WANTED: Bold New Leadership


Perhaps the biggest thing I took from this week’s Disruption Summit Europe, was the multiple voices advocating for a bold new style of leadership – one that fosters innovation within organisations. As PA Consulting’s Chief Innovation Officer Fraser Bennett put it in his keynote address, the move to this type of leadership is “an obligation, not an option”.  

Laying out what he described as the four forces from consumers, Bennett explained that organisations can choose to push back against them or learn to use them to their advantage – and to do the latter requires a new form of leadership.

The Four Forces

  1. Respect for social impact – people are starting to look for more from the services and products they consume. Realising that people are looking for purpose could be more important that going for pure profit.
  2. Trust and transparency – for those of us who didn’t grow up in a digital world, we are having to rethink security and privacy in the digital age. Things are changing. It’s no longer enough to be an “institution” to gain consumer trust. Whereas “big and old” banks used to gain trust, airlines with big brands would be trusted with our lives, and doctors were part of a “trusted” institution, now people are questioning everything. Technology is making misinformation as readily available as facts, people are less likely to trust politicians and journalists, but think nothing of getting into a car with a stranger to drive them home, thanks to apps such as Uber. Organisations need to be aware that it is going to be harder to gain, and maintain, consumer trust.
  3. Difference vs Conformity – we’ve looked for repeatability to enable large-scale manufacturing and cost-cutting through scale, but when you need to change to survive, it’s difference that you need, that’s the key to innovation.
  4. Harness technologies for all – with technology evolving at such a pace, it is impossible for a traditional command and control set-up to keep up and move with the times. The top people in an organisation can’t possibly keep up with all the latest technology effectively, so they will need to learn to trust others in their companies to know their stuff and empower them to make decisions that enable them to keep pace.

So how does Bennett suggest that we change and develop leaders that can “unlock ingenuity”?

We need to harness the ingredients we have at hand – brilliant people, technology, purpose, and add in a new form of leadership.

Recipe for new leadership:

Nurture human optimism
Everything has a silver lining – always be on the lookout for optimists – seek them out and look after them. People who can approach a problem with a positive mindset, make connections and have a growth mindset. These are the sort of people who see constraints as catalysts for growth, rather than blockers.

Empower teams to innovate
Go out of your way to mix things up. Look at how dissonance can help you on the path to innovation and make difference work to your advantage. This isn’t always easy, notes Bennett, but he firmly believes in its value.

Build evolving organisations
You need to develop an adaptive organisation, one that can make decisions at warp speed. Hierarchy is not important anymore, it makes decisions far too slowly. Create a meritocracy for new ideas. “It’s not the boss that decides, but the best that decides” says Bennett.

Seek inspiration in surprising places
It’s time to get away from the fear of “not made here” and look at how other people’s solutions can be used to help solve your problems.

So where should we start?

“Think big, start small” is Bennett’s first advice. Start with yourself, try 20 minutes a day in the mindset of a nine-year-old where resourcefulness is more important than resource, he says. Be playfully optimistic, adaptable, and unafraid to seek out differences. All too often people go into the workplace and lose their sense of curiosity – taking the safer route of conforming to norms to satisfy the boardroom. If we truly want to innovate, then we need to develop leadership that will support risk-taking, empower its people, and celebrate difference. As Bennett says “the opportunity has never been greater”.  

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