Weakened faith in business
In the wake of the global financial crisis, today’s CEOs recognise that weakened faith in business is impacting performance, with 37% concerned that lack of trust in their industry could endanger their company’s growth, according to PwC’s latest annual global CEO survey.
So how can leaders re-build trust and future-proof their organisations to survive the changing risk landscape and emerge stronger than before?
Adirupa Sengupta, CEO at Common Purpose UK, believes that the key to growth prospects lies in two key leadership attributes – cultural intelligence and the ability to innovate. “The complex challenges that come with recent seismic economic and social shifts require new approaches, products and systems,” says Sengupta. “This leaves businesses needing a great deal of creativity and innovation to thrive.”
The Itijah Venture
For Sengupta, making connections with people who work in other cities, sectors and regions and openly sharing experiences allows leaders to operate effectively, meet challenges and spot opportunities at a global level. It is this thinking that led Common Purpose to launch ‘Itijah’, part of its ‘Ventures’ series.
Meaning ‘direction’ in Arabic, Itijah is one of a number of courses which Common Purpose hopes will ‘expand, enrich and energise’ relations between leaders in different parts of the world. The latest took place over four days in Amman, Jordan, and brought together 35 leaders from the cities of Alexandria, Frankfurt, London, Dubai, Benghazi, Amsterdam, Jeddah and Istanbul. Participants are encouraged to work in new directions and explore the themes of leadership, collaboration, managing change and innovation in a global setting.
What are the main challenges faced by global business leaders today?
Choucrallah Karam, manager – health industries, PwC – Dubai [CK]: Global business leaders are faced with the challenge of globalisation and interconnectivity: any decision they make has an impact on the livelihood of many people around the world. Outsourcing, for instance, has become common in many organisations and partial manufacturing or customer service delivered in another part of the world is the norm. Also, business leaders need to recognise the intricacies within a multitude of cultures.
Mariam Allam, Egypt country co-ordinator, Arab Youth Climate Movement/Eastern and Southern Africa Youth Alliance – Alexandria [MA]: Regional political events such as the Arab Spring create shaky ground for private businesses. Other threats come from shifts in economic power and the rise of new competitors such as China, India and South Africa.
Mohammed Musabeh Ali Dhahi, senior manager – Airport Operation Department, Dubai Customs – Dubai [MMAD]: Moral obligations and social responsibility to the world at large are two serious challenges, as well as the need to be more effective and comfortable in dealing with uncertainty.
Mounsif Chtaiti, director, Institute for Islamic Banking & Finance – Frankfurt [MC]: The role of leader used to involve guiding teams using a strong personality and being the frontman. Today, it is more about understanding how to serve and facilitate the team to help them generate ideas.
Bana Qatarneh, technology consulting manager, Oracle – Amman [BQ]: A global leader needs to quickly adapt and react to the ecosystem and think ahead of his/her time. With today’s everlasting changes and trends this is quite a challenge. Communicating across different cultures and individuals is becoming more difficult, since successful global leaders need to diversify their teams for many reasons, whether to have a broad set of skills and differentiators or to cover different geographies.
We live in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world and global leaders must embrace and be constantly aware of this fact. They must also manage change, be bold to come up with transformational ideas, avoid the logical and ‘play it safe’ lock-in, be able to motivate and inspire people around them, and achieve forecasted results.
Marijn Wiersma, innovation and transition manager, FMO – Dutch Development Bank – Amsterdam [MW]: We live in exponential times; business leaders have to operate in a fast changing environment faced with serious societal challenges.
David Barker, founder, Whitebox Digital [DB]: We have seen a breakdown in the systemic structures across civil society, government and business. The negative social outcomes of this range from riots over the lack of jobs to a reduction in the quality of products and services. Consumers expect low prices and often profits come at a social cost.
We need to redesign systems and foundations from the ground up, evolving how we ‘do’ government, business and civil society and expecting changes to be made in everything we do. Taking people or organisations on a journey of change is the biggest challenge for any leader – in politics or in business.
Corporates can lead the way. Many are now seeing CSR as more than marketing. They have accepted the need to weave it into the core DNA of their business and focus every decision they make on profit, people and planet – without compromise. Another big challenge for business leaders today is making that happen across the board.
How can innovation help leadership challenges?
MMAD: Innovation encourages leaders to expand their thinking and better understand internal and external stakeholder profiles, contexts and how they operate. It also helps leaders to view the world as one market and ensure that business can be done irrespective of distance. Innovation has eliminated one of the biggest barriers and allowed them to change their perspectives of the world, discovering opportunities differently and envisioning alternatives to the many possibilities. It has helped leaders to create a sense of a free environment to empower experiments, allowing them to take more risks. Finally, innovation will drive leaders to be more proactive in society and predict implications before implementing plans.
BQ: Innovation is our generation’s key ingredient for success. The ultimate triumph is being able to positively differentiate yourself from the rest of the population. Innovators let their ideas flow freely through overcoming the idea of ‘imaginary boundaries’ and traditional thinking or logic. They think of possibilities before challenges and act without over-thinking. They are aware of the ecology around them and harmonize their actions through having an open mind and heart to make things happen.
In a changing world, those who can outrun their time to be ahead of the game can only do so through innovation. They are the ones who set the rules and standards. Oracle and Apple are great examples of this.
MW: An innovative culture needs open minds, autonomy, and an environment that encourages entrepreneurial behaviour. An important component is the right to fail. This culture can greatly contribute to addressing leadership challenges in a collaborative manner.
DB: Any organisation needs to have a team, no matter how small, focussed on looking at the markets of tomorrow and ensuring new products and services are being designed and developed in parallel to how they do things today.
It is in everyone’s interests to work collaboratively and keep co-designing the systems and processes in line with how the business functions and the products and services it sells.
To do this successfully we need employees at all levels to feed back critical intelligence to the research and development teams – and ensure their voices and comments are valued and acknowledged. The right type of employment and supplier contracts will allow this employee empowerment and innovation process to take place.
Why is it important for today’s/tomorrow’s leaders to have a diverse network?
CK: Innovation would not exist without creativity and like-minded people only produce like- minded results. Encouraging diverse thinking promotes innovation. A good example from the healthcare industry would be Pfizer’s R&D facility in Sandwich, Kent. While the company historically employed staff with pharmaceutical backgrounds, it has now started to recruit the help of people such as mathematicians and social volunteers to help construct the framework for fighting future diseases.
MC: There is a growing trend for employing subject matter experts rather than generalists. Professionals spend most of their time working and discussing ideas in their own environments, which is important to develop ideas and strategies in their fields.
Being a visionary means being at the stage where diversity and a diverse network play a relevant role. Discussing developments in different ‘worlds’ brings new ideas. By having talks with those in more advanced areas, leaders can gain a lot of direction and influence in their way of thinking.
DB: Society has become more collaborative outside the need for paid-for products and services. People are happy to share their thoughts and expertise within networks, helping others facing similar challenges in different organisations. Building a diverse network in this way can generate new business and be a recruitment ground in the future for new suppliers or employees.
Innovation through diversity
Sengupta says: “Too often, organisations try to solve problems by convening groups of people who operate in the same field and think in a similar way. Convening diverse groups – individuals who have very different ideas, perspectives, experiences and values – can, in the right environment, enable leaders to challenge their own preconceptions and develop the self-awareness to become more culturally intelligent. It also stimulates new questions, reflections and connections that lead to innovative solutions.”