We all know the devastating effect that Covid has had on the Australian economy, on Australians and specifically on the retail sector.
The pandemic is proving to be a challenge not only for the businesses and people it is affecting, but also the CEOs who run those businesses – and at a pace and scale unlike anything ever faced before.
It is this disruption that is imposing an abrupt change of how and where your colleagues work, how and where your customers shop, and how and when your supply chain functions.
While nobody wished this scenario on the world, some of the changes that have been created have been born out of necessity, some devastating to the people they affected. But the visionary in me also believes that some have great potential beyond this crisis.
Over my career I’ve been in the fortunate position of meeting and working with hundreds of CEOs across a vast range of sectors, industries and countries. I believe I have insights and common threads of what “great” looks like when it comes to the CEO, on how they perform and drive a people strategy during and post-crisis.
Meet the new CEO
Let’s compare the old and the new CEO: the candlestick-maker of yesteryear versus the “imaginator” of tomorrow’s world of work. (Imaginator (noun): a visionary inventor, innovator, entrepreneur, leader, ideas originator, inspirer and achiever for tomorrow’s world. NB: also, a word made up for this article to make my point!)
My strong belief that people, culture and climate (how people feel) are the three instruments that set one business apart from another. It is without question the leader’s responsibility to create and own that culture, to ensure that they personally live it and breathe it every day.
I often ask a CEO to describe the culture they are trying to build within their business; many just stare at me lost, often unable to respond. These are our candlestick-makers.
Conversely, there are some CEOs who are the courageous and truly authentic leaders of the modern day, who embrace culture in everything they do. These are our imaginators.
So much has been written on the importance of challenging the status quo. But, is being an inventor enough? Is being a disruptor a cliché? Are new ways of thinking passé? Or instead, do we need newer ways of thinking?
Today’s thinking demands the imaginator to build tomorrow’s world.
An imaginator is a CEO who is purposeful, but with passion and persistence.
As chief excitement officer, they will dynamically define the purpose, values, beliefs and the behaviours of the company, and will be the champion of those at all times. They will possess an unwavering ability to hold themselves accountable to all of these components – they truly own them.
I attended a conference once where “grit” was defined as both passion and persistence, and it is something that has resonated with me in my own career but also my assessment of CEOs and their businesses ever since.
Put purpose, passion and persistence together – and you have the imaginator.
Running a business is not supposed to be easy. If anyone thought that going around the mountain to get to the other side is the best option, they may be mistaken. Granted, it’s the easy option – but is it the right option?
The imaginator climbs up one side and confronts the uphill battle head-on, only then to descend the other side to victory. It’s the hardest route but gives the better return. It is these challenges that create strength in an organisation.
Makes tough decisions, but acts with empathy
Our imaginator is the person who has the courage to make the tough decisions and to have the hard conversations that nobody else wants to have. That said, how they deliver the messages which surround those tough decisions and conversation is what makes them tomorrow’s leader.
An outstanding example of this is Airbnb’s recent Covid-related global staff reduction. The CEO’s message to his entire workforce was beautifully crafted to convey one of the worst messages of all time but it was courageous because he made it human, empathetic, sincere and honest: chief empathy officer.
Our candlestick-maker is not used to making announcements like that in today’s world. Their voice would have been dogmatic, to the point, and void of all accountability and emotion.
They lack the empathetic know-how of our imaginator.
Inspires through storytelling
The imaginator is also the king or queen of storytelling. Not only are they the author of the play, but they will dress the actors, build the stage, compose the score and sell the tickets at the door.
Their story is one that you want to hear because their words and actions are true: chief engagement officer.
Our candlestick-maker, however, simply refers back to how things were done in years gone by: in the old paradigm, “What worked then will work now”.
Well, we all know that it doesn’t. It won’t. And it never will.
The storytelling imaginator of our modern age can put the narrative to the story, and genuinely and authentically put the passion to the purpose.
There are many different character traits that define a great storyteller, but people are inspired by courageous leaders they trust.
Authenticity is a trait that defines the CEO of today, and the imaginator of tomorrow.
Like the CEO of Airbnb, demonstrating empathy, speaking from a place of honesty, and genuinely from the heart is what will rally the troops and build a business that not only has a great culture but one where the climate of how people feel, will be recognised above its competitors.
The imaginator for tomorrow’s world of work will be somebody with high levels of emotional awareness, and who is connected with their feelings, and the feelings of their organisation. They will understand and listen to their customers and their colleagues alike – leaving our candlestick-maker firmly in the dark ages.
Empowers the next generation
If there’s one thing I have learned in my career is that purpose sits firmly at the centre of all decision-making. Once the candlestick-maker removes that purpose – then the story disappears.
Purpose is the reason why we exist. It is this that should drive our corporate, brand and people strategy. And it is this that will enable an organisation to attract, develop and retain the very best people.
It is the candlestick-maker who refers to purpose as a waste of valuable energy, time and money – yet it is they who will continue to drive a horse and cart through the cobbled streets of yesterday.
As any business navigates these uncharted territories, it is the responsibility of our imaginator as chief enablement officer, to empower and give every opportunity to their people to truly shine and do something amazing – as they will need to become the imaginators of tomorrow.
The courageous will invest in their people today and reap the benefits tomorrow, while the leaders of yesterday will fade away and extinguish like the candles they once made.
It is the imaginator who recognises that their most important asset in their entire business is their people.
Genuine imaginators will deliver tomorrow’s solutions today, harnessing their team’s commitment to collaborate and change simultaneously to push the boundaries of what can be achieved. If you can showcase what’s best and access the untapped possibilities to harvest potential, and nurture talent, then consider yourself an imaginator.
You have progressed to the next level of evolution in commercial and people leadership. You are a chief excellence officer with empathy, enablement, excitement and engagement.
Richard Wynn is managing partner at FutureYou Executive Recruitment and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 0448 416 172.