Leadership of the Future - Interview

by Bartosz Soroczyński

You have accepted the invitation to speak in front of the audience of Global Business Leadership Summit, which will be in Budapest this year. What is the main highlight of your speech?

The main highlight is that leadership is not what it used to be. I’m trying to elaborate on what is the new role of leaders. The leader used to be and still is a regulator of a complex system, however we are all facing huge changes in terms of the profile of our employees, business models and many other aspects of future leadership. We need to shape the leadership in the era of millennials – better understand how to motivate and lead people, who need it to a limited extent. We need to shape the leadership in the era of platforms – how to lead companies that are de facto brokers across markets and have limited control over the entire (value creation) process. We need to shape leadership in the era of information overflow – leader is not any more a role model and can not make impact by having better access to information. We need to focus much more on vertical development and also take into consideration the continued transfer of greater developmental ownership to the individual, rather than the manager or the supervising leader. We can observe a greater focus on collective rather than individual leadership, including the influence of networked organizations, a much greater focus on innovation in leadership development methods. On top of that we are heavily driven by the interconnectedness of systems and business communities. It all sounds complex, but as always, the main thing is to focus on the main thing. What is nowadays the main thing – we need to answer if we still want to and if are we able to become OUTSTANDING. Exactly – being outstanding and stimulating others to become outstanding might still be the essence of leadership, taking into consideration so many variables. 

There were many challenges for the businesses over the last few years. This has influenced the leaders and their teams as well. What is your main actual professional leadership challenge?

Leadership is a long journey, unique for everyone, for every organization, for every team, for every manager, for every leader. Conscious shaping of the teams with additive competencies leads to extraordinary results. My ongoing key professional leadership challenge is to find the right talent, with the right potential to complement with the existing team and current business challenges. It takes quite some time to achieve an advanced leadership maturity level, but in the meantime we need to achieve short term results, deliver our KPIs, increase shareholder value, improve competitiveness, lower the overall risk facing our organization and also develop efficient operations. In my opinion all of the above can be achieved in an almost predictable way by the right mix of leadership competencies and skills in the team supported by ongoing development programs.

If you have to compare the last 5 years how you will describe the changes of the economic situation and how it influenced the leadership requirements?

We can observe more and more pressure on short term results, the increased influence and importance of internal competition in organizations, an even more severe need for differentiation and provisioning of added value. It is much more difficult to finance different types of projects and initiatives, very commonly using completely new business models such as infrastructure as a service in the long term government investments. Some of the priority leadership competencies used in the past were leadership with no formal influence, informed judgement, systematic approach. Now we are much more focusing on skills such as thinking financials (always…), thinking business value – yes – also always, both for internal and external activities, but also supporting and growing the innovation DNA of our organization.

What is the easiest way to grow leadership in the company?

I have always worked with external consultants, have used ongoing assessments, 360-degree feedback, have always tried to sponsor many programs to drive the growth and to continuously refresh the leadership in the extended organization. By the extended organization I mean also the partners, suppliers, strategic alliances. Cross company coaching and mentoring programs have delivered outstanding results, both for the development of the leadership competencies of the attendees, but also improved cooperation and better understanding of the cultures of different organizations. What is key to grow the leadership is the self-awareness on all layers of the organization, essentialism – to focus on the really important things, to continually challenge our leadership, to try to add some humor to it, and there we go.

What are the critical competencies for the leaders required by the business environment?

Leading by a vision, a vision of something better or even outstanding. It is critical to understand where we are, when it comes to maturity, our talent and willingness versus competencies and possibilities. As described by Claus there are two perspectives – of the employee and of the organization, most often there is a huge gap. Currently we need to understand much more competencies, monitor them and enable growth. I have already mentioned a few of the traditional and new competencies; there is no one system that covers it all. It is important to develop your own formula for success, your own programs, to create a platform for leadership competencies development, to get the buy in from various stakeholders, to identify your key talents and change leaders. Sounds obvious, but it is not the case in many companies. I also want to highlight the use of after action reviews, the assignment of change agents for small programs and focus on leadership with no formal authority as the critical skills used to drive the ongoing transformation of our business.  

Many leaders are striving to keep the information when there are company, team or leadership failures. What is the hardest part in accepting the failure and what is the role of the leader?

The answer is actually very much related to the culture and part of the world we are working in. Sometimes we are trying to find and blame the people responsible, sometimes we are trying to analyze the processes, and yes – we are way too much focused on processes. In the more mature cultures we are focusing on the after action reviews, to better understand what worked well, what didn’t work, and first of all – how we can improve in the future. Still there is a lot of focus on processes, but in some cases we are already thinking in the leadership competencies scale. We are trying to develop and invest in the competencies that will eliminate the failure and class of failures in the future. The other thing, unfortunately very common, is an incorrect setup of key performance indicators in the organization, sometimes introducing internal conflicts, frictions, but sometimes also leading to a situation, where nobody is explicitly responsible for a particular part of the business or process. Proper target and KPI setting can help us here as well.

Do you have an example of a critical leadership decision in your career that seemed to be frightening before you have taken it?

We are living in the era of conflicting targets, strategies, priorities. And the leaders are getting the biggest hit – they need to work on extremely demanding revenue targets, overcome extreme competitive pressures, drive in an innovative way the differentiation of products, services and offerings. At the same time very often they need to run some small battles inside the organization, influencing the teams with their own agenda and priorities. And so on, and so on, but hold on – they also need to develop “the outstanding team”, and this is the absolute top priority. I have worked as a transformational leader on a number of cases, with similar as above conflicting targets. The most critical leadership decision is to accept such a role, with all the aspects and dimensions taken into account. Becoming a transformational leader, a kind of a problem solver, like Winston Wolf in Pulp Fiction, seems to be frightening, especially in the current economic environment. But it always makes you learn, further develop yourself, understand new cultures. And there is quite a demand on the market for such problem solvers.

Which management and leadership principles do you believe are important for the company and team efficiency?

I do strongly believe in the importance of ongoing education and self-development. The employee is becoming more and more responsible for this process. To keep it short – at least we need to achieve the second of the three levels of possessing the knowledge – to know what we don’t know. Then my recommendation is to apply everyday essentialism, as described by Greg McKeown in his famous book. Then it’s really simple – we lead by example. Let’s remember to keep asking ourselves – are we only growing or are we really developing?

How do you manage your private time?

Ha!, that’s tricky. Taking into account the number of supervised businesses, thinking about the society, spending quite some time on education & development… there’s is almost no time left. But seriously speaking, I think I’m subconsciously applying different leadership principles to my private time as well. Always trying to maintain the right work/life balance, use the free time in a clever, efficient way. Think family, eat well, stay fit, think yourself. Yes, it is important to focus on yourself as well from time to time.

What do you think is important about the leaders’ reputation and how important is for the organizational reputation?

Building over the years your profile, your ecosystem, your global network of contacts, building trust and rapport, both internally and externally, being predictable, being professional and systematic – these are some of the key factors influencing your and the organizational reputation. It is not something managed in an artificial way, it grows with yourself, you just need to follow the right vision.

A lot of leaders share their concerns about finding, keeping satisfied, the retention rates and the future demands of the business. What do you believe will be the biggest investment in people management and the biggest challenge of the leaders?

The biggest challenge of the leaders will be to develop the right competencies and styles for the right role & function in the team. These roles and functions are continuously changing in a rapid way, combined with the change of the profile of the young generation. Major investment is expected in the areas of vertical development and collective rather than individual leadership. Precisely planned shaping and development of collective leadership will lead to differentiation and will definitely help us to overcome the competitive pressures.

What advice can give to those who are willing to receive their chance as a leader?

In my opinion being a leader is the most rewarding profession in the world... Many years ago someone told me that being a salesman is the most rewarding profession, which is not always true, by the way, it can be very disappointing as well. But at this stage we have already come to a conclusion that every leader is an outstanding sales person. And a very clever sales person. A clever sales person, at the beginning of a sales season develops a formula for success, knows exactly how to achieve the best result by working as little as possible and having some fun as well. We know that lazy people are the masters of efficiency. So, the leader needs to develop such a plan, and have some fun. And finally – not everybody is predisposed to become a great sales person or a great leader; it is highly advisable to think in advance about all the things you need to sacrifice to become one. Good luck!


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