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What leadership skills that you’ve learned today will still count tomorrow?

What does a leader do when the industry they have succeeded in has eroded beneath them?

Can their skills, experience and deep industry insight transfer to the new world of challenger businesses? Or do the skills that delivered success previously actually work against them?

Russell Reynolds Associates’ annual survey of 2000 C-suite executives across 15 industries – including media, healthcare and wealth management – revealed the majority of executives in all but one sector (industrial) anticipate moderate to major disruption from digital over the next 12 months.

Capable, talented leaders head up companies that get disrupted. It is not a failure. It is part of the business cycle that exists today and which many leaders are dealing with.

This has certainly been the case in the media industry. In the Russell Reynolds Associates survey, media ranked highest of all industries expecting disruption, with 72% of media executives anticipating moderate to major disruptive change over the next 12 months. This is despite the fact that the industry has already transformed almost beyond recognition over the past decade.

Any industry facing disruption – which is most – can learn from the dynamics of the media industry as leaders negotiate the career divide between pre-digital and post-digital business, and as challenger brands scale out of their startup origins into dominant and multi-million dollar global concerns.

As a leadership recruitment specialist for traditional and challenger media organisations, Tony Simpson has a birdseye view of these disruptions.

What Simpson is seeing unfold, he says, may be happening earlier and more visibly in the media sector, but has parallels across several industries. “Most of our clients are looking for people to help them navigate a change in the industry landscape. The skillsets and people who are able to do that are in short supply, globally. If I was working in education or energy, we could be having the same conversation.”

5 issues for leadership careers post-digital disruption

  • soft skills matter, recruiters are looking for leaders with emotional intelligence and a consensual leadership style
  • a willingness to take risks and to take responsibility for failure – and learn from it – is a valued capability
  • there is a shortage of leaders who can help challenger brands scale up
  • diversity in the leadership team is as important as it is across the whole company. The business needs to reflect the ethos and the values of the customer and of the product it creates
  • leadership is no longer industry dependent. Leadership careers are cross-industry and global.

Leadership matters more than ever

In times of uncertainty, leadership matters more than ever.

Leadership and talent management capabilities have a strong correlation with financial performance, according to BCG’s Global leadership and talent index. Talent magnets, i.e. companies that rated strongest on 20 leadership and talent management capabilities, increased their revenues 2.2 times faster and their profits 1.5 times faster than “talent laggards.”

An excellent leader is a talent magnet that attracts the right people, which is an important competitive advantage for emerging businesses. The right leader also creates a strong corporate vision and narrative to keep the business focused as it navigates ambiguity, disruption and even periodic failure.

All organisations are looking for leaders who are confident and capable of dealing with constant change. As challenger brands emerge and mature, there is a shortage of leaders who can head a successful startup as its scales into an established player, without, as Simpson puts it, losing their id. “How do you maintain that garage feel while seated in a 2000 seated office?” he asks.

Soft skills matter most

Emotional intelligence is a leadership attribute that has gained significant traction since the 1980s, but Tony Simpson says that it has become an attribute that leadership recruiters actually seek in executive candidates for new business models.

Emotional intelligence matters for a number of reasons. Firstly, staff have different expectations of  workplace culture. Millennials seek “emotionally intelligent leaders, who listen and who have the ability to adapt and change, but most importantly who are there for the benefit of staff and the company, not for themselves.”

Secondly, emotional intelligence enables consensual leadership. Making the right choices in uncertain business conditions and complex scenarios cannot be the job of one person or one position in the company alone, argues leadership expert, Joseph Pistrui, Associate Dean for Executive Education at IE Business School, Madrid. He says “leadership must be a contact sport — one that engages, debates, and unifies around a future direction that makes sense to as many members of the corporation as possible.”

Consensual leadership, agrees Simpson, is in high demand, but short supply.

Thirdly, emotional intelligence is a crucial leadership attribute in any environment that constructively tolerates failure and knows how to benefit from it. As the leader, learning from personal failure is an emotionally unpleasant process that “chips away at your self-esteem”, says Amy Edmondson, Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School.

Learning from failure as an organisation requires an emotionally intelligent culture of openness, inquiry, patience and tolerance for ambiguity, she says. Such a culture comes from the top.

Willingness to take risks

When an industry is in flux, no one truly knows where future success lies. Leaders must be prepared to take intelligent risks.

Deloitte’s Business Confidence Report 2014: The Gap Between Confidence and Action reported that almost half the executives did not feel confident about high-risk or long-term decisions. In an uncertain environment, where options abound but little is certain, no one individual can have all the answers, or get them right all the time. Nonetheless, paralysis is not a valid leadership option.

The problem for leaders from old model businesses, willingness to take a risk and perhaps to fail has not been a KPI. “If you are running a major media company and have been there for 15 to 20 years, the chances are you will not have failed,” says Tony. “And you won’t have that spark that allows you to look at something and say ‘you know what, we’ll take that risk’.”

Diversity is crucial

Companies are looking to hire leaders “with the empathy and the values of the product you are delivering,” says Simpson. The leader of a successful challenger brand will reflect and espouse the ethos of the organisation and the team they lead.

Arguably, the diversity issue is more pressing for the media content industry than most other sectors: “if you don’t have a diverse team, you aren’t going to create the diverse content that your audience wants, and it will hit your hip pocket in media most.”

“A (media) company is at risk if they bring in an old model media management team to drive them forward. They are not going to attract the right staff and they are not going to smell right.”

The business case – and the social case – for diversity has been established for any company that hopes to reflect its customer base, drive innovation and make an organisation more resilient to change. As cancer scientist Dr Darren Saunders recently tweeted: “Any biologist will tell you that diversity also builds in resilience and adaptability to unforeseen challenges.”

Leadership is not industry-bound

Leadership opportunities are global and leaders are more likely to develop career portfolios that carry across industries as traditional boundaries blur. Startup companies are likely to have more in common with other challengers in, for example, Fintech, clean energy and media, than with the legacy industries they hail from.

But ultimately, says Tony Simpson, “A talented leader is a talented leader,” and while today’s leader must understand the dynamics and opportunities of the new environment, the skills that have defined successful leaders for decades hold true: “vision, transformation, insight, someone who touches everyone in the company, who knows how to walk the floor.”

Tony Simpson is Head of Media and Sports with The Miles Partnership in London.

TO HEAR THE FULL CONVERSATION WITH PROFESSOR LYNDA GRATTON, SUBSCRIBE TO INSIGHT EDGE, THE AUSTRALIAN INSTITUTE OF MANAGEMENT’S LEADERSHIP PODCAST, OR LISTEN TO IT VIA THE WEB.

What does a leader do when the industry they have succeeded in has eroded beneath them?

Can their skills, experience and deep industry insight transfer to the new world of challenger businesses? Or do the skills that delivered success previously actually work against them?

Russell Reynolds Associates’ annual survey of 2000 C-suite executives across 15 industries – including media, healthcare and wealth management – revealed the majority of executives in all but one sector (industrial) anticipate moderate to major disruption from digital over the next 12 months.

Capable, talented leaders head up companies that get disrupted. It is not a failure. It is part of the business cycle that exists today and which many leaders are dealing with.

This has certainly been the case in the media industry. In the Russell Reynolds Associates survey, media ranked highest of all industries expecting disruption, with 72% of media executives anticipating moderate to major disruptive change over the next 12 months. This is despite the fact that the industry has already transformed almost beyond recognition over the past decade.

Any industry facing disruption – which is most – can learn from the dynamics of the media industry as leaders negotiate the career divide between pre-digital and post-digital business, and as challenger brands scale out of their startup origins into dominant and multi-million dollar global concerns.

As a leadership recruitment specialist for traditional and challenger media organisations, Tony Simpson has a birdseye view of these disruptions.

What Simpson is seeing unfold, he says, may be happening earlier and more visibly in the media sector, but has parallels across several industries. “Most of our clients are looking for people to help them navigate a change in the industry landscape. The skillsets and people who are able to do that are in short supply, globally. If I was working in education or energy, we could be having the same conversation.”

5 issues for leadership careers post-digital disruption

  • soft skills matter, recruiters are looking for leaders with emotional intelligence and a consensual leadership style
  • a willingness to take risks and to take responsibility for failure – and learn from it – is a valued capability
  • there is a shortage of leaders who can help challenger brands scale up
  • diversity in the leadership team is as important as it is across the whole company. The business needs to reflect the ethos and the values of the customer and of the product it creates
  • leadership is no longer industry dependent. Leadership careers are cross-industry and global.

Leadership matters more than ever

In times of uncertainty, leadership matters more than ever.

Leadership and talent management capabilities have a strong correlation with financial performance, according to BCG’s Global leadership and talent index. Talent magnets, i.e. companies that rated strongest on 20 leadership and talent management capabilities, increased their revenues 2.2 times faster and their profits 1.5 times faster than “talent laggards.”

An excellent leader is a talent magnet that attracts the right people, which is an important competitive advantage for emerging businesses. The right leader also creates a strong corporate vision and narrative to keep the business focused as it navigates ambiguity, disruption and even periodic failure.

All organisations are looking for leaders who are confident and capable of dealing with constant change. As challenger brands emerge and mature, there is a shortage of leaders who can head a successful startup as its scales into an established player, without, as Simpson puts it, losing their id. “How do you maintain that garage feel while seated in a 2000 seated office?” he asks.

Soft skills matter most

Emotional intelligence is a leadership attribute that has gained significant traction since the 1980s, but Tony Simpson says that it has become an attribute that leadership recruiters actually seek in executive candidates for new business models.

Emotional intelligence matters for a number of reasons. Firstly, staff have different expectations of  workplace culture. Millennials seek “emotionally intelligent leaders, who listen and who have the ability to adapt and change, but most importantly who are there for the benefit of staff and the company, not for themselves.”

Secondly, emotional intelligence enables consensual leadership. Making the right choices in uncertain business conditions and complex scenarios cannot be the job of one person or one position in the company alone, argues leadership expert, Joseph Pistrui, Associate Dean for Executive Education at IE Business School, Madrid. He says “leadership must be a contact sport — one that engages, debates, and unifies around a future direction that makes sense to as many members of the corporation as possible.”

Consensual leadership, agrees Simpson, is in high demand, but short supply.

Thirdly, emotional intelligence is a crucial leadership attribute in any environment that constructively tolerates failure and knows how to benefit from it. As the leader, learning from personal failure is an emotionally unpleasant process that “chips away at your self-esteem”, says Amy Edmondson, Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School.

Learning from failure as an organisation requires an emotionally intelligent culture of openness, inquiry, patience and tolerance for ambiguity, she says. Such a culture comes from the top.

Willingness to take risks

When an industry is in flux, no one truly knows where future success lies. Leaders must be prepared to take intelligent risks.

Deloitte’s Business Confidence Report 2014: The Gap Between Confidence and Action reported that almost half the executives did not feel confident about high-risk or long-term decisions. In an uncertain environment, where options abound but little is certain, no one individual can have all the answers, or get them right all the time. Nonetheless, paralysis is not a valid leadership option.

The problem for leaders from old model businesses, willingness to take a risk and perhaps to fail has not been a KPI. “If you are running a major media company and have been there for 15 to 20 years, the chances are you will not have failed,” says Tony. “And you won’t have that spark that allows you to look at something and say ‘you know what, we’ll take that risk’.”

Diversity is crucial

Companies are looking to hire leaders “with the empathy and the values of the product you are delivering,” says Simpson. The leader of a successful challenger brand will reflect and espouse the ethos of the organisation and the team they lead.

Arguably, the diversity issue is more pressing for the media content industry than most other sectors: “if you don’t have a diverse team, you aren’t going to create the diverse content that your audience wants, and it will hit your hip pocket in media most.”

“A (media) company is at risk if they bring in an old model media management team to drive them forward. They are not going to attract the right staff and they are not going to smell right.”

The business case – and the social case – for diversity has been established for any company that hopes to reflect its customer base, drive innovation and make an organisation more resilient to change. As cancer scientist Dr Darren Saunders recently tweeted: “Any biologist will tell you that diversity also builds in resilience and adaptability to unforeseen challenges.”

Leadership is not industry-bound

Leadership opportunities are global and leaders are more likely to develop career portfolios that carry across industries as traditional boundaries blur. Startup companies are likely to have more in common with other challengers in, for example, Fintech, clean energy and media, than with the legacy industries they hail from.

But ultimately, says Tony Simpson, “A talented leader is a talented leader,” and while today’s leader must understand the dynamics and opportunities of the new environment, the skills that have defined successful leaders for decades hold true: “vision, transformation, insight, someone who touches everyone in the company, who knows how to walk the floor.”

Tony Simpson is Head of Media and Sports with The Miles Partnership in London.

TO HEAR THE FULL CONVERSATION WITH PROFESSOR LYNDA GRATTON, SUBSCRIBE TO INSIGHT EDGE, THE AUSTRALIAN INSTITUTE OF MANAGEMENT’S LEADERSHIP PODCAST, OR LISTEN TO IT VIA THE WEB.

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