The CEO in an Age of Disruption

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

December 30, 2019

Technological innovations have ushered in an age of disruption. The digital economy has replaced many age old practices and organizations that have kept abreast with the times, have possibly witnessed unprecedented changes over the past decade. There have been significant shifts that have shaped consumer behavior – spanning purchasing habits to content viewing, and from cashless payment options to hailing a cab.

In fact, there are entirely new segments in the marketplace today such as food-tech, while some have been rendered obsolete, such as movie rental stores. Leaders of organizations today must embody qualities of visionary leadership, of being able to motivate employees, serve customers, please shareholders – and all this while also contributing positively to society. Furthermore, the CEO of today must stay updated on prevailing trends for they must continually adjust their sails to continue sailing on rapidly changing seas.

What Constitutes Visionary Leadership?

The ability to communicate effectively is a key facet of visionary leadership. It is only in the ability to successfully communicate an organization’s vision to its team that a leader can establish what goals must be achieved and what stature the organization is seeking to acquire. Such an individual is able to inspire and motivate team members to work towards a shared vision with a clear roadmap, thus enabling employees to contribute as assets to their respective companies. In a major shift from the traditional style of leadership which mostly involved instructing and possibly even dominating, visionary leaders are more dynamic. They are active listeners, basing their decision making on several points of view, while keenly developing their communications skills.

A Harvard Business Review survey revealed, ‘the greater the shared understanding of strategy in their team, the more the team was committed to strategy execution.’ It must also be highlighted that while being a visionary leader requires effective communication, he or she must also be committed to execution as communication alone will not deliver results. Likewise, it was observed that there was greater likelihood of poor commitment among teams when their leader displayed signs of not being ‘in sync’ with an organization’s strategy.

Keeping Employees Motivated

People are the cornerstone of any organization and effective leaders are successful in keeping employees motivated and engaged. Accomplishing this involves setting out clear goals and highlighting what the organization’s expectations are. Positive reinforcement by way of recognition and reward is a proven morale booster, and when accompanied by constructive feedback and rewards systems it makes team members aware that their efforts have not gone unnoticed. Leaders must also empower their teams and encourage their ideas as that could result in individuals taking ownership of their work. Deloitte’s Talent 2020 report suggests, ‘A workforce is far more engaged and committed when it trusts its leadership, receives clear communications about corporate strategy, and believes its leaders have the ability to execute on that strategy.’

Furthermore, current CEO’s must also introspect and take stock of their own actions. Are they following through on their promises? The inability to do so is a certain route to disgruntlement, which will inevitably lead to higher employee turnover rates.

Pleasing Shareholders and Contributing to Society    

The traditional mindset led organizations and leaders to prioritize most on maximizing shareholder value. With growing inequality, this traditional approach needs a rethink. Darren Walker, President, Ford Foundation highlighted, ‘The ideology of shareholder primacy has contributed to the economic inequality we see today in America.” 

Darren Walker

Shareholder interests cannot be disregarded but it must also be accompanied by initiatives that invest in employees, foster a sense of environmental responsibility and uphold ethical treatment of all organizational stakeholders. Current leaders must accord greater priority to maximizing stakeholder value over shareholder value.

Companies must also outline a commitment to ‘give back’ to society. It must go beyond the purpose of simply complementing an organization’s marketing strategy. Robert Fink, Chairman and CEO, Blackrock, a conglomerate managing over $6 trillion in investments stated, “Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose.” He further added, “To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society.”

Leading with a Visionary Mindset

The current scenario demands leaders who can usher in paradigm shifts – replacing age old beliefs with relevant approaches of today. In simple terms, they must both implement and encourage ‘out of the box’ thinking and arrive at an optimum mix of rational and intuitive thought processes.

Modern leaders must embody the qualities of seeing the bigger picture and creating strategies that will enable organizations to realize their vision. Furthermore, CEOs today must focus on opportunities and adopt a win-win approach, while being fully aware of risks that are constantly looming and evolving.