“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…” Charles Dickens, The Tale of Two Cities
We are all familiar with this famous introduction to the tumultuous and chaotic French Revolution, where uncertainty reigned supreme and survival was the only priority!
Today, while physically there is little evidence of violence and bloodshed, heads, as in the French Revolution, are rolling with the same urgency and ferocity and the above holds true once more in corporate circles, forcing business leaders to look closely and challenge the time-honored principles and practices they have long learned to abide by.
What then does this mean for the business climate and for professionals who find their skills, honed over their long careers, redundant and irrelevant. The same dilemma also confronts enterprises which have grown steadily and predictably for decades, but today find themselves overweight, out of sync with the times and faced with the prospect of becoming dinosaurs. The crumbling of erstwhile giants and well-respected corporate edifices over the last few years, topped by the most recent fall of Thomas Cook, where more than 22000 employees are facing a jobless and bleak future, accentuates the size and scale of this crisis.
This brings to the fore, the need to deliberate on what and when did things start going so awry that across nations, across economies and across people, the fates are similarly dismal. The other most important factor to dwell on is also to look at those few who have straddled these times and what have they done differently to ensure they remain relevant and solvent.
Of course, a no-brainer is that these businesses and leaders understand the imperative to manage dynamism and rapid change. Evolution today, whether in business models or enabling factors like technology, as well as the mental makeup of the people, all need to be understood in real time. With generational challenges and differences, evolution in tools and technology, environment and lifestyle, all in a state of constant flux, the adage of “long term” strategy hardly applies. We are in impatient and testing times and immediate solutions are what is being sought. The long term may happen but no one believes in waiting for returns and rewards, when the planet itself is faced with existentialist threats.
Understanding of this is critical for only then can we also recognize who would be most likely to drive the businesses of today and tomorrow. Having said this, it will not be easy to spot this leader who may well be someone who seems incongruous to our eyes accustomed to a longstanding image – neither suited, not well-shod, neither proper nor well spoken. However, she or he will need to be quick in thinking, brilliant in anticipating, unafraid of challenges and unfettered by tradition. In short, this new leader will be a problem-solver, and will lead, not by directing but by doing.
Since this leader is untested and is operating in unknown territory, everything about this leader is new. The key factor that will allow these new age leaders to succeed is their courage and charisma, youthful and high energy, passion and zeal and the sheer belief in themselves. And one of the most important qualities will be their ability to learn fast, leverage tools and enabling platforms and technologies, develop new models and implement at speed, manage costs and be willing to shed anything once redundant at lightning speed.
And we are already seeing this, companies are now looking for younger, fresher talent and discarding those set in their ways and who do not adapt to the times. With expectations from employees now focused on productivity and outcomes, no longer is there the luxury of carrying baggage, and hence those who have not heard the wake-up call are destined to hear the death knell of their careers heading towards certain demise.
These times now call for a fundamental shift in competencies, with learn ability, agility, adaptability and speed being the determinants that will define leaders. It is also certain that these impatient leaders are not willing to stay for long as the call for shaking off the yoke of someone else’s control will propel them into setting up of their own ventures. However, while they are there, companies will be in for exciting times and high growth. In her famous book “Radical Candor” Kim Scott calls them the “kick-ass boss” who maintain a delicate balance between being direct and honest while not offending, who establish personal relationships proving that they genuinely care, but are also willing to challenge their teams when they are not meeting expectations.
At the same time, successful and seasoned campaigners, who have helped their organizations thrive and grow in difficult times too, have a unique opportunity to impart counsel, knowledge and experiences, training and mentorship to this new leader!