Learning to Lead in the 21st Century

May 2014 Bonus Resource

By Diana Del Bel Belluz, M.A.Sc., P.Eng.

Will your organization survive over the long-term? We all like to think the answer is “yes”. Yet, every year, there are companies that drop off the Fortune 500 list, worthy nonprofits that cease to exist, and government agencies that are severely cutback or closed. Why do seemingly good organizations fail to endure?

Sometimes an organization collapses because its leaders fail to recognize and accept that the ground on which the business was built had shifted underneath them. Other times it’s because the company’s response to the shifts in its business environment is too little and/or too late.

It’s a stark reminder that none of us is immune to the forces of change and it is dangerous to let your attention be completely dominated by what is happening internally in your organization.

Your organization’s chances of survival decrease dramatically if you aren’t properly monitoring your business environment.

Two prerequisites of adaptability and resilience (the healthy risk culture traits that I cover in this month’s Feature Article) are:

  • timely knowledge about how your business environment is changing, and
  • an understanding of the implications of those changes for the viability and success of your corporate strategies, and ultimately for the survival and sustainability of your organization.

Given the pace of change in today’s world, leaders and employees need to be constantly studying their business environment to gain advance warning of shifting conditions and to develop solid responses before those shifts turn into seismic shocks.

In the following excerpt from an interview for a series on Leading in the 21st Century, Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO at BlackRock, shares his insights about the importance of continually monitoring your environment for changes and using what you learn to adapt yourself and your business to keep pace with those changes.

“I gave a speech to our new incoming class of 230 young hires just yesterday—I said to them, “Here I am running this company not quite 25 years. And I still spend an hour a day studying the world and the markets.” And if it’s not an hour, it’s an hour and a half a day.

I’m still a student. I am still learning today as much as I was learning 36 years ago when I started in this business. So our job globally is about investing. And it’s about transfer of information to our clients. Our job is to provide risk-management services to clients. So that means you have to be current. You have to be up to speed. You have to be responsive.

So whether you’re in HR, legal, operations, or technology, if you don’t understand the world and the markets, you’re not connecting with the firm. So it is imperative that all of us worldwide take the time to be that student. That’s the most important lesson I’ve learned by watching other firms. They actually forget that their job has to evolve and change all the time, and that what worked in the past may not work in the future. In my view, if you don’t believe you’re learning, if you’re not a student, you’re probably going backward. ...

It is really important to evolve with the world. And if you don’t, you’re going to fail. As you watch how so many companies have failed, they may have been very good with one product for one moment. But they didn’t monitor the evolution of that product or the evolution of that information and thus did not adapt fast enough and became irrelevant—or else their product became irrelevant.”

Source: Leading in the 21st century: An interview with Larry Fink, by Bill Javetski, McKinsey & Co, 2012.

Follow the links to:

Read this month's Feature ArticleCreating a Healthy ERM Culture – Part 6

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Diana's Pick

Neuroscience and the Nonprofit Manager (written by Andy  Segedin and published in the NonProfit Times) shares some of the tips on how to counteract common biases and habits that impede effective decisions.

The article is based on a workshop that Diana Del Bel Belluz of Risk Wise presented at the 2015 Risk Summit organized by the Nonprofit Risk Management Center.

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