leader 2019_

(Brooke Lark, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Simon Freakley, Chief Executive Officer, AlixPartners


In our current times of great change, people are questioning what it means to be a leader and rethinking what we expect from those chosen to lead. There are certain qualities that leaders should always embody, such as integrity, persistence and objectivity. But my involvement in the transformation of hundreds of companies has shown me that different strengths are required at different times. The following characteristics are critical for leading through disruption.

1. Communication

This is the most critical attribute on the list. A leader must think of themselves as akin to a Chief Communications Officer. They must not only set the strategic vision – where the team is going and how it will get there – but also develop and articulate clear messaging so the vision is easily and widely understood.

2. Urgency

In times of great disruption, not making decisions quickly can be just as destructive as making the wrong ones. Leaders must drive execution. This means some decisions will be made without the optimal level of input and information. The key is to make decisions that are “nearly right, but now”, then pivot if necessary when new information becomes available.

3. Collaboration

Success rests on the ability to engage the entire leadership team and other key stakeholders around a common vision and shared goals. This becomes critically important at various points throughout planning and execution. These groups will not only help to solve problems and navigate roadblocks, but they will also become evangelizers of your strategic vision, helping to communicate it broadly and inspire greater followership among stakeholders.

Focus on your team, championing others and calling out their achievements, while inspiring, motivating and leading by example. “Never on your own” is one phrase that always has stood out to me. In times of change, it should be your mantra.

4. Credibility and authenticity

Credibility is an important leadership attribute for any situation, but when leading through change it becomes even more critical. Many building blocks shape it. From a pragmatic standpoint, planning and sequencing various components of a plan and setting achievable milestones can certainly play a role. But so do so-called “soft skills”, such as acting with consistency and reliability, being a moral compass, having integrity and remaining calm.

5. Fearlessness

In times of disruption, you must be brave enough to make tough decisions. But you must also be bold and confident enough to remain optimistic, even as you navigate difficult times.

It takes a great deal of energy to counter pessimism, plenty of which you will encounter in times of change. The key is to be brave and steadfast in spite of it. Adopting a state of mind centred on personal growth can help, as well as the ability to see change and challenges as opportunities rather than setbacks.

6. Strategic mindset

Good leaders through disruptive times have an ability to see the big picture and understand the steps needed to achieve the desired outcome. But great leaders also have the grit to recognize what is realistic and achievable at a tactical level, as well as the timelines needed to execute effectively.

This knowledge, plus the ability to be both analytical and pragmatic, helps leaders to simplify complexity, which is an important component to a strategic approach.

7. Empathy

No one is immune to the fact that change is difficult. Even the most enlightened among us have moments of struggle. When leading through disruption, you must never lose sight of this fact.

You need to consider what your stakeholders are thinking and feeling at all times. Especially when the disruption is severe or new, there is a good chance these feelings will include fear, anger, resentment, and, once again, a dose of pessimism. You need to consider, from a place of genuine curiosity and understanding, just where these feelings are coming from so you can open a dialogue, address any issues and bring people along on your journey.

It has often been said there is no leadership without followership. The best leaders rely on their emotional intelligence to help motivate and inspire those around them.