Valuable Wisdom

CEO Wisdom – boardroom coaches share insights from global leaders in ambiguous times by Georgina Woudstra, Co-founder of Wisdom8


Wisdom8’s global coaches asked senior business leaders what the ambiguous climate is demanding from them as leaders – the answers were paradoxical:

1. Caution and optimism
In these ambiguous times, companies tend to focus on cutting costs. Clearly this is a key focus for many organisations, but it will not guarantee the business is ahead of the game when the economy rebounds. Clayton Witter, MD of Beko UK, maintains “we can’t change the fact that markets in our sectors are shrinking, but we can continue to look for opportunities to grow our sales and take profitable market share from our competitors…maintaining a mindset of optimism is vital.”

2. Urgency and discipline
There is a strong sense of urgency currently occurring within the marketplace. Paul Bray, MD of enterprise markets for Atos Origin mentions that the speed of process and speed of decision making are essential ingredients in making the business more flexible and able to adapt to the changing environment. Veera Johnson, CEO of Procserve, supports this, saying “we need to continue to focus on what we do well, to be really organised and disciplined and make decisions quickly in order to deal with the uncertainties.”

3. Confidence and realism
Confidence is all about being positive but also seeing the true reality. One MD urges “acknowledge the reality and its impact on all stakeholders, explore it and then find the path to a different place, describe it taking people there even for the most brief moment gives them hope and confidence for the future.” Building on this, Bray asserts the need to be resolute: “Despite the gloom we need to be clear in our direction, even if this changes frequently, and be decisive.”

4. Customers and focus
The current economic climate is the perfect time to get closer to your customer, not to sell to them, but to understand their challenges and anxieties better. This, in turn, will enable your organisation to innovate solutions to support your clients better. Bray says “We need to be putting our clients first –ensuring that interactions with them are a top priority.” Johnson, says that their customers are focusing on what little resources they have and getting as much ROI as they can – “this puts pressure on the entire leadership team to stay focused and remain very attuned to each customer’s needs and to what is happening more widely in the market.”

5. Listen and talk
Employees, stakeholders and customers are looking to company’s leadership to provide confidence. One MD advises “Communication – listen, listen, listen and talk – in that ratio. Listen to the market, listen to your shareholders and listen to your people and then explain how you are responding, the reality of the situation and how you can overcome the challenges.”

Johnson describes the need to communicate at more granular levels of detail about the strategy and the plans for the business. Bray urges “be honest in your communication and give a realistic assessment of what could happen, both good and bad. If there have to be job cut-backs, then be up-front about it.”

6. Clarity and ambiguity
Leadership is full of paradox, and paradoxes can’t be solved; only managed. A key leadership mantra for one MD remains ‘clarity out of confusion’ explaining that, because the world is so uncertain, it’s not about absolutes but interpreting and setting context in order to explore different scenarios with greater flexibility. He adds “as a leader I have become much more comfortable with not knowing the answers and feeling confident in expressing this state.”

About Wisdom8
Wisdom8 is an international coaching firm dedicated to developing the world’s top business leaders in emerging, global brands. Wisdom8 works with CEOs, Boards and top teams across multi-cultural businesses to enhance performance and deliver greater levels of success.