Why inclusive leaders must give workers a voice

The chief executive’s role is changing from the traditional command and control approach to one of inclusive and purposeful leadership – Marianne Curphey discusses this issue with leading experts (abridged).

Business has changed fundamentally and, while returns to shareholders remain a priority for the chief executive, this has to be paired with a greater emphasis on sustainability and purpose. The role of a CEO has become that of a chameleon, says Tom Johnson, chief digital officer, global clients, at WPP’s Mindshare.

“Disruption isn’t specific to a new industry or new technology, it now permeates every facet of business and every type of industry,” he says. “It means, as a leader, you constantly have to evolve, both your vision and leadership of people.” In a fast-moving world focused on quick change, you must be willing constantly to transform yourself. “A CEO must focus on developments in the same way that machine-learning works: take on board knowledge, iterate change and develop to the wider network,” says Mr Johnson. As a result, the role of the CEO is not just about leading from the top, but also engaging those below.

“Leaders should get under the skin of what employees are thinking,” says Adrian Moorhouse, former Olympic gold-medal swimmer and founder of management consultancy Lane4 . “This involves going well beyond the metrics like current revenue and targets.” What’s more, it is important to understand that profitability and sustainability are not going to be mutually exclusive going forward.Company life expectancy is falling and is expected to be just 12 years by 2027. Mr Moorhouse says this indicates leaders are finding it increasingly difficult to deliver sustainable performance. “There are some real challenges for business leaders at the moment, including the rise of artificial intelligence, political volatility and demographic changes, all of which add to the uncertainty they face,” he says. To succeed in this new context, leaders don’t just need to change their behaviour, but will also have to adapt how they think and act, he adds.

Leading by example means demonstrating a willingness to create a highly inclusive culture, which goes deeper than simple quotas. A CEO must provide opportunities for all ages, gender and ethnicity

Teresa Boughey, author of Closing the Gap: 5 Steps to Creating an Inclusive Culture, says employees will look to leaders that care about others, those who proactively take time to get to know and understand their workforce, and are willing to listen. “Inclusive and purposeful leaders are curious,” she says. “They have an unquenchable thirst for learning; they are open to new ideas and encourage sharing
of ideas to enable growth, not only of the business, but of its people.”

In the end, a business is nothing without its staff, and it is the people you inspire and motivate who will help you achieve the vision you have mapped out for your company.