The only constant is change, apparently, and if you’ve been following the business world of your own sector and been around for more than a few years you will attest to this sentiment. However, some things remain, that leaders have to lead and galvanise people in the drive for a common purpose or goal. A tale as old as time. Mission centric and common coalescence around a cause, a flag, a purpose, a country, a school, or sports team. The labels for leaders may have changed in the last while and new titles describe what people do. Am I alone in noticing that there are a lot of Chiefs, Presidents and Directors around? That is my quick observation.

Leading people through change, constant change, requires simple messaging, bite sized chunk analysis and even drawing on the old sage Adam Smith’s view on the division of labour, where the largest tasks can be broken down to constituent parts. No better example than in a fully functioning co-operative team, no worse example than a dysfunctional one. The “on paper” best team often isn’t in action, and the human elements of trust, follower-ship, discipleship or whatever you want to call it, is an intangible, unseen and undervalued, on any Balance Sheet. How can you tell a leader apart from the others? They have followers. Simple.

As we face what might be the most unsettled geopolitical climate in decades where pro and anti-hegemony wrestle, a new world order, the difference in opinion on open or closed society, using collective means or a market economy, we might look back on what were troubled days of the early 2000’s as nothing like what we are witnessing now and in the near term.

Globally, regionally and at a State (as defined by the United Nations) level, and often within a State, we see conflict, humanitarian risk, climate impacts, demographic shifts of significant note and yet all within a Globe more connected than ever in its history. A message can be around the world faster than a nano second, and whether that message is fact, fiction, a version of your truth or mine, it can be there before you have read that last sentence. We know instantly what is going on in far flung places. It is rarely a good news story, mostly conflict, mostly humanitarian, mostly natural disaster and ultimately a negative outcome. 

There are three P’s driving my thinking on this global shift:

Population – the demographics of our planet are clear as the number of us perched on it reached eight billion. At the turn of the 19th Century, it was barely two billion. The bulk of growth in Africa, with even China facing a reduction in overall population, and Japan facing a demographic calamity with the post World War II baby boomers reaching retirement and old age. Much of the developed world is in the same boat. There are more leaving the workplace than joining and therefore all sorts of benefits, supports and later life services, like pensions and healthcare are creaking. This is driving migrancy from poor countries in the southern reaches of the globe in Latin America and Africa to be moving northwards. The USA alone saw more than 1 million cross its border in the southern reaches last year, and many of those people travelling from the southernmost areas of South America. In Africa the routes are clear, and those individuals are joined by east to west migration within the EU bloc. Humanitarian refugees are not even in that mix. It’s about People.

Productivity – Economies struggling to improve productivity will find it hard to move to a knowledge economy with significant upscaling of tech and future tech related roles. Education is a driver, as is technology, mechanisation, the role of controlled Artificial Intelligence, Case Based Reasoning and smart learning. With an industrial revolution going on in the developing world, the pace will only increase and sadly, from time to time, when economic pressures and geopolitical risks manifest, the agenda to decarbonise will be set aside and self-preservation of a nation placed first again. Just look at the examples set during the recent energy crisis. Coal is back having been edged out in recent times by almost all. The lack of an elegant switch to renewables as the primary source, is hindered by a lack of battery technology for storing wind power in times it isn’t needed. The hybrid solution is needed, with a mix and setting aside a “hope” (which is never a strategy) for fusion sometime soon and at scale.

Points of Difference – Those who can demonstrate their uniqueness have always been able to stand out from the crowd. Whether an elite sportsperson, actor or academic, the top players will always be in demand. In business it is no different, as the value for money operators often find out, when the inevitable competition arrives, that Price is a hard thing to defend. Even those preaching added value through some sort of processing or moderate difference find it tough, whilst those whose people encourage and coach clients to do things they hadn’t thought of will win on a relationship basis in the long term. That is creating value, in which cases Relationship trumps Transactional, in the long term.

So, what of the world we face off to? Geopolitical tensions, shaken by a pandemic and ensuing supply chain breakage,  regional conflicts set Nations against Nations once again. However, in places like Haiti there are significant long running humanitarian issues relating ad nauseum. Similarly, a flash point in the upcoming Pakistan elections beckons, the proximity to Afghanistan, and India, all wrapped together. The Middle Eastern tensions where matters are relatively benign (awful, but benign in relative terms), then the South China Sea tensions around China, Taiwan, and other areas. In The high North, Arctic, there is a power play coming as the seas melt and resources (minerals hydrocarbons, fishing, and shipping lanes) emerge. In Antarctica we have a similar neutral stance for now but there is a limbering up for superiority. In old conflicts, thought long gone, sovereignty is being challenged and a different type of “colonialisation” is in motion (Africa). Space, once the final frontier, is also an area of competition and possible strife.

Basics like water, food and fuel will be in ever short supply in some areas, whilst minerals and rare earths will be hewn out of the ground in awful circumstances, all in the name of progress.

All of these threats and opportunities brought about by people, often one person, facilitated by supporters or maybe those who simply fear them. People.

How can we lead our people through this significant period of change, with humility, good grace, and success? That’s what the upcoming panel will discuss in the Leading Figures webinar on April 20th, 2023, at 4pm BST / 11am EDT.  Follow this link to Register for Leading Through a World of Uncertainty

About the Author

Bill McCall is a widely experienced international Company Director, Investor and Advisor and has worked with and for a range of private equity organisations. He has chaired a number of businesses in the UK & mainland Europe, US and the Nordic Countries and has considerable knowledge of international energy markets.

He is the Principal of McCall & Partners, a strategic corporate finance advisory business, was elected an individual member of the London Stock Exchange in 1990, is a Chartered Fellow of CISI, Chartered Banker and Fellow as well as Past President of the Chartered Banker Institute.

He is also a good friend and colleague of Leading Figures. Moreover Bill will be a panellist on our forthcoming webinar as highlighted above. Please join us using this link

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