Now that we are in the holiday season, many of us are rushing to meet end of year deadlines at work, whilst meeting all the personal obligations of the season. Ideally, it will be pencils down within the next few days and relatively quiet until the new year. However, there is an opportunity during this time to pull back and think more broadly about our careers, not in the day-to-day sense, but the larger picture. The world has changed rapidly and drastically over the last few years. The business environment reflects those shifts in every way imaginable, from practical considerations like supply chain issues to reimagining corporate values in the context of social and geopolitical changes. The pressure on organisations and their leaders to respond to this constant evolution is new, and fairly unprecedented.
Leading now is harder than ever before. Stop and consider if this is the role you want.
We have had global unrest before, we have even had world health crises in the past. But today’s challenges are different from the past, and leaders must decide if they want to do the hard work required of them. But we have not been as connected and interdependent in terms of global trade, where a disruption halfway around the world can impact supply at home. Today’s leaders, many of whom are in their late 40s to early 60s, were unlikely to have seen their mentors wrestle with the impact of business decisions on climate change. And business school classes twenty years ago did not prepare today’s leaders for the unimaginable role that social media plays today.
Those who lead now and aspire to continue leading for the next five to fifteen years have very different challenges than those faced in the past. And the pace at which they must respond is far faster than leaders are accustomed to. In the digital age, companies don’t have a week or two to put out a press release; they have hours to post on their website or social media accounts. Add to that a workforce that has shifted their own expectations of what employers owe them – even five years ago a demand for hybrid work on a broad scale was unthinkable. Finally, leaders also must respond to a customer base that has become more vocal and more empowered – where companies used to manage their brand with paid advertising and other company-controlled communication, now they are subject to customer reviews and influencer suggestions. Five years ago – well before the pandemic and other changes – a Harvard Business School study reported that failure to respond to a customer within the hour, risked losing them to a competitor.
It is, quite simply, a lot to manage. In fact, a lot of leadership decisions have been reactionary due to unforeseeable and uncontrollable events. From Brexit to the pandemic to social justice issues to wars, the challenge of leadership is sometimes less about thoughtful stewardship and more about effective firefighting. And living with uncertainty is the antithesis of the average CEO mindset. A recent article called 2022 one of the hardest times to run a company. This year hasn’t proven to be much easier.
Right now, leaders may want to take a breath from the reactionary and ask themselves big-picture questions: What does this organisation believe in? What are my personal values? Is this the work I want to be doing? Leading is getting harder, and it’s an important consideration. To be constantly reactive can become exhausting, yet the old corporate ten-year plan method seems antiquated. Leaders should decide if they want to lean into their roles and take on the new demands of the workplace. This isn’t about competence, by the way – anyone with a sense of humility must be suffering a bit of imposter syndrome right now. This is about will – deciding whether the hard work required is appealing. It can mean becoming comfortable with an almost constant state of fluidity.
Leaders today shouldn’t ask if they can do the job, but rather if they want to.
The holidays, whilst ideally about pulling back from the demands of work, also allows for us to see more holistically what we value. The old rules will apply less and less as we move forward, and new rules have not yet been written. It is a confusing and ambiguous time for leaders today. Those who are leading now are unable to rest on what they have done previously. This is a new era. Decide if you want to lean into it.
In terms of my background and expertise, I have spent my entire career working as a trusted advisor to senior leaders wanting to improve the effectiveness of themselves, their teams and their companies. Prior to starting my own consulting firm, I led the global executive assessment and development team for Cisco. Earlier in my career I held leadership roles with RHR International, PepsiCo, Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School and the Central European University, Budapest, Hungary.