Every day, I have the privilege of encountering outstanding people as I travel to Amrop clients and offices all over the globe and interview exceptional leadership candidates. And one common theme strikes me: aim, persevere, and you will achieve.
Recently I met Kiran Bedi, India’s first female police officer. After entering the force in 1972 she rose through the ranks to become Director General of the Bureau of Police Research and Development in 2007. Along the way, she won eight tennis championships, introduced widely-publicized reform to Delhi’s Tihar Jail, and engaged in social activism and anti-corruption. Her seventeen awards include the United Nations Medal for Outstanding Services.
What drives Kiran Bedi? In a 2010 TED talk, she cites something her parents told her: “100 things happen in your life, good or bad. Out of 100, 90 are your creation. They’re good, enjoy it. If they’re bad, they’re your creation. Learn from them. 10 are nature-sent, over which you can’t do a thing… you’ve just got to respond to the situation. But that response comes out of those 90 parts.”
It was this ‘90/10’ philosophy that inspired Kiran Bedi’s approach to policing – and the rest of her career.
As a global executive search partnership that identifies and positions Leaders For What’s Next, Amrop is in a prime position to help individuals and organizations to aim, persevere and achieve in a climate of unpredictability and turbulence. To follow their own ‘90/10’ rule.
The Boards of the organizations we serve are tackling multiple talent issues: installing diversity not just of demographics but of thought, competing in the global war for talent, leading fluid teams in a virtual environment, and surfing the tide of digitization. All these challenges are underpinned by the ever more strident call from society, shareholders and stakeholders for leaders to make decisions in a wiser and more sustainable way than ever before.
The executive search industry is also evolving fast. To earn the title of trusted advisors, we must ensure that leadership hiring is hotwired to the strategic machinery of fast-moving and ambitious organizations. And we must understand and answer the motivations of a new generation of leaders –whose drivers and careers may look and feel very different to those of their predecessors.
It is our duty and opportunity to innovate.
So we have to ask, what kind of leaders stand the best chances of being hired and retained today? What does the Leader For What’s Next look like?
Firstly, if knowledge once ruled, today’s open source and collaborative environment means that it is no longer the supreme driver. And if academic qualifications may be criteria for initial hiring filters, even these are commoditizing. Instead, the drive is for leaders to find sustainable solutions, fast. Deeper attitude and personality are today’s differentiators. So, too, is hands-on experience of driving transformation in demanding circumstances, from growth and globalization, to re-structuring, diversification and the relentless need to innovate.
Communication, ever the cornerstone of excellent leadership, is conducted in bits and bytes, in global English and across cultures, demanding fluency in every dimension.
Certainly, IQ, job title, track record and reputation still matter. Still more important is a leader’s capacity to anticipate, flex and adapt, to rapidly understand and assimilate organizational culture, add measurable value, prepare the road ahead and engage others to pursue it.
I recently conducted a search for a Head of Digital Transformation. The hiring organization was still reeling from the 2008 crisis. Not only were candidates unphased by the financial situation of their potential new employer, they were lining up. What drove them? The best shared an over-riding need to achieve, and the situation in which the organization found itself was the perfect platform to make a positive, significant change for the better.
Instability, for better or for worse, is everywhere we look. A leader’s personal roadmap is likely to be shifting on an almost constant basis. Senior executives must be prepared to change function, position, or geographical location at a moment’s notice. A job title is an emphemeral label. What underlies it matters far more. Today’s leaders don’t just need to be able to withstand the waves of change, they must surf them - and be ready to get soaked.
This brings me back to Kiran Bedi’s 90/10 rule. It implies embracing and learning from failure. No-one has the perfect answer. The best leaders ask the perfect questions, with goodwill and integrity. So I ask my candidates, how many times have you failed? How do you create an environment that builds failure, and learning from failure, into the mix?
Given all of this, it’s essential that leaders maintain a flourishing mind, body and spirit. A ‘true north’ remains critical, not only for the personal resilience of leaders, but for the health of their close entourage, the wellbeing of the people they lead and ultimately, the vitality of the organizations they serve.
To aim, persevere and achieve has never been more difficult, nor has it ever been more exciting. Whether you are seeking Leaders For What’s Next, or whether you are such a leader, I look forward to our encounter.