The quality every leader should have to succeed in today's world, revealed

Person in red hooded jacket stand alone atop a snowy mountain: Do leaders possess one quality that help them succeed?
Do leaders possess one quality that help them succeed?
Image: Unsplash/Joshua Earle
  • As the world changes at rapid speed, people and organisations must change with it in order to succeed in the new status quo.
  • Leaders who survive through turbulent times usually set themselves out from the rest by way of qualities, such as courage, resilience, forward-looking prospection or simply by harnessing exceptional talents of others.
  • The World Economic Forum’s Innovators Community share one characteristic they believe every leader should possess to succeed in today’s world.

A Greek philosopher Heraclitus is famously quoted as saying, “change is the only constant in life.” Though change is inevitable, the speed with which the world is changing from multiple perspectives is fast and accelerating daily. We asked leaders of the World Economic Forum’s Innovators Community, a group of mission-driven start-ups and Unicorn companies, to share one characteristic they believe every leader should possess to succeed in today’s world.

Curiosity

Andreas De Neve, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, TechWolf

Curiosity. The world is changing on a fundamental level and leaders will need to accept this new reality, breaking with some of the structures that once brought great success but might not work in the future – being curious and figuring out what works in this "new world" instead of failing to accept this new reality.

Resilience

Björn von Siemens, Co-Founder and Chief Financial Officer, Caresyntax

I believe that resilience is a characteristic that every leader must possess. Resilience, on the one hand, means having the flexibility to adapt to fast-changing situations, enabling leaders to thrive in any context. On the other, it means remaining focused on the long-term goal and bouncing back, despite short-term challenges.

In other words, a resilient leader can continue building towards a vision even in highly volatile or shifting contexts. To me, growing and developing as a leader is closely linked to my community and mentors. I strongly believe that learning from those around you, whether from others in your field or completely different areas and self-reflection are key to growth.

Agility

Jacqueline Heard, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Enko

With unprecedented economic and geopolitical challenges on the horizon, leaders must be agile and view each challenge as an opportunity. A scientist at heart, I have experienced my fair share of failed hypotheses and have been forced to get creative to find valuable insights. I apply that philosophy of experimentation and openness to changing course in my role as founder and CEO, a leap I took a few decades into my career.

In Enko’s latest field trials, for example, our failed experiments actually told us more than the successful ones – whether by ruling out molecules that didn’t pass safety testing or identifying the limits of a plant’s growing conditions. This data eventually led us to a breakthrough: a chemistry that outperformed a leading herbicide using 13 times less product. Helping my team foster an experimental mindset across all aspects of our work allows us to have a bold vision for what tomorrow can look like, even when current circumstances are daunting.

Authenticity and purpose

Priya Lakhani, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, CENTURY Tech

No matter what the economic climate looks like and how fast the environment around us is changing, the one characteristic a leader should possess and demonstrate at all times is leading with authenticity and purpose. Not all managers are leaders and not all leaders are managers. Strong leaders can weather adversity and challenges if they are true to their values, communicate them constantly, and use them as their North Star to lead people on the journey with them.

During a crisis and rapid change, all stakeholders, from customers to employees, judge the leader. Did they forget all of the cultural values they put in place during the easier times and abandon their principles or were they authentic about their values?

The best leaders can leverage changing circumstances and challenges, which would hurt most organisations, into a shared goal and a sense of purpose. A strong network of peers and a diverse board of those that can impart advice and support is a great way to continue to grow as well as having an open mindset that mistakes and failures can all provide learning.

Celebrating diversity

Michael T. Suffredini, President and Chief Executive Officer, Axiom Space

Every leader should possess the ability to recognize and celebrate the value and contribution of all individuals on the team and provide the time and resources to develop them. I strive to surround myself with people who challenge my thinking, bring diverse experiences and new ideas to the discussion, push boundaries, take risks and innovate. This is the culture we are establishing at Axiom Space.

Determination

Antoine Hubert, President and Chief Executive Officer, Ynsect

In a world that is rapidly changing, every leader must believe vehemently in their mission. Only through true determination can one succeed in changing the status quo.

On our side, it is thanks to this that we continue to grow: we have already seen some real change between advancing regulations and changing mentalities. In 10 years, we have already overcome many obstacles: we have enabled the insect industry to address new markets, entered the human food market, and this is because we are convinced of the legitimacy of our mission.

If I can add another, a leader must also be humble enough to surround themself with the talents they may lack. Only through a diverse set of determined, agile experts can a leader possess enough know-how to succeed and keep on succeeding.

Problem-solving

Jan Goetz, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, IQM Quantum Computers

We live in a world where science and technology are paramount. Our lives are simplified, faster, and safer owing to science and technology. Science and technology advancements have undoubtedly made our lives easier and faster.

As leaders, we need to identify local problems and weave solutions through global, human and multifaceted perspectives. That means we must continuously develop our thinking and adapt to new situations. Especially with the younger generation of talent coming up, we must focus much more on empathic leadership and ensure that we provide purpose and meaning to the jobs we create. Take, for example, quantum computing.

Given the ability of quantum computers to simulate quantum interactions at the atomic and molecular level, problems well outside the scope of current computers have the potential to be solved. That could launch a new chapter of scientific discovery (in new materials, medicine, energy biology) that could transform the way the climate, energy and health are managed, according to the World Economic Forum’s State of Quantum Computing report. These are topics that motivate people to join companies and seek solutions.

Compassion

Nicole Sahin, Founder and Executive Chair, G-P

Leadership in 2023 will be all about two things: mastering our mindsets and asking the right questions. Compassion will become the differentiator, agility will become the master and humility will be required as leaders head into the new year.

The future of work is remote. At G-P, we believe that we’ve cracked the code of delivering amazing results to our customers and employees via a fully remote workforce. We do it by focusing on outcomes, not activity.

When we think about the elements traditionally associated with great leadership – like predicting trends, shrewd decision-making, agile prioritization and reading the tea leaves of market opportunity – we have to do it through a lens of multiple perspectives that are always changing: people, process and risk.

Leadership agility in 2023 will require new outlooks and behaviours that serve the company in new ways. For example, talent pipelines will have to get more inclusive and based on capabilities rather than experience. Processes will have to get more adaptive, shifting with flexibility when circumstances change. And risk management strategies will need to become more adaptive as our economy recovers and our workers demand more from their employee experience.

Resilient focus

Nirmit Parikh, Founder and Chief Executive Officer Apna.Co

As witnessed through time, the rapidly changing world has often been the hotbed for innovation, leading to the birth or rebirth of some of the world's greatest companies. In today's environment of high volatility and disruption, business leaders are often pushed to the edge. Instead of getting overpowered by such environments, the key is maintaining a resilient, high-fortitude mindset and ensuring these values percolate to the larger organization.

During the pandemic, for instance, with hiring coming to a standstill, Apna.co resiliently focused on building a social, community-based product that could enable users to build professional networks, have conversations with like-minded folks and upskill themselves on the app. Today, this product has helped us fundamentally move from a jobs marketplace to a professional destination for our users for jobs, content, people and skilling.

For my personal growth as a leader, a few focus areas include continuously reflecting on my leadership style, getting feedback from my team to adapt based on the changing needs of the organization and operating from a place of absolute transparency.

Prospection

Alexi Robichaux, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, BetterUp

Leaders across every industry are experiencing unprecedented, uncertain times. That is why it is now more important than ever for leaders to possess prospection or the practice of cultivating future-mindedness. This practice allows leaders to envision possibilities while preparing for the roadblocks and setbacks that may inevitably happen along the way.

Research has found that cultivating this one key mindset can help entire organizations be more effective at planning and being perspective, all while quantifying potential risks. Not only do future-minded leaders report lower levels of anxiety (-34%) but they’re also more hopeful, more productive and have greater life satisfaction than those with low prospection skills. Future-minded leaders also have higher-performing teams, ones with increased agility (+25%), engagement (+19%) and innovation (+18%).

Prospection offers a competitive advantage that allows leaders to create entire processes for future-proofing their organizations and teams. Given how quickly today’s world changes, we need to cultivate better planning skills to help teams meet these new, ever-evolving challenges.

Courage

April Koh, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, Spring Health

From the challenges of being a founder in an early-stage startup to leading with conviction and purpose during a period of rapid growth and scaling, I have seen our most important moments materialize when we reach beyond the easy or comfortable. Even after every angle of a problem has been analyzed, every important decision requires a leap of faith and it takes courage to place the big bets that make real change.

That’s also one of the characteristics that keep us growing as leaders. It can be tempting to stay in your comfort zone and do things how they’ve been done before, but we want to build the kind of company that never stops seeking a better way.

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