Startupgrind: Tech Leaders’ challenges and leadership traits in the digital age. Fireside chat with Geoff Hudson-Searle

We have made great strides in technology over the last years, but are we ready? Does our virtual century require anthropocentric leadership? What leadership traits are the most useful in the current pace?

StartupGrind invited Geoff Hudson-Searle, for a fireside chat to explore the challenges tech leaders face, from ensuring security and prioritising digital protection to building resilience and trust. Geoff will discuss strategy, scaling tech companies, and his own experience as international management professional.

Each of us is, to some extent or other, a reflection of the experiences of our lives. However, whether and how we succeed is determined at least in part by how we cope with those experiences and what we learn from them. This is the story of a man who, despite a difficult family life and professional setbacks, developed the determination, drive and skills to create a successful business and a happy life.

Leadership forces you to stay true to yourself and to recognize when you are at your best and when you are at your worst; the important thing is to stay focused and keep moving forward. He learned that it is overcoming adversity that brings the most satisfaction, and that achievements are made more meaningful by the struggle it took to achieve them.

Change has a funny habit of teaching you much about yourself; it goes to the core of your own weaknesses, strengths and eccentricities. Leadership forces you to stay true to yourself and recognize times when you are at your best and worst; the key is to stay focused and to make decisions that will look at continuous improvement. Even though this may be a small, incremental change, it is positive change you can build upon even though you may be in quicksand.

Covid-19 was a crucible within which resilient leadership is refined. Acting without perfect information, often with only a few hours or days to spare, CEOs have to guide their organisations through myriad decisions and challenges, with significant implications for their company’s whole system; employees, customers, clients, financial partners, suppliers, investors, and other stakeholders, as well as for society as a whole.

Clarity of thinking, communications, and decision-making will be at a premium. Those CEOs who can best exhibit this clarity, and lead from the heart and the head, will inspire their organisations to persevere through this crisis, positioning their brand to emerge in a better place, prepared for whatever may come. Crises like these, with deep challenges to be navigated, will also lead to opportunities for learning and deepening trust with all stakeholders, while equipping organisations for a step change that creates more value not just for shareholders, but for society as a whole.

Adversity of any magnitude should make us stronger and fill us with life’s wisdom, however, art in any form is born from adversity, I wrote ‘Freedom after the Sharks’ from adversity and set up a business in the double-dip of 2008 and 2009 – many people have done the same and it is almost a universal theme in the lives of many of the world’s most eminent creative minds.

For artists who have struggled with physical and mental illness, parental loss during childhood, social rejection, heartbreak, abandonment, abuse, and other forms of trauma, creativity often becomes an act of turning difficulty and challenge into an opportunity.

As Eckhart Tolle once said:

“Whenever something negative happens to you, there is a deep lesson concealed within it.”

Determination, resilience, and persistence are the enabler for people to push past their adversities and prevail. Overcoming adversity is one of our main challenges in life. When we resolve to confront and overcome it, we become experts at dealing with it and consequently triumph over our day-to-day struggles.

At any time, thriving organisations are true to their purpose, rely on their values, and model agility. Today’s pandemic, which will reduce profits all over the world, is a searing test of every organisation’s culture and values. Leaders who have laid a solid cultural foundation, authentically committed to a set of values, and defined and depended on an inspiring purpose are leading through this crisis by making a difference in the lives of employees and the communities they serve. This crisis also serves as a furnace for change for those companies that haven’t yet laid the foundation for a thriving culture.

Leaders today are constantly in the spotlight and are often called upon to earn authority without control. Economic and social change demands leadership by consent rather than by control. What we perceive as good leadership tends to be created by leaders, followers, and the context and purpose of the organisation, thus it is a collective rather than individual responsibility.

Trust is a key ingredient of successful leadership. Trusted leaders are the guardians of the values of the organisation. Trust can release the energy of people and enlarge the human and intellectual capital of employees. In a trusting environment when we are committed to our shared purpose we play active roles both as leaders and as followers.
We talk a lot about trust these days because it tends to be a precious and scarce resource.

You could question the word empathetic leadership. Leaders with empathetic leadership listen attentively to what you’re telling them, putting their complete focus on the person in front of them and not getting easily distracted. They spend more time listening than talking because they want to understand the difficulties others face, all of which helps to give those around them the feeling of being heard and recognized.

Empathetic executives and managers realize that the bottom line of any business is only reached through and with people. Therefore, they have an attitude of openness towards and understanding of the feelings and emotions of their team members.

When we listen to the emerging needs of the workplace we step into the most relevant and useful roles and make relevant and valuable contributions both when leading and when following. Members of organisations who are sensitive to people’s reactions trust themselves and each other. They build and nurture trusting relationships and allow the future to emerge organically.

No heroic leader can resolve the complex challenges we face today. To address the important issues of our time we need a fundamental change of perspective. We need to start questioning many of our taken for granted assumptions about our business and social environments.

Leaders serve as role models for their followers and demonstrate the behavioural boundaries set within an organisation. The appropriate and desired behaviour is enhanced through culture and socialisation process of the newcomers. Employees learn about values from watching leaders in action. The more the leader “walks the talk”, by translating internalized values into action, the higher level of trust and respect he generates from followers.

Final thought, to help bridge the trust gap we recognise that organisations need to work with each other and with wider society to identify practicable, actionable steps that businesses can take to shape a new relationship with wider society: a new ‘settlement’ based on mutual understanding and a shared recognition of the positive role that business plays in people’s lives.

To create such a settlement, businesses need to see themselves as part of a diverse, interconnected and interdependent ecosystem – one that involves government, regulators, individual citizens and more. Trust within and across this ecosystem is key to its long-term sustainability and survival. That’s why trust needs to be restored to the heart of the business world.

A great quote by Douglas MacArthur – American military leader who served as General of the Army, this quote always resonates with true leadership.

“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.”

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