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How Davos Sets the 2019 Leadership Agenda

The World Economic Forum continually demonstrates that we don’t wait for progress—we create it. Though research shows the global gender gap will close in 108 years, Forum leadership convened an all-female group to co-chair last year’s Annual Meeting. This year, the Forum is empowering leaders under the age 30. Davos proves we can cultivate a world where progress becomes inevitable, but it will take everyone’s commitment to being true agile leaders.

At our door-step, artificial intelligence (AI), the future of trade, economic growth, and income inequality beckon for solutions. Organizations of all kinds find themselves now in a rush to mold purpose and strategy together in ways that yield the kind of results stakeholders expect. In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we need new and innovative frames of mind.

Agility is the key

The speed of innovation requires agility and adaptability from all parties and from all angles. A systemic inability to adapt to change requires a radical, and global, systemic overhaul. Those who don’t predict or adapt to the innovations and changes to-come will be unable to reap their benefits. Extracting value from innovation happens proactively, not reactively.

Qualitative and quantitative research conducted by APCO Worldwide has revealed that agility consists of three distinct, but co-dependent dimensions: Active Leadership, Enterprising Culture and Shared Advocacy. All three are vital for organizations not only responding to change but tackling and seizing opportunities head-on. APCO research has shown that only 30 percent of C-Suite executives feel their company is ­very prepared to navigate the future. Less than one in five executives strongly agree that their company is flexible, nimble and agile.

We have a lot of work to do, and there’s no better place to witness the start of those statistics changing than Davos.

Active Leadership

Agility starts from the top. Active leadership creates strategies and partnerships that bring together a variety of voices to one table. These leaders are visionaries who aim for their targets while remaining mindful of exterior forces. They are sympathetic and understand the impact of their decisions on their employees, customers and partners. They leverage the priceless asset that is curiosity to its fullest potential.

Rigid management will stop progress in its tracks, and active leadership relies on organizational adaptability. It is incumbent upon leaders to understand that sometimes the very infrastructure of their organization is an obstacle to progress. As such, they create organizations which can be reconfigured at a moment’s notice to maximize opportunities for success. Agile leaders must be able to understand and empathize with the evolving values and mindsets of their customers.

Enterprising Culture

Enterprising organizational cultures give purpose to strategy, representing the values of stakeholders and challenging their assumptions. This kind of culture rewards curiosity by providing the resources needed to turn a question into an idea, and an idea into a product. It empowers employees to honestly question their purpose and strategy, always welcoming reinvention.

Autonomy and empowerment are fundamental to enterprise. Empowered employees feel comfortable with experimentation and hypothesis-creation. They take risks to help improve business beyond the status quo. Within risk-taking, employees are empowered to understand their failures as opportunities for growth.

In those moments, the push for progress has maximum impact.

Shared Advocacy

Consumers want to do business with brands they agree with. A 2017 study  revealed that 75 percent of consumers would refuse to do business with a brand that supported a cause contrary to their beliefs. 87 percent said they’d support companies advocating for social change. Consumers want their brands to represent them, and companies should not take this calling lightly.

Shared advocacy ensures that stakeholders have a positive emotional connection to their organization and can feel genuinely represented. When management listens to and acts on the behalf of the communities the organization represents, we all succeed. Yet, true advocacy goes beyond platitudes and sentiments, and requires real and tangible investments in time and money.

The Year Ahead

As Professor Schwab puts it, “There has never been a time of greater promise, or greater peril.” The fork in our road of promise or peril depends entirely on our preparation. We must supplement our pursuit of “more” with an equally rigorous pursuit of what makes us better global citizens.

Davos is an extraordinary opportunity to create the kind of partnerships demanded of us as we enter uncharted and precarious times. The 2018 meeting exposed the overwhelming truth that our policy choices must happen under reevaluated common values. Our new values must ensure the we all prosper from the fourth industrial revolution.

Last year, France, Peru, Argentina, Chile and Panama established taskforces to tackle gender parity head on.  Denmark and Saudi Arabia partnered with the Forum to create the Centre For Global Cybersecurity focused on artificial intelligence. In addition, private industry and governments have partnered to create the Centre For the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

This year, we need to continue this positive trajectory to make sure Davos participants set the stage as agile leaders. Together, we’ll ask the tough questions on how science and technology can benefit society most. We must seize the opportunities that global disruption is bringing, and be bold, inclusive, curious and empathetic to meet them. The solutions discussed will only take hold if we remain committed to living our organizational values and a shared sense of advocacy.

The world will look to the outcomes of the World Economic Forum as a milestone in global progress. Let’s set the stage of a new agile world.

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