We talked to Dirk Schlimm, Executive Vice-President and Advisory Board Member at Geotab about a popular topic in business and many other fields — leadership. This year marks the 10th anniversary of “Influencing Powerful People,” published in 2011 by McGraw Hill (New York). Schlimm is now revisiting this topic as we enter a new decade.
1. What are some of the trends that provide the context for leadership in the 2020s?
Leadership does not happen in a vacuum. There will always be irresistible currents and forces that provide the context for leadership. Understanding the times is as critical for those working with leaders as it is for leaders themselves.
I believe there are three overarching trends that provide the leadership context for the 2020s. The first one is data. Digital technologies are transforming businesses, institutions and people’s lives at unprecedented speed. It will be very difficult for any company, or country for that matter, to compete and prosper without embracing the potential offered by data driven strategies. At the same time, they will have to solve issues and conflicts presented by data privacy and security without risking falling behind while others keep surging ahead.
The second issue impacting leadership is climate change. Few other topics have created more widespread concern, controversy, and even existential angst. Climate concerns will pose challenges for a whole series of economic sectors ranging from oil & gas, to energy, transportation and agriculture. Data centers powering the digital transformation are huge consumers of energy. Addressing climate change while maintaining economic prosperity will be a daunting challenge and a source of conflict.
The third one is geopolitical tension. Competition between global superpowers has intensified and plays itself out in multiple arenas including trade, technology and culture. Smaller nations and businesses are feeling increasing pressure to “choose sides” making it harder to operate globally. In the harsher climate of the 2020s the stomach for engaging in conflict and the ability to overcome tension with creativity and pragmatism will be an important element of leadership.
2. Are there any useful traits or habits we can borrow from today’s powerful people?
Given the rise of tech, the leaders of the digital age will no doubt be very smart. Thus, anyone who is looking to work with powerful leaders in a digital world will be well advised to obtain at least a minimum of “data literacy.” But the digital age will by no means render “human” skills obsolete.
Bringing people together for a cause greater than themselves will be as important, if not more important, as it was in the pre-data world. People skills such as communication, teamwork and creative problem solving will matter hugely. But we will also need the ability to deal effectively with strong-willed people who forcefully advance their agenda. This will require the ability to engage constructively, demonstrate political savvy and operate with the right balance of confidence and humility. We need to be ready for a potent mix of brilliance, charm and sometimes brute force.
3. Who are some new role models in leadership to follow?
When Sanna Marin of Finland, age 34, became the youngest prime minister in the world she also led a coalition government of no less than five parties each headed by women under 40. And while the advancement of women in leadership is progressing too slowly for many — Fortune Magazine reports that only 33 (6.6%) Fortune 500 CEOs are female — this is a greater proportion than ever before. Thus it appears that we must get ready for more women in power and understand how, if at all, power dynamics are different in a more diverse world.
A very visible “changing of the guard” occured in the world of motor vehicles or “mobility.” Ferdinand Piëch, the towering chief of Volkswagen, grandson of auto legend Ferdinand Porsche and one of history’s most brilliant automotive engineers, died last year. He was one of the biggest names in car making. Few would argue that this “title” may now well belong to Elon Musk, the flamboyant and equally brilliant CEO of Tesla Motors. Like Piëch, Musk is said to be notoriously demanding and relentless in his pursuit. In early 2020, Tesla overtook Volkswagen as the world’s second most valuable carmaker (behind Toyota) showing the power of the promise of a cleaner and more connected car.
4. Are there any other leaders that stand out?
As we mentioned many of the leaders in the digital age will have backgrounds in computer science, artificial intelligence, and related high tech skills. But the powerful people of the tech age are equally adept at old-fashioned people skills.
According to the BBC, Jack Ma, co-founder and former Executive Chairman of Alibaba, does not have a specialized technology background. Instead, his charisma, strategic vision and persuasive powers are said to be his biggest assets. And, like many similar founders and leaders, he is motivated by more than money. Since stepping down from Alibaba, Jack Ma has become a champion for young entrepreneurs in Africa, as he believes the digital revolution has the potential to increase prosperity. A powerful person with a powerful, digitally inspired vision.
Dirk Schlimm’s full articles can be read here: IPP 2020: A new context for power? and IPP 2.0: Does it still matter and do the rules apply?
Enjoy looking ahead? Check out our blog post on the future of transportation in the 2020s.