Leadership in the 4th Industrial Revolution and why purpose is more than appropriate business policies and practices

Business today is subject to the rapid exhaustion of constant change, and constant change seems to be affecting leadership to its limits. Windows of opportunity are shorter and companies are forced out of business quicker.

If we revisit the 1950’s, the average life of a company was just over 60 years. Today it is less than 20 years. According to a recent study by Credit Suisse, disruptive technology is the reason for the constant decline in company life longevity.

However, disruptive technologies are not a new phenomenon. The credit card, the microwave oven, transistor radio, television, computer hard disks, solar cells, optic fibre, plastic and the microchip were all introduced in the 1950s.

It is not technology that explains the failure and costly investments to business; it is less about technology and more about leaders’ failure to envision the future of their business as the world changes around them. It is the result of short-sightedness, an inability to see the future, adapt and lead a focused strategy with flexibility in a changing world.

For humans to be effective, productive and innovative, we must have great leaders who also focus on making trust, humility, accountability, experimentation, collaboration, digitization, innovation within a commercially astute context, a way of organizational life. Doing this ensures that their people and their company constantly deliver increased value for customers.
It also ensures that in the future of work, they drive success within their ever-expanding areas of influence and responsibility, to flow and flourish in uncertain times.

The purpose of a company is not just to make money but to pursue a just cause, we can all remember the words of Henry Ford when he said ‘A business that makes nothing but money is a poor kind of business.’

Purpose is the very reason to have the business. It’s not marketing. It’s not a recruiting tool. It’s not something you just write on your website. It’s not a corporate social responsibility program. It’s the very reason why you started the business in the first place, and it has nothing to do with money.

To be truly purpose-driven, the most senior leader in an organisation will still see themselves as subservient to a higher purpose not to another human being, but to an ideal. We are in service of those ideals, and although we will never actually achieve them, we will die trying, which is the point. It’s about progress, not just prosperity. Prosperity is counting what comes in; progress is counting how far we’ve moved down a purposeful path. The people who work at truly purpose-driven organisations feel like they have a belonging, that this is their calling and it has nothing to do with the business or the product.

Companies exist to advance, innovation, technology, quality of life or something else with the potential to ease or enhance our lives in some way, shape or form. That people are willing to pay money for whatever a company has to offer is simply proof that they perceive or derive some value from those things. Which means the more value a company offers, the more money and the more advancement the company will have for further progression.

Capitalism has to be more about prosperity, about progress.

We have all seen the increase in certain practices that drive stock price value in the short term, all these deals certainly sound ethically dubious. At a point of fact, laws, regulations and ethical conduct normally are an output of bad practices, not by policing them in advance of conduct.

The importance of business ethics reaches far beyond employee loyalty and morale or the strength of a management team bond. As with all business initiatives, the ethical operation of a company is directly related to profitability in both the short and long term. The reputation of a business in the surrounding community, other businesses, and individual investors is paramount in determining whether a company is a worthwhile investment. If a company is perceived to not operate ethically, investors are less inclined to buy stock or otherwise support its operations.

Technology companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google, certainly look like they are more relaxed at asking for forgiveness across ethical misconduct than leading the charge with a fundamental view of how they safeguard one of their most important assets; our private data. You could question how can these company’s operate without such an accountable and responsible view?

The responsibility of business is to use its will and resources to advance a cause greater than itself, protect the people and places in which it operates and generate more resources so that it can continue doing all those things for as long as possible. An organisation can do whatever it likes to build its business so long as it is responsible for the consequences of its actions.

Leadership is the lifeblood of an organization. When leaders create safe environments at work, everyone thrives and devotion is the natural response to those conditions. Toxic cultures breed cynicism, paranoia, and self-interest.

The responsibility of a company is to serve the customer. The responsibility of leadership is to serve their people so that their people may better serve the customer. If leaders fail to serve their people first, customer and company will suffer.

The management team sets the tone for how the entire company runs on a day-to-day basis. When the prevailing management philosophy is based on ethical practices and behaviour, leaders within an organisation can direct employees by example and guide them in making decisions that are not only beneficial to them as individuals, but also to the organisation as a whole.

Building on a foundation of ethical behaviour helps create long-lasting purposeful effects for a company, including the ability to attract and retain highly talented individuals, and building and maintaining a purposeful reputation within the community.

Running a business in an ethical manner from the top down builds a stronger bond between individuals on the management team, further creating stability within the company.

Finally, globally successful entrepreneurs are emerging as exciting, courageous and authentic new role models demonstrating many of the vital qualities required for effective 21st-century leadership and in the future of work.

This is because they are re-inventing how to engage in the art of applying entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship practices to harness potential and mobilize human energy towards creating a better future.

This suggests that 21st-century leadership learning programs are most effective when they focus on cultivating new mindsets, creative, critical and foresight thinking strategies. That develops the ability to anticipate, adapt and cultivate new behaviours and take intelligent actions.

As Klaus Schwab a German engineer and economist once said:

“Technology is not an exogenous force over which we have no control. We are not constrained by a binary choice between “accept and live with it” and “reject and live without it”. Instead, take dramatic technological change as an invitation to reflect on who we are and how we see the world. The more we think about how to harness the technology revolution, the more we will examine ourselves and the underlying social models that these technologies embody and enable, and the more we will have an opportunity to shape the revolution in a manner that improves the state of the world.”