As we emerge into the sunlight of life beginning to open up again, accepting the fact that many of the changes of the last two years are with us for the long term, it seems like a good time to think about the role that leadership plays in the continued transformation of the media industry.
Before the pandemic it seemed we were reaching Point of Peak Pirate - breaking rules, smashing silos, unpicking legacy models, fracturing long held beliefs, disrupting biases and conventions; all happening as the industry furiously busied itself catching up with the speed of the consumer and the world around us.
When the pandemic arrived, we needed something different.
In one sense our teams and clients needed clearer direction than ever, a sense of stability and confidence in the face of a world gone awry. At the same time, agility, empathy, shared vulnerability, and authenticity never mattered more. None of these things are mutually exclusive, but its sometimes a hard balance the get right..
So, what next? Of course, we will keep the best of what we have learnt so far, but for me it must be about an emphasis on exploring.
Ahead are many unknowns, many of which are the result of artificially accelerated change and its long term impact.
Client organisations and business models are transforming faster than ever, consumer expectations and environments are shifting, the world of work is reinventing itself, growth is harder to find, and the role that technology will play in all of this is being redefined. Dependent on where you sit on the topic you could even argue that the nature of reality and the financial system is up for grabs, but I promised myself that I wouldn’t mention the Metaverse (sorry).
But let’s be clear about the future, in most cases, right now, NO-ONE KNOWS THE ANSWERS. Too much of what we thought was a constant and immovable, is not.
Good leaders therefore will mobilise teams to explore this new unknown world and get as much growth from the journey as they do from the end destination.
So, what are the qualities we explorers need to work on to make the most of this uncharted territory?
For me it has to start with the prioritisation of wellbeing and its net effect on resilience and adaptability. At a personal and team level. Exploration in a highly unpredictable and ambiguous environment can only be done with inner strength and a sense of personal safety. Leaders and teams needs to be exploration ready, with the right energy and with bravery , which is as much about how they feel in themselves as it does about their competencies and experience.
Then it has to be about navigation, a sense of shared mission and purpose. While the precise details need to be worked out organically as a team, where everyone ends up needs to be on strategy. However, to be clear, an explorer leader will be smart enough to pivot and refocus the mission if the situation warrants it. Who knows what surprise is around the next corner?
Key to all this is a relentlessly ‘exploracratic’ culture, a systemic commitment to the value of experimentation, testing, learning, listening, collaborating and adapting. Importantly this is about recognising success and professional growth in the process of exploration itself. Sometimes explorers don’t reach the end goal, or reach a different goal, or get lost halfway down the Amazon, but it doesn’t make them any less brave or the journey they were on less valuable as an experience.
Finally, this all must be powered by diverse and deeply specialist teams. Diversity fuels innovation and performance, and the value of leveraging hard acquired knowledge means the best aggregated chance of navigating new territories and mission success. Diversity extends into how we need to work in this world, and being as open as possible to input from anywhere and everywhere is vital, if you don’t have a reverse mentoring programme in place it’s a big help.
Exploring has its challenges and sometimes things get in our way. However, if we can create the conditions for it to happen more as an industry, while the future might be unclear right now, we can have some real fun trying to build it.