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Leadership development in an ‘anything can happen’ era

Joana Proença de Carvalho, Senior Partner; Leadership Consulting PG Leader - Signium Lisbon

“In order to empower teams and successors to manage unexpected change, today’s C-suite candidates must have the power skills – or what used to be called the ‘soft skills,” says Proença de Carvalho; listing empathy, effective communication, delegation, agility and the ability to motivate an organisation as the indispensable attributes in an ‘anything can happen’ era.

For next-generation leadership, compromise will be key, she notes. “It’s important that current leaders develop culture and purpose, two areas that are the sweet spot for the upcoming leaders. This is a group we can’t expect to view a job or company as one they will spend their lives at.”

Rather than a fixed, single pool of succession, she says that C-suite must be prepared to create a pipeline of potential successors from which they can choose the best candidate for a position at any time.

Here, Signium’s global client, Juliet Agranoff, Senior Vice President, People, at Taiho Oncology, weighs in.

With her vast experience in developing strategic initiatives in organisational effectiveness and advising key stakeholders, Agranoff suggests business leaders prepare for rapid and unexpected events by creating task forces to drive the necessary changes when major global issues crop up, citing COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine as examples.

“Success will be determined by empowering the C-suite with a value set that encourages working within the company ethos and engendering accountability,” she asserts. “The vital characteristics of business leaders today include a global view, a good understanding of current world news events, and authenticity, agility, empathy and heart are vital.”

What of the succession C-suite? “These leaders must reflect the diversity of the world – different perspectives are crucial,” says Agranoff. “It’s not enough to be saying the right things – they must be able to listen carefully, understand all generations deeply and be wary of getting caught up in their own power.”

José Gonçalves, President of the Board & Country Managing Director of Accenture Portugal and a client of Signium Lisbon concurs, asserting that volatile times in particular require strategy, purpose, vision and an innate ability to anticipate change and agility to respond to new client needs.

“Business leaders – current and in the succession pipeline – must maintain a focus on value generation. Profitability will require skilled staff or retraining strategies that enable quality service and customer experience,” says Gonçalves.

“What was ‘good practice’ in the past is now imperative to attract the best customers. Corporate culture and performance start with leaders and must be visible to their markets. The broader value chain – meaning, both B2B and B2C customers – seeks worth.”

Gonçalves cites ethics and consideration of both staff and clients as attributes that will be noticed and valued. “Leaders who can empower teams to take charge and work together, rather than lead in a ‘top down’ fashion, will maintain a competitive edge.”

Leading in the TUNA world
Proença de Carvalho says, “Ours is a TUNA world – Turbulence, Uncertainty, Novel and Ambiguity. This means that when it comes to the C-suite mentoring  successors, it’s a two-sided issue: Younger talent has a lot to learn from today’s senior executives and the reverse is equally true. We have much to learn from them, not only in terms of new technologies and the digital world, but the way that they are looking to live life.”

Trends noted since GenX (41 – 57) and Millennials (ages 26 – 41) entered the workforce include less talk about “work-life balance and more “work-life integration. While remote working and work from home (WFH) has altered the physical workplace, flexibility is the key driver of integration.

“If you’re delivering results, it doesn’t matter whether you’re working 9 to 5 in an office or on a beach. People want the flexibility to make time for hobbies, doctor’s appointments, and family,” says Proença de Carvalho, noting that the value of flexibility has permeated workspaces and senior leaders have adopted the same outlook.

Agranoff asserts that this flexibility includes leadership development taking place online as well as face to face. “Working and learning styles differ between the generations, and future leaders appear to be more at ease with the virtual world. Accelerated by the pandemic, virtual has many benefits,” she says. “Leaders must continually seek the combination that will deliver the best results.”

Gonçalves points out that remote work requires far more competencies from management, and initiatives to bring colleagues together are important. “It’s a ‘leader versus manager’ era, and it takes a lot more skills, namely soft skills, and innovation to be a leader.”

“Whether virtual or in person, leaders are now required to go beyond activities and output to keep teams united,” he says. “It requires careful consideration, listening skills, and the ability to ensure that no one on the team is left out. Quality leadership will be that which combines careful consideration with business intuition.”

Wrapping up, Proença de Carvalho says: “Leaders need the foresight to want to listen, and to change. Current and potential C-suite members must be open to trying new things, because in a TUNA world, nobody can be completely certain of anything. There must be an understanding of self; of what you know and what you don’t know.”


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