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Thom Dennis

Serenity in Leadership Ltd


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How will leaders steer the ship in 2023?

Thom Dennis provides his insights into the leadership trends and traits for 2023.

After what felt like a very long 12 months, we are in a new year and that means there will undoubtedly be new trends that leaders can look to in order to refresh their skills or bring something different into the mix.

Rather than concentrating on the gloom and negativity of an impending recession, our leaders are focusing on alternative ways of navigating the businesses, taking a more pragmatic and long-term view where culture, innovation and ethical leadership are placed front and centre of the organisation. So what are these new approaches?

Visionary leaders have a better way of communicating their mission and objectives

1. Inspirational visionaries

Dean Carter who led global HR and Shared Services at the ground-breaking company Patagonia and is now a director of Griffith Foods, the global traceable and sustainable food ingredients experts said in a recent interview with me: “A leader for me is someone who has a compelling view of the future and their way of looking at the future is a very compelling thing to align behind. They also know their vision always has to be possible and the team need to be able to clearly see the actions that can be taken to get there.” Dean argues that visionary leaders have a better way of communicating their mission and objectives and can harness their narrative in such a way that it makes people want to be a part of making that vision happen.

2. Not just talking the talk

Leaders will regularly need to re-examine if they are on track and are still aligned with their mission statement, values and purpose, and leading clearly with those at the forefront. During tumultuous times we need responsible leaders more than ever. A recent study of nearly 700 US companies showed a scant correlation between stated company values and employee perceptions of the organisation so this will have to change in the very near future. 

3. Add more fun to the mix

Leaders understand they need to re-create a hybrid workplace where workers want to be, to see friends, explore ideas, make a difference, learn and find meaning. Do these things well, and retention problems will be eased. You have to make money to stay in business, but you keep employees during otherwise difficult times if they are engaged, learning, and increasingly enjoying themselves. As Dean said about culture: “If we’re talking about making it fun, it probably isn’t fun”, and advocated for CEOs who don’t take themselves too seriously.

4. Be employee-centric

This means taking a firm line on sharing the burdens, reducing toxicity and burnout in the workplace, and wanting the best for colleagues’ mental and physical health. Being individual-employee-centric and offering flexibility and support are key.  

During times of transition, such as a merger or private equity deal, the quality of a business’s management team is the most-cited reason for deal success

5. Value cultural intelligence

Senior executives and partners serve as a model for vision, purpose, and company culture and there is a 750% differential in profits at companies with aligned and mature cultures versus those that fail to cultivate their cultures. CQ is an easily learned and developed, but extremely important skill.

6. Build quality management teams

Leaders who are in high-performing C-Suites say they are 42% more effective at managing complex initiatives, 31% more effective at delivering stakeholder value, and 30% more effective at attracting top talent. During times of transition, such as a merger or private equity deal, the quality of a business’s management team is the most-cited reason for deal success and second for deal failure. 

7. Tech-savvy

Technology is always evolving, offering new opportunities for CEOs looking to transform their business. That’s especially true when pursuing net-zero. It is also true for companies that are making the shift to put software at the heart of their business. Leaders will be looking for innovators with software experience and who want to explore the use of AI in the context of responsibility, trustworthiness and ethics. The trend is for an increasing number of members of the C-Suite to have software experience.

8. Allow others to step up

The best leaders are those who enable their people to make good decisions. Admiral Horatio Nelson is still today recognised as an inspirational leader and an incredible tactician. He knew that once the battle started, there would not be any possibility of communicating between ships so instead he empowered each of his captains to take decisions and risks.

He did this by sharing his strategy and discussing and communicating in depth with them so they could act with autonomy because they really knew each other and understood the desired outcome. There has been a trend in leaders towards autocracy in recent years – this rarely works over a period of time and makes succession extremely difficult. Leaders need to empower, build morale and make their teams feel entrusted. 

9. Remove sycophants and ask for advice and opinions

The leaders of 2023 understand that they need to listen and learn from others to improve and grow themselves. We simply cannot do it all ourselves. These leaders also know that at some stage someone is going to do it better than them and power sharing is in the best interest of everyone, including ourselves.  Successful leaders will surround themselves not with sycophants but with people who will question them and provide alternative opinions, feedback and solutions. 

Expect to see leaders take bigger, more courageous and more meaningful leaps of faith to support important causes

10. Be led by purpose and values

In 2016 Patagonia announced that it would donate 100 per cent of its global retail and online sales from the shopping event on Black Friday straight to grassroots organisations that work in local communities to “protect our air, water and soil for future generations”. They made a record-breaking $10 million in sales during the event, a figure five times greater than expected, along with massive media coverage. As the cost of living and environmental crises rage on in 2023, expect to see leaders take bigger, more courageous and more meaningful leaps of faith to support important causes.

Interested in this topic? Read How leaders can develop future-minded skills.

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