How authentic leadership can be your crystal ball as you futureproof your business
The CEO starter pack contains many things – a giant office, several identical yet perfectly tailored business suits and a key to the executive bathroom – but, contrary to popular belief, it does not contain a crystal ball.
At least once a day, I’m asked about what lies ahead, my vision for the company and what the game plan is going forward. It’s a part of the job: incredibly high expectations placed upon the management tier.
Then again, the CEO has to take responsibility for the welfare of the business and the people in it, so I think it’s fair to expect the CEO to be able to have relatively detailed conversations around what the future may or may not look like from their perspective.
Futureproofing takes fear out of the equation
There’s a sense that the future is to be feared and that futureproofing is necessary to prepare against this coming storm. There’s also an expectation that I’ll be able to very soothingly say "I’ve seen the future, and it will be…"
Unfortunately, I can’t do that. But what I can say is that the future isn’t our enemy; it’s an ally. Tomorrow is an opportunity to do something better or different, and you’ll know more than you know today.
"The future isn’t our enemy; it’s an ally. Tomorrow is an opportunity to do something better or different, and you’ll know more than you know today."
With that in mind, how can executives prepare for what’s around the corner? You need to be reading, you need to be listening and you need to be having conversations with experts in different areas.
You can’t be an expert on everything; you need experts within your business that you can listen to. There’s been a big jump in the capability of AI over the last few months, for instance, and it’s causing a fair share of fear and confusion within the media industry. But the potential benefits for our quality of life and productivity are huge and, as CEO, I need to know the basics of that.
The ideal course of action is to find someone within my company who can upskill themselves and become an expert in that area that I can then listen to. In doing so, I’m futureproofing not just the business, but that staff member. I’m building their value and career going forward.
Humility is key to authentic leadership
It can be daunting being in the top job, or being responsible for an entire organization rather than just yourself. So you have to be brave enough to go to someone on your team and say, "I know very little about this. Educate me, please."
That way, you ultimately build a team of specialists and, once you have that, it’s important to let them do their jobs. The biggest challenge right now is the constant volatility.
"You have to be brave enough to go to someone on your team and say, "I know very little about this. Educate me, please."
Businesses are under stress, and what tends to happen in these times is that execs jump into their businesses to fight fires rather than taking a step back and having the space and time to think.
When you’re on the front line trying to fix things, that’s not futureproofing. Often, you can do more harm than good because you’re getting in the way of your people whose job it is to take care of these situations.
And that’s where authenticity and value-driven management reveals its benefit in the cause of futureproofing.
If your business has an area of expertise, simply playing to that strength is enough. It can be dangerous to chase diversification or chase after the latest buzzwords. Many companies have quickly put together ESG strategies, for example, to run alongside what they currently do.
A lot of well-run, value-led companies would argue that ESGs have been a big part of what they do for decades because it’s in their values; it’s not simply the PR trend they’re chasing.
When times get tough, those executives who are not authentically building ESG into their strategy through their own personal and company values risk being found out, as these new initiatives will be some of the first to be cut.
Setting yourself up for success
If you’re authentic in the way you lead and communicate and come up with ideas, you’ll naturally tick certain boxes in the future. Futureproofing is about being the best in the world at what you do, and creating new markets and customer bases for your products. You do this by empowering your employees to grow and evolve and creating a safe space for ideas and discussion.
When I was working my way up through the business, I saw the future through the prism of my own achievements rather than the greater good of the company. My viewpoint was to be as good at my job as I could be because I believed there would always be a need for my skills.
"If you’re authentic in the way you lead and communicate and come up with ideas, you’ll naturally tick certain boxes in the future."
Now that I’m CEO, it’s the same thought process but on a wider scale. It’s thinking about what you do best.
Here, we’re the best in the world at executive storytelling. There’s already a huge demand to consume content and, as executives continue to realize the importance of building their digital personas and personal branding through sharing content, demand for content creation will grow. When it does, we’ll be there to meet that need because that’s who we are and that’s what we do.
All we really know about the future is that it will happen. The firmest foundation your company can have in times to come is the work you do today, whether that’s strengthening and upskilling your staff, educating yourself or forming a clearer understanding of your strengths.
It’s a matter of authenticity, of being clear and confident in terms of what you bring to the table and what your role is and knowing what you don’t know. If you’re sure of what you’ll be tomorrow, you’re already there.
Originally from Manchester, United Kingdom, David Jepson heads up The CEO Magazine team as CEO. His journey through the company, from Media Manager to Global Sales Director, has given him a deep well of experience from which to draw as he continues to develop one of the world’s most high-profile and respected media brands.