At the Annual Meeting in Davos this year, we asked CEOs, activists and civil society leaders how leaders can prioritize what really matters despite a swirl of challenges: an energy crisis, a food crisis, geopolitical conflict, a potential economic downturn, and more. They shared their strategies and secrets -- from how they make time in their calendars and unlock 'people power', to how they tap 'unhealthy impatience'. Learn the 'tells' that reveal you're building momentum and the tough questions you must ask yourself to ensure your actions are really laddering up to your values.
John Schultz, COO, HPE: I think the initial reaction is to cut back on your transformation and your innovation. I don't think that's an option.
Blake Scholl, Founder and CEO, Boom Supersonic: I think there's a almost like a secret opportunity during times of crisis toespecially turn focus to the long term, to what's gonna matter 10, 20, 30 years from now.
Meet The Leader / Linda Lacina: Welcome to Meet the Leader, a podcast where top leaders share how they're tackling the world's toughest challenges.
On today's episode, fresh from the 2023 annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, we share what top leaders in business, nonprofits, and more think leaders should prioritize this year.
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And please: take a moment to rate and review us. I'm Linda Lacina from the World Economic Forum, and this is Meet the Leader.
Alyssa Auberger, CSO, Baker McKenzie: You need to constantly check yourself and challenge yourself.
Dr. Andrew Steer, Bezos Earth Fund: We don't need a whole lot more conferences. We need a whole lot more accountability.
Meet The Leader / Linda Lacina: Davos was just days ago. This meeting like no other, where leaders of all stripes gathered from around the world to talk about how they can make progress on some of the world's biggest problems.
It's an inspiring event, a positive one, where the focus is on how to make things happen.
And there is no shortage of needs. Each leader has their own part to play, but how to stay focused on that big picture despite a host of crises: food, energy, economic woes, and even a pandemic that we can't seem to shake.
I talked to leaders at Davos about their frameworks, their block-and-tackle tips, and how they stay focused in the long term while surviving in the short.
Their tips will help energize your staff, help you scrub your calendar of useless meetings, and help you give yourself a gut check when things go sideways.
Their tips are especially poignant at this point in the new year, a few weeks in where our eagerness for everything from big goals to personal resolutions starts to lag.
Their advice can help you remember one key idea. Your well-crafted mission statements are nothing without your actions.
We'll get started with Roy Jacobs, the CEO of Health Technology Company, Royal Philips. He suggests you take a hard look at where you spend your time and what you've empowered your teams to do. Here's Roy.
Roy Jakobs: For me, I think there's a very honest moment if you just look at where you spent your time. So as a leader, I think that if you look into kind of what you are busy with when you go through your week and when you realize that you are being left by the day-to-day and if by the end of the week you might have an afternoon left for your strategy, you're definitely not on the right path.
"If by the end of the week you might have an afternoon left for your strategy, you're definitely not on the right path."”
So I think be upfront about your planning. Make sure that you actually box the time to really think, actually to reflect and also to engage. Because the other thing I think, which is crucial for thinking about long term is to actually take the wider perspective.
And for that, actually you need to be out there. So actually being here at WEF is an excellent opportunity where you can engage with all the different stakeholders around the ecosystem to actually get their perspectives and also to join and define how you take this up. Because no one can solve these challenges by themselves.
You cannot do that as a leader in your organization because you need to actually have your whole organization coming with you along. But also if you serve the healthcare system, actually you cannot do that as a technology provider alone. You need to think about the nurse, you need to think about the doctor, about the funder, the government (that actually has certain requirements). How do you serve it across the different places around the world. So I think taking that partnership approach is really fundamental.
I've been in China, I've been in the Middle East. I've worked in different segments. I think through these experiences I've been faced with many crises, faced with many different situations from a leadership perspective and also for me personally.
And I learned to deal with that in a way that I earlier explained, where you really keep grounded in what can I do for a crisis now. But at the same time, keep moving ahead for the long term, in that, people remain always at the heart of what you do. So if you grow your leadership capability, and also if you grow your leadership scope, you need to actually be able to empower your people more and actually take them along even more when it's kind of needed most.
Of course, the risk is that in crisis people start to micromanage because you want to control kind of difficult situations.
And yes, you need to bear leadership. But you set your direction and then you involve your team to say, 'okay, how can we pick this up and make this happen?' So, I think for me, that reminder of actually keeping the horizon and making sure that you involve the right people at the right time is really critical to not letting yourself be bogged down into that kind of micromanagement mode.
Meet The Leader / Linda Lacina: Another way to stay on track is to think like Harmony Jade Wayner, she is the vice-chair of the Arctic Youth Network, an organization across the Arctic that brings together youth as a collaborative voice to amplify Arctic issues and help people understand the perspectives of the people who live there, especially indigenous communities.
She thinks in the very long term, in generations, and suggests leaders do the same to reconnect to the Earth and be better stewards of land and. Here's Harmony.
Harmony Jade Wayner: Right now in Alaska, we've had a lot of fishery crashes. In the past year, specifically, our king crab fisheries closed. And salmon in rivers north of me have been closed to all sorts of harvesting, not just commercial.
So the loss of that, the food resource, but also the culture and the lack of purpose too, because when those lifestyles are disrupted there's not much else that goes on in our villages, right? So we need other pathways if our resources are depleted. But first we need to protect, protect those resources. that goes along with it is extremely devastating to people.
"Knowing that there's a time beyond your lifetime is really important."”
I want to make sure that my children and my children's children, you know, seven generations down the line, have access to these resources and have that feeling of a full smoke house. It's a feeling of contentment, it'll sustain you all winter, like it has my ancestors before.
When I go back home and I think of how long the rivers have been there and just being out in nature and knowing that there's a time beyond your lifetime is really important. So reconnecting with that. Everyone's, you know, indigenous from somewhere and having that nature connection I think brings that back.
Meet The Leader / Linda Lacina: Deborah Braide is a sustainable energy specialist and researcher who works for E-Guide an initiative transforming electricity infrastructure in developing regions of Nigeria. She talked to me about the importance of thinking globally.
Deborah Tamuno-Tonya-Braide: I think first of all, timelines are important. We need to think what is most urgent and how do we set those timelines for these things? And also considering what is most urgent globally, not just what is most urgent for one region and for another. And realizing that there are different priorities for different regions, and they have equal value because energy poverty is a priority.
"Set strong time timelines for what are the urgent things that we need to address and how do we address these sustainably."”
It's a risk, it's a crisis, but also energy security is a crisis is something to think about as well. So set strong time timelines for what are the urgent things that we need to address and how do we address these sustainably, and how do we address this in a way that no one is really left behind?
So engaging with stakeholders as well. Engaging with different regions to say, 'Okay, these are your different interests. This is how we can support for this within this timeline as well. And this is sort of what the outcomes would be at the end of this timeline. And this is how we can support your own transition.'
Meet The Leader / Linda Lacina: John Schultz is the Chief Operating Officer at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. He's focused on furthering the digital transformation that gained momentum during the pandemic, and he explained that the instinct during hard times is to pull back, but that companies should resist that temptation. Here's John on the importance of digging in on innovation and the role of healthy impatience.
John Schultz, HPE: I think the initial reaction is to cut back on your transformation and your innovation. I don't think that's an option. I don't think you can be resilient. I don't think you can have that real future perspective, where do you need to get to, if you cut back on the innovation and so on.
My recommendation is to find a way, even in the most difficult moments, to continue to innovate because that is actually how you get to the level of resiliency that you're looking for.
I call it healthy impatience. You have to move with a sense of urgency. But it has to be a healthy impatience, right? You are in fact changing everything. From the way you sell to the way you develop your products, to the way you support them and the experience you provide to the customers, the skillsets and the talent, and you really do have to move with a sense of purpose and urgency, but at the same time, you have to bring everyone along in the journey.
It is a truly disrupt -- end-to-end disruptive trend. And if you leave people out and leave people behind and you move it at pace that others aren't comfortable with, you're going to fail. You have to have that sense of we can always go further faster.
But you have to remember, this is not a top-down led, 'pull everyone with you'. You have to bring everyone together and you have to sort of move collectively as an organization to achieve your goals.
Our entire company strategy is around digital transformation. In fact, three years ago we announced that we were gonna become the leading edge-to-cloud company. We have pivoted our bus business model. Our CEO Antonio Neri, created what he calls the transformation office, and I've been tapped to lead that for the last three years.
And so we have been remaking our entire portfolio, in reality, our entire business to align to delivering digital transformation for our customers through solutions based on server storage, networking services, you know, data-intensive focus areas, whether it's high performance computes, or types of certain cloud services, all intended to help our customers make that digital transformation.
Meet The Leader / Linda Lacina: Is there a tell for someone when it's going well? What should they be looking for to be like, 'okay, yeah, this is okay.'
John Schultz, HPE: I think what we have seen is there was some catalyzing moments where people who were perhaps most invested in and rooted in the way we used to do business, because that's what they did day to day, really started to talk the language of transformation.
And when those folks started to really see where we were going and you could tell they were starting to buy in, that's when you knew that the momentum was there and you had really gotten through the entirety of the organization.
"If you can't make that happen in those places most invested in the status quo, which are often your biggest businesses with the biggest profit centers, you're never gonna be successful."”
Because at the end of the day, because you are changing everything, there was no way to orchestrate that from the top down.
You need to get that spontaneity and if you can't make that happen in those places most invested in the status quo, which are often your biggest businesses with the biggest profit centers, you're never gonna be successful.
And so I think the telltale sign is when the folks that you would expect to not yet be talking about transformation and using the language of transformation, start doing so. That's, that's a great telltale sign.
Meet The Leader / Linda Lacina: Blake Scholl echoed John's sentiments. He's the founder and CEO of Boom Supersonic a company whose supersonic jets will help us cross the Pacific in less time than it takes us to cross the Atlantic today. Blake is also an entrepreneur and reminds leaders of all stripes that difficult times are often grist for innovation - a fine lens for the year ahead.
Blake Scholl, Boom Supersonic: When interest rates are up and markets are down there's a very natural tendency to focus in on the shorter term and near term. But I, I think history shows some of the most important things, some of the most impactful things ultimately get created during downturns.
And I think there's a almost like a secret opportunity during times of crisis, during times of downturn, to especially turn focus to the long term, to what's gonna matter 10, 20, 30 years from now, and how do we start today in building that. So I would I would encourage leaders to be very future minded even if interest rates were telling us to be very short-term minded.
Meet The Leader / Linda Lacina: If you're going to match your actions to your values, you'll probably need a gut check every now and then.
Alyssa Auberger is the Chief Sustainability Officer at Baker Mackenzie, a global law firm, and she urges leaders to check in with themselves and ask if they're moving in the direction they meant to.
Alyssa Auberger, Baker McKenzie: You need to check yourself and challenge yourself.
You need to trust your gut. That's what I always say. You know, deep down if that resonates with you or not.
You know, if it feels right. And that sounds kind of kooky, but there is really something to that. So I think you start by asking yourself the question. And when you get into that sort of shaky ground, if you're already on shaky ground, you know that there's something about the value that you're maybe not quite comfortable with. So already your radar should go, your antennas should be perking up because something's not feeling right.
"This is what you believe in. You need to stand up for it."”
This is what you believe in. You need to stand up for it. It's not just like, 'oh yeah, I, I feel like that in private, but I'm not going to say it publicly.' You do need to stand up for it if you want to actually be true to yourself.
Meet The Leader / Linda Lacina: Delia Ferreira Rubio is the Chair of Transparency International, the world's leading anti-corruption organization. She urges leaders to remind themselves of the purpose of their position, a step that can rebuild trust
Delia Ferreira Rubio, Transparency International: What's the purpose of your position as president of a country, as minister, as a civil society leaders, as the CEO of a company. What's the purpose you are serving?
And I think the motto of [the 2023 Annual Meeting] is 'cooperation in a fragmented society.' And I think there are two things that are key here. Collective action. But in order to be effective in collective action, we need dialogue between the different parts of society and different leaders.
But we need to rebuild trust. That's essential. That's the very essential that we need in order to have cooperation in this kind of world with intertwined crises and very politicized in some countries, fragmentation and polarization. We are divided as citizens and persons. We are concentrated in bubbles.
Lack of trust used to be lack of trust only in political leaders and political parties. But nowadays, lack of trust is affecting every single sector in society. And if we don't reconstruct trust in, if we don't rebuild trust, it will be very difficult to be effective in collective action.
And we need collective action because the crisis are intertwined. So we cannot fight alone.
Meet The Leader / Linda Lacina: Lynn Martin is the president of NYSE Group or the New York Stock Exchange. She knows a little something about leading through surprise and disruption. 2022 was her first year in the role, and as you know, it was a tumultuous one for stocks and the economy. She talked to me in Davos about the importance of over-communication and sees a role for that as leaders drive home their expectations after Davos or after any event or conference. Here's Lynn:
Lynn Martin, NYSE: It's something that I think is a really important point when you go to meetings like this. You need to have a readout with at least your executive team. Right afterwards say, 'Here's the key takeaways that I took. Here's what other business leaders are thinking about.'
So I think that's really important and I think, you know, if you boil it down to a couple of key themes, it helps orient your teams versus a data overload type situation.
Meet The Leader / Linda Lacina: Geraldine Matchett serves as both co-CEO and CFO at Royal DSM, a company that uses bioscience to improve the health of people, animals in the planet. As innovators, her teams must balance the present and the long term when investing their time and resources. Here's the framework they use when thinking about the short and long term.
Geraldine Matchett, DSM: The framework that most companies have to think about is what is short term, how much resource to put to the short term versus the long term. And one of the frameworks we've used, for example, in Royal DSM is actually red box, blue box on innovation.
"Short term efficiencies can fund your future growth and your future innovation."”
So we feel we could afford to carry about 25% of red box, which is a bit more risky, a bit more long term. Things like reducing methane burped by cattle. Something we worked on for 15 years that looked a bit esoteric at the start, but actually is highly relevant to climate change today. And then 75% much more current and medium term. That is the kind of framework that I think any leader needs to have in the context of their own business.
And some industries and sectors maybe it's 50 / 50. And what is key is that short term efficiencies can fund your future growth and your future innovation. So those are the kind of frameworks one can use.
Meet The Leader / Linda Lacina: Alex Liu is the managing partner and chairman of Kearney, a global consulting firm. He's also the author of Joy Works, a book on joy that shows that work, cultures that leverage people, praise and purpose can build for joy and productivity, and ensure their teams are on board for any change ahead. Here's Alex on how leaders can best steer their teams to navigate the challenges swirling this year.
Alex Liu, Kearney: Well, I think there will be no shortage of challenging issues for the workforce to tackle. None of these problems that we have out in the world, this polycrisis, permacrisis, are gonna be solved unless the people have the enegy to actually solve that that to me is the big bottleneck.
So a big issue for businesses and leaders is how do you unlock the people power? You know, this joy power, because it's just too hard.
If you're in the middle of the company, which is where the power of the company actually resides, these are the people that actually get stuff done. They say no, they resource or they don't resource. They agree or they don't agree passively. I'm not gonna promote someone who doesn't look like me. I'm not going to fix a supply chain that's been fine for 50 years. Nothing's going to happen. No progress will be made.
The number one issue is getting everyone bought into whatever your business vision is.”
So I think the number one issue is getting everyone bought into whatever your business vision is: the crises, the opportunities, the three-year plan, the ESG imperative, you know, the geopolitical shocks, the resiliency of your inventory, and your pricing, and your customer strategy. These are all solvable, man-made, human-made problems. So getting the people on board is right.
There's going to be another set of challenging issues that we would not have foreseen three months from now. I don't even want to go down that list. That's a war-gaming exercise that can be done academically. But the real-world leaders have to make decisions and lead their people in times that are partly cloudy like now so that when it becomes partly sunny, they can hit it hard and avoid the rainy day.
Meet The Leader / Linda Lacina: Becky Frankiewicz is the Chief Commercial Officer at Manpower Group, Inc., a workforce solutions company. She talked with my colleague Gayle Markovitz at January's annual meeting about not just the importance of teams, but about the importance of managers who can lead them. Managers, listen in. Here's why Becky says it's your year.
Becky Frankiewicz, Manpower Group: I know there's been some press this week on 2023 being the year of the CEO. I would say 2023 is the year of the manager because there's research out that says the most important thing to the workforce today is clarity. And so I think managers are where that point of clarity and the point of care intersect. And that's why I think 2023 is the year of the manager.
And so to prioritize my personal styles to say, 'okay, what are the most important things that are gonna have the biggest impact today and then over the course of the year in terms of a of a planning cycle.'
I'm ruthless about the things I don't do.”
And then I'm ruthless about the things I don't do. Like we're not going to do that. Strategy they say is what you're choosing to do and what you're not choosing to. And I think that's not just strategy, I think that's execution as well.
Because we have to choose in a world that is, that is constantly giving us more and more and more, you have to be able to constantly prioritize and evaluate what's gonna have the biggest impact.
And that's what I, what I try to do, and I think it's going to be essential in 2023, as we navigate, you know, what is increasingly uncertain.
We are living in a time where multiple things are hitting us as leaders and as employees at the same time. Yet I think if we spoke to the generation behind us, the generation before them in their own context, they would have a similar experience.
Maybe not with the same speed that we're facing it, but I think we as human beings are wired to be able to analyze a situation and, you know, flee or fight. And I think that's, that comes into the business world, too. And so I think what we're facing today requires more clarity. It requires more resilience. And in terms of the long term, it requires you constantly deciding is the long term the right goal because the environment could fully change. I mean even the, even the labor environment or the economic environment - in November, I was in Europe and it was quite concerning as we looked into 2023, and as I've spent a few weeks in Europe this year already, it's, I mean, it's still not like the rosiest outlook, but in a short period of eight weeks, it's better than it was. And so I think we constantly have to evaluate, you know, is this the destination? Yes or no. Whereas before, we would just set it and say, we're hitting that destination no matter what. So you have to constantly decide, is the five-year vision, the right vision, and then, am I taking the right steps, and the right step yesterday may not be the right step necessarily today.
And so I think the agility required of leaders today, I do think that that's quite different. And, and the speed with which we have to evaluate optionality is something we've never seen.
Meet The Leader / Linda Lacina: Dr. Andrew Steer is the president and CEO of the Bezos Earth Fund, an organization that advances climate solutions while building health, wealth, and resilience in underserved communities. He leaves us with a key reminder, of bias towards action.
Meet The Leader / Linda Lacina: What should leaders prioritize?
Dr. Andrew Steer, Bezos Earth Fund: Delivering what they promised.
So we are now actually in a good position on the nature side. We've got commitments for 30 x 30. That's going to be very hard work. Keep your eye on that.
On the climate side, it's remarkable. Most countries now, most of the economy of the world is committed to net zero by 2050. And $130 trillion of financial assets under management have committed to get to net net zero. These were wild commitments. I mean unbelievable commitments. And COP26, if you like, codified them. We now need to deliver them. We don't need a whole lot more conferences. We need a whole lot more accountability.
And it's very tempting to say, 'my goodness me, this is a dreadful time for the world, the criminal invasion surely should deflect us from the nice-to-do things of climate change and nature.'
No, Ukraine illustrates the dependence on Russia that Europe had. Illustrates why we were so foolish in the first place to be dependent upon fossil fuels that have sat under the ground for billions and millions of years, in foreign countries that are not very reliable, totally untrustworthy. Why should we do it?
Why not generate the electricity on your own land for free? You know, you think about it, all energy comes from the sun. There are two ways of getting it from the sun. You can have the sun create biomass that then goes underground for 3 million years and then you go down and bring it up in the form of coal or oil and gas. Or you can have it directly today from the sun today. Which makes more sense. There are more jobs in the latter. It's cheaper in the latter. It's much healthier.
So what we need to do is, is deliver. That's the story I believe.
Meet The Leader / Linda Lacina: That's what leaders should prioritize. Thanks to all of the leaders on today's episode for making time for me, and thanks to you for listening. A transcript of this episode and my colleagues' episodes, Radio Davos and the Book Club Podcast is available at wef.ch/podcasts.
This episode of Meet the Leader was presented and produced by me with Juan Toran as a studio engineer in Davos, Switzerland and Gareth Nolan driving studio production. That's it for now. I'm Linda Lacina with the World Economic Forum. Have a great day.
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