What Does the Future of Leadership Look Like?

Our recent Thought Leadership session drew on insights from a global conversation with leaders, hosted by Within People, a global coaching partnership that Accelerate Cape Town has collaborated with. The research shared at the session points to the changing focus of business, and how this calls for something different from leaders. A big thanks to our speakers, Kim Hawke and Kate Clayton, Partners at Within People; Heather Sonn, Managing Director: Gamiro Investment Group and Richard Lyon, General Manager: One&Only who spoke to the above themes.

To be a 21st century leader you need to know yourself. You need to learn to master how you show up. You need to be okay with yourself. You need to be human. This was the overarching takeout from the session.

When business was about building more factories, the source of growth in a business was efficiency. Organisational culture and leadership was designed for repeatable tasks over and over at scale. Today, many of the world’s most valuable businesses have no tangible assets. While efficiency is still important, it is no longer the source of growth for a business.

Twenty-first century business is driven by value creation and the source of growth is creativity, innovation, new ideas, services. This has important implications for organisational culture. Coupled with rising automation and artificial intelligence, this means that 21st century leadership is increasingly about building cultures that unleash human potential. Because businesses don’t transform, people do. And leaders go first…

Richard Lyon, General Manager: One&Only, demonstrated this with a strong business case for investing in people and culture. (One&Only has over the past couple of years invested in aligning and igniting their resorts globally around a shared culture.) Richard pointed to increasing profit at One&Only Cape Town by 35%, colleague engagement by 20% and guest satisfaction from 92% to 94%. This started with getting the right leadership team in place, writing down the culture, leaders leading the culture, and calling out ‘cultural terrorists’.

If leaders need to go first, what does this mean practically? Global insights reveal seven qualities that leaders need to cultivate. Not in any particular order, these qualities work as an inter-related:

  • Curiosity: valuing people’s uniqueness and their individual stories
  • Courage: ability to dream big and pursue that dream
  • Empathy: creating the conditions for different people to share and align
  • Creativity: ability to bring things to life / make it real for people
  • Vulnerability: okay with being seen as you really are
  • Conviction: keeping the integrity of the promise that has been made
  • Patience: working with what’s here.

The session did a dive into three qualities: courage, curiosity and empathy.

Heather Sonn, Managing Director: Gamiro Investment Group, spoke to the qualities that stand out for her as a leader: Embracing complexity in a world that is increasingly uncertain and complex. Having the courage to do new things, having a clear vision of where you are going, and holding the hand of your vision softly, not too tightly. Being courageous every day, in every moment, to move towards your vision. Heather emphasised the value of curiosity to become more self-masterful.

Starting with self, means enquiring into any discomfort before reacting, and trying something different rather than sticking to old patterns. It means being aware of any biases we hold (and we all do), looking beyond the bias and rather enquiring into what is there. For Heather, this has meant finding a button that reminds her of who she is, that reminds her to love her uniqueness; in her case, her accent. Practically, she says find a daily practice that can help you cultivate curiosity. These qualities help drive growth for organisations:

  • Curiosity can help organisations grow by creating inclusive environments that value people’s uniqueness. Opening up different conversations and ideas that otherwise may not have been possible. It can help fuel velocity
  • Courage can help you find and step into the opportunity in risk. To innovate. To accept different people. To be yourself as a leader
  • Empathy helps you really listen, to your people and your customers, to relate more deeply, to build connection. Without empathy, you can’t open your eyes.

FEAR is the stand out barrier that holds leaders back. Fear of many things. Of failure. Of risk. Of losing position. It can prevent curiosity. Strangle courage. Block empathy.

Practical steps you can take as a leader to strengthen the way you lead:

  • Create CLARITY by asking WHY as leaders. Define and align on the essence of your culture
  • Build BELIEF by creating space for your people to tell their story of why. Build meaning into your culture across the organization
  • Grow CONFIDENCE by overcoming fear. Develop the leadership skills to unleash the potential of your people.

We would once again like to thank our sponsor, British American Tobacco, for hosting this insightful session. We hope to see you at our next Thought Leaders session.

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