With disruptive technology, globalization, and market volatility, the skills you need to navigate an organization toward success are shifting. As the business world becomes increasingly complex and interconnected, leaders need to be able to assimilate changes quickly, adapt their strategy, and inspire their teams to a new future.
So what does it really take to lead the workforce of tomorrow?
Frank G. Zarb, former chairman and CEO of the NASDAQ stock exchange and Republican politician, posed this question to a panel of senior executives at the latest Executive Speaker Series at Hofstra University’s Zarb School of Business. Here are some of the insights they shared with students.
Change is the new norm…embrace it.
“One constant [for leaders today] is change,” says Hofstra alumnus Stella Mendes, Senior Managing Director, Forensic and Litigation Consulting, FTI Consulting. “Luck always plays a role but being able to adapt and take [change] on as a challenge” is extremely important. Tomorrow’s business leaders need to be comfortable with change, because no matter the industry, new innovations will come along to disrupt the status quo.
Exposure to new ideas improves your ability to adapt and is key to taking charge of change management initiatives. This starts with an education that prepares students not just through lectures, but through experiential learning and exposure to some entrepreneurial leaders. Once in the workforce, Mendes offers some clear advice as to how tomorrow’s leaders can achieve success when faced with change: “Challenge yourself and challenge your staff,” she said. “Get a board that will challenge you and get comfortable with that. Don’t fight change, embrace it and learn to be fluid in a changing environment.”
Continually shift your mindset for innovative solutions
“I’m constantly reading, constantly trying to find new information, trying to find new constructs for how to think of things,” says Michael Roberge, Hofstra alumnus and CEO of MFS Investment Management. “You will never be done learning. It will be different. Learning is different when you don’t have to worry about an exam. But you should learn something new every day. Things change every day. There are new developments, new policies, and you have to be on top of that. Force yourself to read all the time.”
Mendes agreed, saying: “I spend a lot of time thinking about what went wrong. What’s changed. Technology changes every bit of every day.”
Developing a diverse network of colleagues you can bounce ideas off of is another way to make sure you’ve looked at a problem from all angles. This idea is central to the Zarb School’s entire approach to its MBA program. “[At Hofstra] we create an environment that invites not just lectures, but collegiality and collaboration,” says Hofstra University President Stuart Rabinowitz. “We have an idea hub where students can interact with entrepreneurs,” which is critical for the network students need once they break out on their own. Alumni often find this network helpful in recruiting talent later as well and in developing strong teams.
Tap the combined knowledge of your team.
It’s impossible to stay current on all the information out there, but business leaders can rely on their teams to help them stay up-to-date regarding their tasks at hand.
“You don’t have to be an expert,” said Mendes. “You do need to know enough to know whether someone is being truthful or not. You need to know what the technology is capable of and what kinds of reports to request, and you need to read up. Spend time with your team so you know exactly what’s going on. Make sure you’re getting the right reports, that you understand them, and that you check your data. You have to have trust in your staff, but also realize that things can go wrong, and you need to know enough to know when it doesn’t look right.”
Foster a culture where risk is respected, not feared.
Creating the right culture for your team and your business is key to staying on track and retaining the talent that leads you to better business outcomes. That means developing the leadership skills that allow you to understand risks and empower your employees to take action and solve problems.
“Understanding risk is really important,” says Roberge. “It’s becoming more important to create a culture where an employee can come forward and say, ‘I think there’s a problem and you better come look at this.’ Risk is really important and as CEO you can’t possibly know everything. You need a culture where people understand risk and bring things forward.”
Take the time to develop cultural awareness.
We’re nearly 20 years into the new millennium, and it’s obvious that business is conducted very differently than it was just a few decades ago. Everyone is connected, with global communications happening in real-time. That’s why global experience and cultural awareness is so important to the success of tomorrow’s leaders.
“You’re at a disadvantage if you haven’t learned how other countries do things,” said Mendes. “It’s so important. If you don’t understand the culture you are working with you will absolutely struggle.”
A university environment can be the perfect crucible to develop these skills. Several audience members pointed out that Hofstra offers incredible diversity, both in demographics and in academic interest. “[Hofstra] has a burgeoning number of global programs including some in Israel, South Africa, Argentina, and a Dual Degree with the Dongbei University of Finance and Economics in China – the only program of its kind, anywhere,” says Rabinowitz. The proximity to New York City as well as Hofstra’s global connections also help to organically develop cultural awareness in its students.
You’re in charge.
“You’re responsible for your own career,” said Roberge. “Find someone to help you early in your career. You’ll want multiple mentors. Leverage them. There are no obstacles.”
Hofstra’s Frank G. Zarb School of Business offers the Zarb Executive Speaker Series to students every semester. These leaders discuss their own success stories and give students the opportunity to network and build relationships within their industry of interest.