I recently I sat down (virtually) with Dana to be interviewed about leadership in the lead up to the Institute’s Executive Leadership Summit.
Dana: When you first became a leader, did you find that you had to change your mindset or behaviours at all? If so, how, if not, why?
I quickly learnt that I had to continually evolve. Not just as a person, but as a leader. As the terrain and landscape that you operate in is multi-faceted and dynamic, I had to learn to continuously be on the move to stay ahead of the curve.
This led me to understand the reasoning behind the phrase synonymous with entrepreneurs and tech – that is “fail fast, fail often”. I found that mistakes were my biggest advantage for learning and adapting. This then led to a shift in how I took criticism. As a leader you are constantly under scrutiny and criticised, it is important to filter away the bias and take criticism constructively. Furthermore, if the criticism is unjustified, I found this creates an opportunity to communicate to understand why an individual felt a certain way and to engage with them to solve any problem.
Most importantly, it solidified my belief in being authentically me. That is, not to allow others’ expectation of an archaic stereotype of a leader to change how I do things, or lead to fit a certain demographic. Leadership comes in all forms; you grow, learn, and leverage the different skills you develop along the way, but always remain true to you.
Back yourself and stand for something!
Dana: Has COVID-19 changed the way you do business and the way you lead?
COVID-19 has, for better or worse, completely changed the way business is conducted. It has been a disruptive time with many unfortunate and troubling outcomes. However, a silver lining has emanated out of this pandemic – the acceleration of digitisation and the workplace of the future.
The new digital environment formed an imperative disruption to business as usual operations whereby things that were considered fixed have now become dynamic. Businesses had to adapt and become creative to keep operations going and staff engaged.
Furthermore, a prominence was placed on scenario planning in a dynamic and uncertain environment, but in the inverse direction. That is, starting from the megatrends and forces, and working backwards to the organisational goals and strategy. The traditional 5-10-year plans seem slightly less relevant with forward thinking with longer time horizons still playing a role, but with more dynamic short to medium term models.
Moreover, we saw a shift in working from home and talent engagement. As the lockdown continued, we began to see a divergence in the workforce. First, there were those that thrived when working from home and this has been established as a tried and tested model. We will of course have to rethink what this new flexible working arrangement will look like moving forward. Second, as norms on working were displaced, the social fabric of how our work community is formed began to unwind. This created a requirement to engage with the individual, understand each situation and be flexible to accommodate needs. Communication is key! I would just like to point out here the importance of mental health implications in the workplace and the role businesses must play as people return to work.
There was a definite struggle between demarcation and delineation between work, leisure and home life. People now have different expectations post-pandemic and an understanding of how to best fit work in their new world. This has impacted how businesses are onboarding and readdressing the workforce and workspaces of the future.
Finally, consumerism was considerably disrupted. Some parts of business came to a complete halt, essential services tried to deliver and maintain dynamic demands and other industries such as logistics thrived. Restoring parity and normality will take time. Some businesses have begun to bounce back, sadly many others will be lost forever due to this pandemic.
Leadership has become harder but much more important. Great leaders are often made during certain periods in time, such as economic recessions or times of prosperity, during war or other types of conflict, or during periods of great technological advancement. True leaders come from every level and will rise to the dynamics of the day. Leadership of the future will not look like leadership of the past – but never forget the past as it is the greatest predictor of the future.
To reiterate, continual engagement and communication is key. But these methods need to be synergised with the empathic traits of a leader, such as support, nurturing and understanding.
The leadership traits that have become paramount during this dynamic time need to motivate your team and those around us; and to keep a cohesive, united, and more importantly future-focused environment.
The role of the leader is now to adapt to the digital age, dynamic terrain, and new operating models, whilst managing and facilitating mental health and resource concerns. It is now more important than ever for leaders to engage with the individual, as everyone needs to feel they belong.
Dana: What is the biggest mistake you’ve made as a leader?
There are many schools of thought on whether a leader is born or made, however, my journey was one created out of necessity, ability, and the pursuit of excellence.
I did not start out in my career thinking that I would be a CEO or even end up in the property sector. As I began to learn what I needed to lead and to affect profound change, whether it be academic, or through experience or belief, I learnt to evolve, continually learn, and seek out knowledge and learn from every experience.
While I am proud of my abilities and accomplishments as a leader, my biggest mistake was not owning my worth and capabilities from the outset.
Dana: What are the 3 best tricks you’ve learned as a leader?
- Lead from wherever you can make the most impact
- If you do not feel uncomfortable, then you are not evolving – push yourself each day to overcome fear and become a better leader
- Simply do a sense check when in doubt
Dana: What are the 3 top skills every leader should have?
I think I need four:
- Resilience & perseverance
- Evolution & continual learning
Dana: What is the secret to keeping your people performing?
I don’t think that there is a secret per say, every individual, company, and culture is different. Even within an organisation or team sub-cultures can exist.
- Learn how to interreact at this multifaceted level;
- Lead by example and be authentic;
- Deliver; and
- Inspire! Remember that most talent has a choice to work somewhere else – identify and bring to life a greater purpose and make each individual feel and know their part in achieving that goal or purpose; that they are a part of a team achieving a greater goal and each person is valuable, visible and valid.
Dana: What are the main challenges businesses will face in the next 5 – 10 years?
There are going to be a myriad of challenges, too many to mention; some existing, some new and some altered by current dynamics. I will take you through my top six.
First, economic recovery will be on every business leader’s mind as we begin to emerge from the pandemic. This will give rise to resource constraints. Without government intervention many businesses won’t survive. There will also be challenges in seeking the investment required for future development. Therefore, effective planning will be required to face the challenges of today and the future.
Second, the new geo-political landscape is changing the business world as we once knew it. The existing trend of globalisation – especially accelerated through international digital operating models – is being undermined with new protectionism resulting in political instability and tensions in trade relations.
Third, climate change is front and centre. With the rise of social impact business post pandemic, this will be a considerable dynamic for businesses to tackle. Also, it will offer many innovative companies’ opportunities to solve problems and create new business models.
Fourth, an emerging challenge will be the trust that is placed in employers by employees around the health and safety of the workplace. This ethical contract must be clearly articulated and delivered for employees to return to work safely and to adapt to differing modes. Again, it is worth mentioning here the mental health toll that has taken place throughout this pandemic and a major challenge will be how businesses engage, support, and enhance the wellbeing of their people.
Fifth, the new work force and places of the future. What will the new norm for employment look like and how will businesses evolve as society demands, whilst maintain continuity and longevity? As we head into 100 year lives, with potentially up to five generations working in one workplace, how will business reconcile their differing needs and incentives? Additionally, as we are living longer the three-stage approach to life – study, work, retire – will be retired itself. Instead, a flux of periods of time to re-educate, recreate and rejuvenate will be required as we live and work longer, and technology and business is changing more rapidly than ever before.
Finally, we are in the midst of Industry 4.0 and shortly heading into Industry 5.0. How will businesses adapt to the change in how they operate through advancement in technology, societal and consumer demands, and the up & reskilling of the workforce to keep pace – given our current talent gap in STEM? Moreover, trust in digital and data has become vital. Businesses will have to face investing in cyber secure environments; and the engagement with staff and customers around the ethical use of their data in order to progress new business ventures, models and automation.
Dana: Thank you very much for your time Emma!
It’s been a pleasure Dana. Thank you.