Driving business success through disruptive leadership
Based on data on NSE-listed companies compiled by Prime Database’s nseinfobase.com, 58 MDs and CEOs have quit in first 7 months of 2019 amid growing performance pressure from the board, investors and shareholders. The key reasons cited for the spike in C-Suite shake-up are declining tolerance for underperformance at the highest level and increased scrutiny on performance and ethics. Harsh Mariwala, the Chairman Marico Ltd has nailed it when he says “The business environment has become far more challenging, be it in terms of overall growth, achieving numbers or the volatility and disruption in the environment, making the job of a leader more and more difficult.”
Corner Room Churn at India Inc. is increasing as challenges mount. In fact the highest turnover in the past 14 years was in 2018, when as many as 59 CEOs or MDs left in the first seven months and 108 in the entire year. This is in line with global trends, where CEO turnover spiked in 2018 to the highest point in 19 years, as per a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers Strategy & CEO Success Study.
While this data is more specific for the heads of the companies, it holds true for the entire CXO level leadership team, with established & respected names in business regularly reaching out to search firms for a job change even at reduced compensation. This is a worrying trend for both the people & organisations.
For the past over a decade, leaders have taken refuge under the umbrella of working in a VUCA (Volatilty, Uncertainity, Complexity, Ambiguity) environment for their failure, but today VUCA is the new normal. It’s an environment that is here to stay. So what is it that will drive leadership success today?
The answer lies in “Disruptive Leadership”. This, in effect, means challenging conceptual constraints and mind-sets that hold an organization back. Leaders need to change the way they think or the way things are done in a business setting. Disruption can destroy or change existing markets by producing a better alternative to existing products or services and it can even change the face of entire industries. Innovation & creativity are closely linked to disruption, but they are not the same thing. Leaders need to have the courage to challenge conventional wisdom & shake things up to get the desired results.
Here are 5 examples of Disruptive Leadership:
- “Don’t think out of the box. Think as if there is no box”: Refuse to accept that a box exists, the “box” being our mental boundaries. We aren’t living in a tough world, as people make out but in an exciting world, where there are no boundaries to our thinking. Let me give you an example. Today, organisations avoid hiring people in their 50s because of the misconception that with age productivity reduces. In fact new research shows the reverse to be true. As per German economist Axel Borsch-Supan, with knowledge-based jobs you see an increase in productivity with age. Then it levels off. It doesn’t go down. “Perennials”, America’s aging generation is considered the nation’s greatest unused resource. By relaxing restrictions on age, a lot of existing corporate problems could be resolved but some “disruptive leader” needs to bite the bullet on this.
- It’s not always about being better, it’s about being different: Getting desired results today doesn’t really need creating a better product or service or even hiring better. Being the best may be true for sportsman but business is different. It is a fact that people today prefer “new” over “better”. To find out how leaders can succeed by being different, compare business to the music industry. Every artist that is at the top of the charts is different from everyone else. There’s only one Drake, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga. These artists didn’t try to become better versions of Jay-Z, Madonna or whoever came before them. No, they created their own genre. Hence leaders need to realise that being “First” beats being “Best”.
- “Communication is not about being heard, it’s about being listened”: Innumerable leaders fail because of their inability to achieve the most critical aspect of life & business—Communication. No matter how great ones vision or strategy is, if it doesn’t get through to people, it’s meaningless & doomed to failure. Every communication needs to be interactive & two-way. It has to be face to face for greatest effectiveness, it has to be brutally honest, it needs to drive home a point & most importantly it should generate questions. In my opinion people who cannot communicate effectively, do not fit into the definition of a leader.
- “Sift the meaningful from hype in Technology”: Too many leaders have paid the price of not understanding technology & sifting what really works for their business from pure hype. With the advent of MNCs in the 90s, everyone jumped onto the bandwagon of Psychometric Testing for selecting talent. Ultimately most junked it when positions remained vacant for months & those who passed the test failed in performance. In fact Technology has a huge nuisance value if it is used as a fad. I have always hated the innumerable buttons I need to press to reach a customer care executive for any service. Leaders need to get their facts about technology on-point & not get themselves entangled in a web that spells failure.
- “Don’t run your business reactively”: Reactive business, till recently, could keep one afloat. Not anymore. It’s no more about surviving by adapting to change. In today’s world, leaders need to correlate their organisation & industry with the rapidly changing domestic & global economic, political & social environment. In a world where uncertainty reigns, the future cannot be predicted, it has to be created. Knowledge aided by action is the key to success.
So here is my advice to the leaders of tomorrow—your past doesn’t define your future. Your past experience could in fact be your biggest obstacle for innovation & creativity. Think different, think wild, think weird & have the audacity to act on it.