Three Ideals of Evolving People-First Leadership from The CEO Forum’s Leadership Summit
Purple Strategies is the thought leadership partner of The CEO Forum Group and Transformative CEO Summit series, featuring CEOs of leading companies discussing creative ways to solve today’s most pressing challenges.
When CEOs started coming together in early 2021 for quarterly Transformative CEO Summits, they were at an inflection point in the voyage of pandemic-era leadership.
Forward momentum for many corporate priorities had largely taken a back seat to navigating an unprecedented global crisis for a year, at which point leaders were ready to pivot from health crisis to human connection: their focus, to steady the ship for their employees and communities in the violent wake of the pandemic’s upheaval of everyday and work life.
The next inflection point came several months later, when gathered CEOs discussed their collective efforts to build better workplaces post-pandemic: the ship was now mostly steady and needed to be strengthened and fortified for the new course that had been set based on the experiences of the crisis.
When CEOs met at the end of 2022, it became clear through their dialogue that a new inflection point has been reached: the expectation that business is once again full-speed ahead, and that achieving this pace will require each and every person to pull in the same direction. And it’s up to CEOs to harness the power and potential of each of those team members.
The following ideals are top of mind for CEOs as their organizations seek to unleash the power of the individuals within them as they continue to chart their course over the coming months.
Ideal #1: Hierarchy gives way to humanity.
Transformative CEOs are flattening their organizations, not necessarily by removing levels needed to manage and function but rather by fostering a culture that allows for the democratization of ideas. They are leaving titles at the door of meetings, allowing for more junior team members to speak up and push ideas forward in a way that fosters innovation and ensures consideration of a diversity of perspectives. They see that when unhelpful or unnecessary structure falls away, individual contributions can expand and decision-making can happen more quickly. In place of that hierarchy, CEOs say, it’s going to require more thought on the part of executives to create the optimal experience to benefit both employees and company productivity.
Ideal #2: Purpose is planful and personal.
Transformative CEOs are looking at purpose through a newer lens as they seek to motivate their teams to stay, to align and to push forward. Historically the company purpose held employees from the same communities together around some shared experiences and frames of reference and to the local employer. In today’s environment more than ever before, the world – and the work experience – are completely portable. With working from home and employer-switching the norm, affinity and loyalty to organizations no longer exists as an anchor in the way it once did. So CEOs must articulate the company’s purpose in such a way that each employee is able to see clearly their own personal alignment with it and contribution to it. This demands that CEOs be more purpose-driven and has the capability of energizing their workforce in the face of continuous change.
Ideal #3: Executive access fosters authenticity and accountability.
As they look at unlocking the power of individuals on their teams, Transformative CEOs are learning the limits and lanes for using their own influence as chief executives, as well. The direct connection they can make with internal and external audiences by leveraging technology is powerful. New tools for communicating and connecting give CEOs an opportunity to have more impact and personal connections at scale and 1:1, but that comes with additional risk that must be managed. One repeated message is no longer enough — today, it feels scripted. CEO communications must be both localized and personalized, and given to others to cascade and further localize and personalize. Authentic, real-time communication can create more meaning and connection between an executive and key audiences, but also more opportunities to depart from planned messaging and into unplanned topic areas. The greater window available today into the leadership of CEOs makes all things visible and calls for high-character leadership. On today’s CEO stage, Transformative CEOs speak truth with compassion, surround themselves with people of high character, take responsibility for their actions and decisions, and are transparent when they fall short.
While it’s unclear what the next inflection point will be for CEOs at the helm of corporations during this time of continued rapid change, it’s unlikely the power of the individual will wane anytime soon, if ever. Transformative CEOs are watching closely and evolving their approaches to be sure that the individuals they work so hard to attract, retain, develop and grow are given every opportunity to unleash their full potential.