Can you create value in the future with leadership skills from the past?

By

Alison Kay

EY Global Accounts Committee Chair

Working across EY's largest accounts. Advocate for a diverse workforce. Accomplished pianist. Loves to sail.

4 minute read 16 Dec 2019
Related topics World Economic Forum

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In today’s transformative age, inclusive leaders help power the development of a sustainable business model.

When I first became partner, “command and control” was the de facto leadership style in the business world. That has changed. Today, leadership is about 360 feedback, collaboration and bringing out the best in your teams.

As we face complex global challenges like the transformative power of advanced technologies and climate change, no one expects leaders to have all the answers. Instead, they want leadership to articulate a clear purpose for the business they can get behind. They want to know their contributions will be valued.  

Inclusive leadership builds social cohesion as everyone pulls together to build long-term value for the business.
Alison Kay
EY Global Accounts Committee Chair

Inclusive leadership builds social cohesion as everyone pulls together to build long-term value for the business and – for a service business like ours – for clients.

Generational divide or generational diversity?

Today there are four generations in the workplace: traditionalists/silent generation, baby boomers, Generation X and millennials, each with its own experiences and preferences.

These differences can be a great strength – or a great weakness – depending on how they are managed. As we all know, one generation’s fun can be another’s friction (mention the word selfie to post-millennials for a quick example).

Not that frustration doesn’t occur within a generation – far from it. While each generation has common tendencies and cultural experiences, the individuals within it remain just that – individuals, full of complexity and contradictions.

By focusing on what people share – the business purpose – leaders can channel diversity and spark innovation. While it can be challenging at times to manage diverse points of view, the payoff is more complete, more robust solutions.

Could technology make inequality worse?

We are living in transformative times as advanced technologies – fueled by enormous amounts of data – are enabling new ways of living and working. In health care, artificial intelligence (AI) is being used to detect pneumonia in 10 seconds instead of 20 minutes. In the energy industry, utilities are using real-time data on digital grids to predict and prevent blackouts. In cities, local governments are using real-time traffic, weather, accident and geometric data to route traffic, predict crashes and improve safety.

Amid such transformation, we face the risk that these advances will fragment us. This is what the foes of globalization charge, that too many were left behind. And it is a charge often leveled against the world of tech – that its development, datasets and testing are too narrow. Too much is being developed by teams that aren’t representative of society.

So how can we ensure that technology meets everyone’s needs regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or ability? How do we avoid creating “digital refugees” and bring along the whole of society?

How can we ensure that technology meets everyone’s needs? How do we avoid creating “digital refugees” and bring along the whole of society?

Tech companies have acknowledged this challenge, but it will take all of us – big tech, the rest of the business community, government and educators – to solve it.

Inclusive leadership creates long-term value

People want and expect business leaders to engage with and help to solve society’s biggest problems, such as addressing the digital divide so technology benefits all. They want active leadership that places sustainability above short-termism.

So how are leading companies doing this? In my experience, there are three key areas of focus for improving inclusion:

  1. Understanding data and embracing new technologies: Top technology investments over the past two years have been AI, the cloud, data analytics and the Internet of Things. Having core teams of technology and data specialists is one thing; building tech and data “literacy” across the rest of the workforce is another. You need both to challenge the status quo and reimagine the future.
  2. Adopting a learning mindset: Given the speed of change, it can be a challenge to keep up. What’s needed is a mindset of lifelong learning in every generation. We all need to be curious, to experiment, to wonder. Learning, evolving, adapting: these are critical skills for the future.
  3. Seeking diversity: With so much in flux, the best solutions are going to come from a meld of diverse viewpoints. And the best way to build an environment where different perspectives are voiced is to encourage people to bring their authentic selves to work – and to support them when they do.

I believe spreading economic growth more evenly is a key issue of our times. Leaders who embed these qualities in their workforce are setting the foundations for inclusive and sustainable economic growth in the future, for the good of all stakeholders.

When will you move long-term value from ambition to action? Join EY to discuss pressing economic and social issues as we look to the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2020 – from 21-24 January. Join the conversation via ey.com/wef and using #WEF20 and #BetterWorkingWorld

Summary

Inclusive leadership helps companies achieve their purpose, foster growth and build long-term value – all building blocks of the kind of sustainable growth that benefits all stakeholders.

About this article

By

Alison Kay

EY Global Accounts Committee Chair

Working across EY's largest accounts. Advocate for a diverse workforce. Accomplished pianist. Loves to sail.

Related topics World Economic Forum