Our world is rapidly changing. A growing and increasingly diverse population, climate change, technological advancement and cyber risks – these are just some of the factors leaders must face now and increasingly in the future.
Leaders’ success will rest in the plans they have put in place to respond to factors, both known and unknown. More than ever, leaders need intent. You cannot rely on the off chance that the solutions will land in front of you. Sound leadership doesn’t happen by accident.
In response to the many leadership challenges that we anticipate the future will bring, IML ANZ introduced the Intentional Leadership Series. It featured three thought-provoking events held across New Zealand that provided leadership insights into future-focused topics.
Discussions ranged from how to overcome future challenges, how to adapt, thrive and lead in a rapidly changing world, to top tips for inclusive leadership. Three experts spoke about their experiences, insights and advice on intentional leadership with a future focus.
Here are some of the highlights:
Change, more change and climate change
In Auckland, we invited thought-leader and advocate for diversity, equality and sustainability, Rob Campbell, for a glimpse of what the future could look like for leaders in New Zealand. Importantly, Campbell took us on a journey through some of his personal leadership experiences and how these can help all leaders face the challenges to come.
Campbell pointed out that the old principles which underpin the way we do business are shifting. Short-term profits and shareholder interests no longer come first. Governments, social organisations, business communities and even investors are shifting their focus and responsibility to a wider range of interests.
However, he warned, that while our current legal, hierarchical and incentive structures remain intact, we cannot rely on leaders to drive change. This, Campbell declared, was utopian.
Finally, Campbell emphasised that the greatest challenge to leaders, not just in New Zealand but globally, is climate change. Speaking in advance of the historic passing of the Zero Carbon Bill, Campbell directed focus to the following issues:
- Will the transition to a zero net emissions economy happen fast enough to avoid the worst projected negative effects?
- Is the cost of the transition manageable without destroying social cohesion?
- Can we adapt to the new physical living standards that the transition will require?
All are vital questions that leaders must address.
Campbell ends with optimism and believes that the solutions rest within the business community. He roused listeners not to stand aside or resist. Rather, be engaged and positive about their leadership roles.
Courage in the face of change
Opening with some amazing facts about how technology is changing the way we live and lead, Kaila Colbin, CEO of Boma New Zealand provided an inspiring and eye-opening session in Christchurch.
For Colbin, the positive social impact made possible by the massive technological changes we are witnessing today – including the ability to mass-produce essential goods such as food and power affordably – is not a given. It is a choice.
Leaders, therefore, need the courage to keep making choices that improve our world in the face of widespread change. Colbin cautioned that a lack of courage among leaders can result in:
- An inability to tackle tough conversations
- An erosion of trust
- A lack of diversity, inclusivity and equality
- A culture of shame and blame
Informed by the research of best-selling author Dr Brené Brown, Colbin highlighted how courage is the most important attribute for leaders facing change. In part, because change brings about the need to have incredibly uncomfortable conversations. Those might include conversations around:
- Technological unemployment – the loss of jobs due to technological advancements
- Increased inequality – those who own the technology get richer but as productivity increases, salaries remain stagnant
- Rise in cyber risks – when everything is connected, everything is at risk
- Algorithm bias – exponential technology is governed by algorithms that may have inherited their creator’s biases and prejudices
- Undermining of trust – technology such as ‘deepfakes’ make it easy to put words (or even actions) into another person’s mouth, in extremely realistic ways.
When considering the optimisation of technological advancements, Colbin advised leaders not to first ask “can we”, but rather “should we”. This takes courage. Indeed, because leaders who make values-based decisions initially appear as ones who fly in the face of business norms. Later, once momentum gathers, these same mavericks are often heralded as game-changers.
In closing, Colbin reminded leaders that the world we desire requires courage – and she asked, “What are you going to do?”
Inclusive is not elusive
When it comes to inclusive leadership, we went direct to the authority on the matter Dr Jo Cribb, former Chief Executive of the Ministry for Women.
Cribb challenged listeners, at her session in Wellington, to step out of their comfort zones. She emphasised how vital it is to not only invite different voices to the table – but to make them feel welcome and comfortable in order to truly harness their value. According to Cribb, leaders must embrace conflict and tough conversations instead of seeking support and affirmation.
She also admits that creating truly inclusive teams is not easy. It takes time and effort, something not all leaders may have the commitment or determination to accommodate. However, Cribb points out that inclusive is not elusive. She listed ten tips for leaders:
- Conduct inclusive meetings: give everyone a say and implement a no interruption rule
- Seek out those you don’t agree with: pick people who are open to engaging, not arguing
- Widen your network: at networking events, chat to someone who doesn’t look like you
- Create small ripples: don’t underestimate the power of small actions, smile at people
- Recommend a variety of people: avoid only putting forward names of people within your ‘tribe’
- Be authentic: be honest and open both in your personal and professional life
- Check your actions: if you must work out of hours, avoid setting the expectation that your staff or colleagues must do the same
- Listen: open your mind and try to understand what people are telling you
- Listen again: if you ask a question, listen for the actual answer
- Listen some more
The session concluded with a thoughtful discussion with the audience. Cribb provided further advice on how to succeed in creating an inclusive team and workforce. She also cautioned that the aim to become inclusive must be hard-wired into your organisation’s DNA. If there is no business rationale to do it, your efforts are likely to fail.
Ultimately, Cribb reminded everyone present that inclusiveness comes down to your own behaviour – and it need not cost a lot.
It was a truly insightful and engaging series of events. Stay tuned for more events from IML ANZ.