What can Leaders do to face the Challenges of 2023 and beyond?

Leadership cannot be summarized in a simple meme, that says leaders do this, and don't do that. Leaders face multiple complex challenges in today's rapidly changing environment. In addition to external challenges, they must navigate the complexities of bringing their own people together to work collaboratively while managing their own physical, social, and mental health.

In this post, I aim to summarize some of the challenges leaders face in 2023 and beyond and offer some insights about what is required and what can be done.

What Keeps C-level Leaders Up at Night?

McKinsey's State of Organizations 2023 report identifies many of the challenges keeping leaders up at night, These include economic volatility, geopolitical instability, and the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

C-level leaders must address questions about how to organize for speed, the balance between in-person and remote work models, and mental health concerns among employees.

Deloitte's Human Capital Trends report highlights similar challenges, but what keeps most leaders up at night is the economy. CEOs typically say they plan to mitigate economic risk by accelerating innovation and digital transformation, pursuing new opportunities in higher-growth markets, and revising business models.

To execute these plans, Executive Leadership Teams (ELT) must attract and retain the right talent and build a strong or stronger culture.

What can be done?

I have written books and posts about my experiences with coaching ELTs for leadership development and one principle that has proven perpetually true is the medical maxim:

Prescription without Diagnosis is Malpractice

Linked to this maxim and proven by research at Google is the importance of providing a psychologically safe workplace, but this is often low on the list of leadership priorities.

Change creates stress and change is constant and so leaders can examine their own relationship to change and stress if they want to effectively lead through the challenges of 2023 and beyond.

Staying with the medical metaphor, you have probably watched an episode of a medical drama, where the surgeon and their team are faced with an unexpected problem. Regardless of the challenge, the surgeon must remain calm and the team continue to function if the patient is to survive.

I believe it is worth asking the question, how the surgeon develops this poise under pressure and promotes a culture of calm efficiency? Answering this question can provide insights for leaders who want to develop their own self-leadership, critical thinking, and executive presence.

Leaders Who Woke Up and Led

As I have already mentioned, leadership is not a simple meme, and each leadership situation might require a different approach but I wanted to share some specific examples to illustrate and reinforce what can be done. Each of these leaders got up from a sleepless night and took action.

  1. When Satya Nadella took over as CEO of Microsoft in 2014, the company was facing significant challenges, Nadella worked to transform the company culture from a "know-it-all" culture to a "learn-it-all" culture, emphasizing continuous learning, innovation, and customer focus. He also pushed for greater collaboration between different parts of the company, breaking down internal silos. His leadership has led to a significant turnaround for the company, with Microsoft becoming a leader in cloud computing and other emerging tech areas.
  2. As the CEO of General Motors, Mary Barra has worked to create a more inclusive, transparent, and accountable culture within the company. She has emphasized the importance of diversity and inclusion, and under her leadership, General Motors has been recognized as a leader in gender equality in the workplace. Barra also led the company through a significant crisis involving defective ignition switches, demonstrating accountability and a focus on customer safety.
  3. Tony Hsieh, the late CEO of Zappos, was famous for his focus on company culture. He believed that a company's culture was its biggest source of competitive advantage and that it was critical to business success. Hsieh implemented a flat organizational structure known as "holacracy," which aimed to eliminate workplace hierarchy and promote collaboration. He also championed exceptional customer service, creating a strong brand and loyal customer base.
  4. During her tenure as CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi was known for her focus on creating a purpose-driven company culture. She introduced the concept of "Performance with Purpose," which aimed to deliver top-tier financial performance while being responsive to the needs of the world around. This included initiatives focused on healthier products, environmental sustainability, and empowering people and communities.

These examples demonstrate different ways in which leaders can face the challenge of change, manage stress and foster strong cultures within their organizations. The specific strategies and approaches may vary, but common themes include a focus on continuous learning, collaboration, accountability, diversity and inclusion, customer focus, and purpose-driven work.

In Summary

It has been said that you should not see how sausages are made. It has been my privilege to work with and support leaders and ELTs as they wrestle with their own personal demons, internecine conflicts, and external business challenges. It's not always pretty but when the ELT comes together to live the culture and operate as 'one team' the challenges are handled with calm efficiency.

Due to confidentiality issues, I cannot share case studies here, but I do share my methodologies in my leadership keynote speech and you can contact me if you need support for yourself or your ELT.





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