A leadership gap is opening up between the people at the helm of a business and those they are leading – with the role becoming ever harder. That was the argument put forward by renowned leadership speaker and experienced non-executive director, chairman and investor Nigel Cushion at a recent masterclass run by Future 50 sponsor Lovewell Blake.
Mr Cushion introduced his ‘Seven Leadership Challenges In Business’, calling on those in leadership positions in business to ‘be authentic, be yourself’ as they tackled today’s leadership challenges.
Defining a leader as ‘someone who has followers who choose to follow you’, he identified the first challenge as a fundamental change in the world of work, driven by technology. “Work used to be a place we went to, now it’s something we do,” he said.
“Eighty per cent of employment growth is outside organisations, in the gig and sharing economy. And yet the government’s employment strategy is all based on organisations. That presents problems for leaders, who must lead a more transient, dispersed workforce.”
The second leadership challenge is that information has become the new factor of production, according to Mr Cushion. “Leaders need to know that the quantity of information is exploding – for most it has gone past the tipping point,” he told the audience.
“It’s instant, it doesn’t stop, and business leaders today have to deal with a huge quantity of misleading and wrong information which is out there amongst customers and staff alike. Old-school management information systems, on which leaders used to be able to rely, are no longer fit for purpose.”
Mr Cushion defined his third leadership challenge as being ‘Health – we are under attack’. Driven by technology and information overload, today’s workforce is seeing unprecedented levels of mental health problems, leading to sickness and absence.
“This is the number one issue for leaders – it’s happening to our people, and it’s happening to ourselves. Unless your business is unique, 95 per cent of the people in it arriving tomorrow will be under stress.” He said that leaders must recognise this as a ‘Mental Health Attack’ and react as military leaders would if they found themselves under attack.
The fourth leadership challenge identified by Mr Cushion is that of identity. Whereas in the past personal identity may have been a relatively simple equation, in today’s world people identified in many more diverse ways, whether by race, gender, sexuality, nationality or even Brexiteer/Remainer.
This diversity presents its own particular leadership challenge, and makes a shared sense of purpose within an organisation behind which everybody can rally, regardless of their personal identity, ever more important.
The next challenge identified by Mr Cushion is trying to second-guess the future. There are a whole host of potential challenges waiting in the wings, including VR and robotics, the growth of the sharing economy, artificial intelligence, the internet of things and social impact investing – all of which will require leaders to change the way they do things, but in ways which we cannot yet predict.
Leadership is now more fluid and in flux than ever before, and the modern leader has to try and future-proof themselves as much as possible.
The sixth leadership challenge is one which has been around for rather longer: what Mr Cushion calls the ‘Band of Brothers’. In small businesses especially, the owner-manager often fulfils many functions, all of them leadership roles: leading the Board as chairman and leading the company as managing director, for example.
But leaders need people to help them lead, and in small firms it isn’t always obvious where that ‘Band of Brothers’ lies – perhaps as external coach or mentor, or non-executive director. It is crucial to have the right people in the right leadership roles, beyond the single owner-manager.
Finally, Mr Cushion identified the Leadership Gap as his seventh challenge. Research shows that most of us are more likely to be inspired by friends and family or peers and colleagues than by our business leaders.
In a rapidly changing world, getting people to follow you as a business leader is increasingly challenging – but the good news is that people are looking for that inspirational leader. “People want to be led, they want to get behind a shared vision and be inspired. The challenge for business leaders is to understand where that leadership gap lies, and to have the confidence to be authentic and be yourself to take on that role,” said Mr Cushion.Nigel Cushion was presenting the first Lovewell Blake Building Brilliance in Business Masterclass, a year-long series of free masterclasses aimed at helping owners and managers of businesses. Future subjects will include the importance of brand, staying safe online, digital marketing, wellbeing in the workplace, legal issues and mediation, PR and the media, and creative thinking. Full details can be found here