Opinion: What does the business leader of the future look like?

by Chris Jackson

By Bianca Robinson

In my role as CEO of CEO Sleepout UK – a charity whose mission is to unite business leaders around a call to end homelessness for good, I see all kinds of leaders who want to make a difference, who want to see a fairer, more equitable society, and a kinder, more compassionate world. 

They come to a CEO Sleepout for one night, sleeping out on the hard ground, braving the noise and cold at Lord’s Cricket Ground, or Emirates Old Trafford in Manchester, or St James Park in Newcastle (and many more venues across the UK) – and we unlock a deeper understanding of what it means for a person to be homeless.

My message for each and every business leader or exec who takes part is that they have an immense power and the opportunity to use it to help create the world they want. They can choose to lead with purpose. 

Leading with purpose means bringing your personal values, particularly those that relate to environmental and social responsibility to the heart of the organisation and embedding them with baked-in policies, procedures and activities that allow them to live and breathe through everything you do.

This type of leadership – or stewardship – means you assume responsibility for your patch and to make sure that it leaves a robust and thriving footprint that enriches society rather than depletes it.

So why is it so crucial that we see leaders with purpose emerging now? I always make a point of letting my business audiences know that it’s fantastic to enjoy the fruits of their hard work, blood, sweat and tears – and savour every success. But I ask them to challenge the definition of success: if success has come off the backs of low-paid workers, or at the expense of the environment, then can you really call it success?

Leaders like Dan Price, the CEO who cut his pay by a million dollars so all workers could make at least $70,000 per year is one of a cohort of leaders demonstrating a collaborative version of success – success that returns value to a number of stakeholders: the workforce, the families of those workers, the community, society and the environment.

Right now, we’re seeing a convergence of market forces conspiring to make a step-change in the way we do business. Of course we have the global climate emergency, but the pandemic has also highlighted the question of front line workers, who are traditionally the lowest paid, but are now more highly valued than ever before. We’re also seeing global growth rates peaking and AI on the cusp of obliterating a swathe of traditional jobs.

All this is taking place as a new generation – the first to be digital native, comes to the fore. Young people born between 1995 and 2000 (Gen Z) make up 25 per cent of the workforce. They are natural problem-solvers. They are socially conscious and values-orientated having grown up with the world’s problems, causes, disruptions and social movements surging through their veins via the device at their fingertips.

Coming of age during the global financial crisis of 2008, Gen Z has a healthy dose of scepticism when it comes to how businesses interact with society. They have higher expectations for the businesses they support and work for than any previous generation. 

Gen Z is already spending and their spending power is growing rapidly:. They are looking for leaders who model honesty, accessibility, accountability and transparency. This means our leaders must use the power they have to rise to this opportunity. Young people are a vital market force driving a fairer, more equitable and more sustainable world.

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