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Why Leaders Must Become Future Fit To Avoid Long-Term Failure

13/03/2017 11:35
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Being a leader in any organisation can sometimes be a lonely job, with this feeling only accentuated in times of great business and political uncertainty. Just look what is happening to Marissa Mayer, CEO at Yahoo; she is taking all the blame for the recent data breaches at the company, when many others are being let off the hook. In times like these, preparation becomes an essential skill of a successful leader; not only for the immediate and near-term, but also for building a state of future-readiness.

Over recent years, as pace of change and decision-making has increased, an organisation's outlook has become more fixated on the short-term. One of the most famous examples of this is Blockbuster, whose CEO declined an opportunity to buy Netflix for $50 million in 2000, thinking it was a "very small and niche business". Netflix is now a $33 billion company, highlighting how essential it is to consider the long-view.

The fact that this is the best way to protect and grow a business in times of rapid change and uncertainty has been emphasised by Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever. He, along with a group of other CEOs and business leaders, have signed up to the American Prosperity Project, an initiative spearheaded by the Aspen Institute, to encourage companies and the nation to engage in more long-term thinking.

However, a long-term outlook, whilst valuable, is only one element of a future fit leader. Research and analysis into what makes a leader more fit for the future has revealed that there are six key behaviours that they must exemplify to prepare - and secure - the best possible future for their businesses:

  1. Consider the longer-term; the possible and probable evolutions of your sector and your future customers.
  2. Continuously innovate and evolve to capitalise on the future needs and desires of your customer.
  3. Be agile and have the ability to react to trends, whilst taking practical steps to bring about change in your organisation.
  4. Have the credibility and adaptability to stretch into new roles should opportunities present themselves.
  5. Behave in a conscious way towards the community, environment and planet, whilst also taking significant steps to be aware of and reduce negative impacts.
  6. Take care of the ultimate, scarce resources; your employees. A future fit leader not only strives for a highly engaged, motivated team, but they also have high levels of diversity within teams and high proportions of females in senior and board positions.

One leader that represents nearly all of these behaviours is the CEO of Nike, Mark Parker. He has taken care of short-term responsibilities, whilst also seizing new opportunities such as 'Express Lane' - a system which allows Nike to cut down the time between design and availability on shelves; leading to more investment and growth. He speaks extensively about the future and has a high percentage of female directors, demonstrating that he is planning for the long-term and creating a modern working culture.

To truly be fit for the future, a leader must excel in all six of these behaviours. Like in personal fitness, just buying the best gym kit is not enough - it must be combined with a good diet, exercise, mental toughness and commitment. These six behaviours embody the future fit leader; a leader who is well prepared for what's next. Preparation is everything, especially if you want to turn uncertainty into opportunity.

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