Any discourse on automation or digital disruption, inadvertently, ends up being about the impact on employees.
But how are chief executives dealing with this change, personally and professionally? How do they look at their role and contribution in this continuously changing business environment? These are some questions that do not elicit nearly adequate responses. A rare study, by Odgers Berndtson, Asia Pacific, tries to understand what is going on in the mind of apex company leaders in Asia-Pacific organizations. The study is based on face-to-face interviews with CEOs and regional CEOs from 70 MNCs across Asia-Pacific and shines a light on several interesting leadership trends in the region.
Key highlights of the study
- Nearly two-thirds of the CEOs (63 percent) say that they are ‘reacting’ to disruptive forces, rather than predicting and leading change.
- Just about one in four CEOs (26 percent) are of the view that they are ‘initiators’ of disruption. They have been investing in ‘technology and innovative business models’.
- 11 percent of the CEOs believe that they are ‘passive’ and are, as of yet, unaffected by the looming disruptions.
- An overwhelming 71 percent of the CEOs think that up to half the members of their leadership team ‘do not have the right mindset to be effective in a rapidly changing environment’.
- Most of the business challenges today are unique and have never been faced before.
The study says that a majority of the chief executives feel that most leaders were hired for skills that were relevant at a time, but today, a different mindset and leadership approach is required to combat the disruptive and volatile business environment today. Mark Braithwaite, Managing Director of Odgers Berndtson Asia Pacific, who conducted the interviews with the CEOs, says that “The rapid pace of change in Asia-Pacific makes it ideal to assess a challenge now facing all CEOs. Most of the CEOs interviewed are actively and urgently engaged in the issue. They clearly understand the importance of the challenge - these are very smart people. However many find it challenging to ensure their top teams also buy into the new journey. A common theme is that past success with current business models holds back the ability of individuals to accept the need for a new approach, the pace of change has stepped up and not everyone has the mindset to cope.”
There should be no doubt about the fact that everyone, including those at the helm, needs to adopt new practices and change their mindset in order to be future-ready. The task of today’s CEO is to prepare the workforce for the future and cultivate the leaders of tomorrow; and, if the results of the study are anything to go by, they are falling short. As leaders design the future of work and update their business models, it is essential that they are equipped with the right tools, the right talent, and the right knowledge. They need to experiment more, fail more, and learn more. To gain an edge over the competition, CEOs need to solve challenges proactively, as opposed to combating them as they appear. The strategies chalked and actions taken today will have a far-reaching impact, and will determine how we work in the future. However, a lot if left to be done.
Braithwaite concludes, “Research shows that globally, over a third of top executives already fail to deliver on their mandate. The fact that so many now see a yawning gap between the leadership abilities their companies need and those their senior teams currently have, is very worrying.”