mike Johnson, Chairman and Founder, FutureWork Forum and Eric Cornuel, President, EFMD
Leadership for a better future:
This is one of a series of 13 practical articles on leadership written by the Future Work Forum (FWF) for the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD), an accreditation body for business schools globally with a membership of 30,000 management professionals. Our partners have contributed to a special edition of their Global Focus magazine.
About the Future Work Forum:
The FWF exists to explore the working world of tomorrow. It is a think tank and network of highly skilled experts who share a passion to create a better, more humanised workplace, inspiring a new generation of leaders.