Thought leadership

The World is Unfair to Today’s CEO

A hard premise to sell, one might think. How could conditions be unfair to today’s corporate CEO’s, who sit at the apex of our society, wield astonishing decision-making power and make the kind of income that the average citizen would find nearly unimaginable?

But in the opinion of L’Institut, the job of today’s CEO is impossible. Let us explain why.

1. Leadership is not what you were taught

According to The Guardian, the average age of today’s CEO is about 54. That means the average CEO was born in approximately 1961.

Our first experiences of different kinds of leadership styles and models begins in early childhood, but even if we were to fast forward to secondary school, when students are joining school sports teams and either being leaders or working right under them toward common goals, that would mean that the formative experiences of leadership happened during the 1970s and early 1980s for most current CEOs. Long before the internet (1997). Before globalization. Even before the Iron Curtain fell.

And, for today’s CEO, the first work experiences, which are often the most powerful in shaping one’s values as a professional, were happening while Ronald Reagan was in office.

Since then, the command and control method of leadership has been called into question repeatedly. New models of education such as Multiple Intelligence Theory (Howard Gardner) have taken a foothold in school systems. Daniel Goleman and his generation of authors have touted Emotional Intelligence as the key to effective leadership, with impressive research to back it up. In fact, the definition, role and expectations of leadership have undergone a significant shift in the 21st century.

But the vast majority of leaders had already solidified their values and behaviours as leaders far before any of these ideas hit the streets.

2. Today’s consumers and employees are aliens

Let’s add another layer to this picture. When one is on a clear trajectory to become a CEO, at a certain point, one starts to lose touch with the real world. Teams of secretaries, analysts, assistants take over to act as buffer between the leader and the world at large. Senior executives find themselves primarily interacting with others in similar positions – both socially and professionally. It’s only human. Therefore, many a CEO starts to detach from real life, existing in a cultural bubble.

Meanwhile, new generations of consumers and employees have emerged that are made of an entirely different DNA. They are entirely ‘wired’ from birth, having a natural affinity for technology that is light years beyond what those who grew up in the 20th century could boast. Their access to information, ideas, options, ways of being, ideologies, is spectacular. And the subsequent expectation of personal control over one’s choices – again is markedly different from any previous generation.

The sense of expectation warped and evolved as well, with generations of children watching billionaires born at the age of 25, followed by entire institutions going up in smoke after 9/11 and the global financial crisis.

The distrust of institutions and the intense desire to connect with peers (people you can trust far more than your parents or some faceless corporation) became pronounced. And as a result, their approach to work and interaction with brands is fundamentally different from previous generations.

Very few CEOs truly remained in tune with these changes. And, perhaps unconsciously, continue to apply 1980s leadership principles to consumers and employees who are not only living in, but actively shaping, the 2010s.

Therefore, It is no wonder that Millennials seem like aliens to today’s CEOs.

Creativity requires redefining and a fundamental re-wiring.

3. Creativity is an attitude, not a process

There’s no question that the importance of creativity and innovation to business success has been recognized. In fact, there are over 10,000 titles on Amazon that relate to creativity and business in some way.

But for leaders who were raised in cultures and during an era where one was not encouraged to be “creative” as a business manager, the assumptions placed around creativity are based on outdated or seriously misinformed ideas. The companies where creativity abounds, such as Tesla, are few and far between.

Creativity in business or any other aspect of human life begins with a fundamental attitude. One that values ‘experimentation’ over a blind obedience to outcomes. One that allows for mistakes and crazy ideas. One that encourages the exercise of imagination, and that allows people of different backgrounds to come together, just as children collide on a playground.

Some companies have started “Offices of Innovation” (a soul-killing term if we ever heard one) and tried to install an “innovation process” within their organizations, rarely with much success.

Creativity requires redefining and a fundamental re-wiring. Creativity – either pure or applied – is a necessary skill in today’s economy and we firmly believe that this must be instilled into corporate cultures and developed in all employees.

4.Great ideas come from connected intelligence, not from silos

At L’Institut, we are fundamentally committed to helping CEOs and the leadership of ambitious organizations – discover and develop Great Ideas. Ideas that will truly change the way you do business and transform the way the world sees and interacts with you.

And we know, from our experience working with companies in many different industry sectors, that Great Ideas rarely come from silo’d organizations, where people’s minds are limited by job descriptions and trapped within the routinized thought patterns of their particular functional area.

Great ideas are far more likely to occur under conditions that are conducive to a particular phenomenon called Connected Intelligence. Connected Intelligence is what happens when a diverse and intelligent group of people are released from their silos and are allowed to interact in a highly focused but non-linear manner toward a common creative purpose – to the point where they connect as one mind that is ‘receiving’ Great Ideas as a radio receives a radio station.

Only with Connected Intelligence at work does the ultimate “aha” occur to a leader: That we are no longer living in the age of leadership. We are living in the Age of Ideaship.

5. Leadership in the Age of Ideaship

The new leader is one who creates the conditions for Great Ideas to emerge from anyone and anywhere and has the courage to implement them. A leader who has the vision and passion to inspire and engage all stakeholders. A leader who is committed to doing whatever it takes to promoting Ideaship – relentlessly, enthusiastically, authentically – within their organization.

Are you ready for the challenge?



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