Why it’s time for leaders to move beyond disruption

Terence Mauri, Founder, Hack Future Lab, United Kingdom

By Terence Mauri, Founder, Hack Future Lab, United Kingdom

December 20, 2020

From business to workforce disruption, leaders are going through turbulent times but is enough being done to scale agile, resilient and daring futures? With headwinds to navigate, Terence Mauri, Founder of Hack Future Lab and author of The 3D Leader: Take your leadership to the next dimension, argues that the future belongs to leaders who move beyond disruption and reimagine potential.

Is today’s approach to leadership sustainable? The global pandemic has turned our working world upside down and accelerated workforce and business disruption, from the blurring of industry lines and economic and geopolitical uncertainty, to disruptive technologies such as AI and automation and the shrinking of company, product, and even job lifespans. Change used to happen as a breeze. Now it feels like a category five typhoon. Hack Future Lab’s research shows this isn’t very surprising, considering most leaders (93%) expect technology to continue as a primary business disruptor, followed by rising customer expectations (87%) and industry consolidation (80%). As disruption accelerates and business models decay at a faster rate, leaders are tested in terms of both business continuity and organizational resilience: they must stop, flip the switch, turn on the lights and see and ask what’s up ahead – without fear or concern.

Here are five ways leaders can move beyond disruption in 2021 and ignite the full potential of humans.

From money to meaning

The global pandemic has forced leaders to rethink how and why we work, job satisfaction, and the urgency to remain relevant when the only certainty is uncertainty. With 9/10 organisations saying they want to reinvent themselves in 2020, and almost all leaders reporting significant skill gaps, the C-suite is making meaning the new money in a volatile operating environment.

Economist Milton Friedman stated that the purpose of an organisation was solely to make profit for its shareholders. This no longer holds relevance in a world of disease, debt and disruption. With a new, more responsible mandate emerging, the challenge for leaders is to rethink what makes organisations future-fit and sustainable. It’s about eco-systems not ego-systems. Hack Future Lab’s research reveals though 87% of leaders agree that enterprise-wide purpose should extend beyond profit, yet only 35% deliver on a multi-stakeholder model today.

Leadership priority: How do you win with purpose? And how do you balance economics and empathy to build an inclusive, sustainable, and resilient organisation where health, wellbeing and career are at the core? 

From scaling efficiency to scaling intelligence

Are you ready to win the future or be disrupted by it? The 20th century was about scaling efficiency and doing things right rather than doing the right things. The winners of tomorrow will scale intelligence, with the race to reskill and upskill being a top leadership priority. I call it ROI. Not return on investment, but return on intelligence, return on ideas and return on imagination. Every organisation says it wants to invest in new ways of working and embark on a major transformation in 2020, and almost all report significant skill gaps. The C-suite regards scaling intelligence through reskilling and upskilling as a top talent investment capable of driving business advantage. And yet Hack Future Lab discovered that just 34% of leaders are investing in this as part of their future of work strategy and one in three employees believe their job will not exist in a few years due to AI and automation

Leadership priority: Do you have a well-defined workforce learning and reskilling strategy? How is your organisation embracing new ways of working such as AI and automation?

From control to trust

In the not too distant past, trust was considered a ‘soft’ corporate issue. Its connection to a company’s value was always there, but unclear. But not anymore. I define trust as a confident relationship in the unknown. It’s at the heart of every action, relationship and transaction. Trust has entered center stage for leaders and is at the heart of moving beyond disruption.

But can leaders rebuild years of eroded trust? According to Edelman’s Annual Trust Barometer, 58% of people do not trust organisations to do the right thing, and 20% of workers would trust a stranger more than their own boss. The writer, George Orwell would have relished these times. Fake news, false facts, meme warfare, data breaches, tainted food and digital skulduggery. According to McKinsey, 10 out of 15 industry sectors have reported a decline in trust over the last three years. And to put that into monetary terms, a $30bn retail company will, in theory, lose $4bn in future revenue due to a loss of trust.

Leadership priority: Do you bake trust into the DNA, strategy and day-to-day operations of the organization? How do you use measure trust across the whole stakeholder mix from employees, to customers, suppliers, investors, analysts and the media?

From ‘doing digital’ to ‘being digital’

Tesla is moving into insurance. Google is moving into credit cards. Amazon is moving into everything. Business as usual is over. Now, leaders must master the new competition landscape. This means your organization is competing on learning, ecosystems, physical and digital or ‘phy-gital’, imagination, and resilience. To win today and tomorrow, leaders must move from ‘doing digital’ to ‘being digital’. This means re-platforming their whole business to the cloud and becoming AI-centric organisations that redefine how they create, capture, share, and deliver value. For example, Singapore’s DBS Bank redesigned its tradition-bound culture by becoming a “26,000-person start-up”. A customer-obsessed, data-driven learning organisation creating digital platforms for its global expansion.

Leadership priority: Are you still competing on protecting out-dated legacy or are you moving from doing digital to being digital?

From #Me to #We

Why is it that only 5% of nations are led by women and less than 3% of CEOs on the FTSE 100 Index are women? It’s impossible to harness the power of diversity if women are ignored as potential future leaders in organizations. To thrive, every organization must prioritise three things:

  • Differences
  • Divergent thinking
  • Diversity

What’s more, the pandemic has highlighted that the current leadership model is broken, and has provided an opportunity to reset in three ways:

  1. Less micro- and more macro-managers
  2. More ethical leaders such as Jacinda Ahern and Angela Merkel
  3. Winning through empathy.

Organisations competing on resilience, empathy and imagination will capture the most value when difference, divergent thinking and diversity is not just a set of beliefs, but is recognized and celebrated. It’s clear to me that people want values and value at work, and that this starts by moving from a ‘me’ to a ‘we’ mindset.

Leadership priority: Do you have a culture of ‘me’ or ‘we’? Do you have high levels of diversity and psychological safety? Do you harness the full power of diversity, difference and divergence in your organization?

Go beyond

There will be winners and losers in the race to win the future. With so many unknowns, how can leaders move beyond disruption? Now is not the time to adopt a ‘wait and see’ strategy. As we enter 2021, the global pandemic, politics, climate change and social movements will continue to force us to re-imagine the fabric of our societies, relationships and economies. Yet, a new collective determination and energy is emerging, one that will shape a more respectful, ethical and equal future for all. As the philosopher Karl Popper wrote: ‘we have a moral duty to be optimisitic’.

Terence Mauri is founder of Hack Future Lab, a global think tank and a leading busines thinker. His new book The 3D Leader: Take you your leadership to the next dimension is out now and he will be speaking at the Horasis Extraordinary Meeting (USA) on 18 March, 2021.