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Inspiring Leadership: Time to Go Back to School

22/04/2014 13:33 BST | Updated 22/06/2014 10:59 BST

In Francis Ford Coppola's 1983 movie Rumblefish, Mickey Rourke's doomed anti-hero Motorcycle Boy mutters: "If you'd going to lead people, you have to have somewhere to go." It's a thought that CEOs of today's entertainment and media businesses might usefully ponder as they strive to lead their organisations - and their people - through the turbulence of digital disruption.

Why? Because, in my view, we're at an inflexion point when the world has changed beyond recognition across Entertainment and Media, but many leaders have yet to catch up. And the main reason they've been left behind is that digital is no longer about technology. Instead, it's a migration to a more complicated and faster-moving environment, where success is more about adopting a new mindset and ways of behaving than understanding the digital plumbing.

In such a world, analogue-era leadership - clunky, slow, top-down, autocratic - is rapidly running out of road. Often the junior employees 'get' digital better than their bosses, and the customers - especially the teenage ones - get it better than anyone. As a result, the old balance of knowledge between provider and customer, have been thrown neatly (or messily) into reverse.

Given that this is arguably the ultimate disruption that any business can face, the question is what companies - and their leaders - should do about it. At the Advertising Week Europe event a couple of weeks ago (https://advertisingweek.eu/about/), I had the privilege of moderating a panel of people at the forefront of thinking on disruptive leadership for a disrupted media age.

It may be a sign of today's pervasive flux that nobody on the panel disagreed on much, but nobody really agreed either. What they did was focus on different facets of the widescale and multi-dimensional change that leaders and their behaviour need to undergo to be successful and effective in the future. If there was a point of consensus, it was probably that new leadership will need new people: in E&M's year zero, the old guard may be too tainted by old thinking and structures to make the leap.

So, what did our panellists say? There's only time here for a whistle-stop tour, and I recommend you take a look at the video of the session (https://advertisingweek.eu/replay/#date=2014-04-03~video-id=206~venue=3). But, with apologies to the participants for précising their contributions so ruthlessly, here's a top-line point from each.

Rich Wilson of OSCA said leaders should abandon the 'heroic' ideal about climbing to the top to become CEO, and instead focus on being authentic about who they really are 'moment to moment'. Stewart Easterbrook of Mediacom stressed that the pace of change means leaders must keep on making decisions, while liberating their people by switching the focus from 'training' to 'personal development'.

Professor Linda Scott of Said Business School spoke of 'radical collaboration' as a route to empowerment of women worldwide, including scrutinising potential collaborators not for similarities but complementary strengths. And Ian Livingstone of Playdmic said we need to bring the classroom closer to the workplace, and start educating kids for jobs that don't yet exist.

If three messages for leaders ran through the debate, I'd say they were these: encourage experimentation; accept failure as part-and-parcel of success; and make space to reflect. To put it another way, if your teenage customers know more about your products than you do, then maybe they should be on your board. Now that would be a disruptive leadership team to send shivers through the competition.