What Does Leadership Mean in 2019?

10 December, 2018

By Laurent Landie, LIM & Partner Executive Search (Thailand)

A conversation between Laurent and Matthieu Douziech, former Human Resources Manager at L’Oreal and the Founder of Harpoon, to discuss how leadership has evolved and the resulting challenges and opportunities ahead.

Laurent Landie (LL): So, Matthieu in your opinion what is the difference between Leadership today and in the year 2000?

Matthieu Douziech (MD): I suggest we start from the premise that the characteristics of a great leader two decades ago – according to me: strategic vision, will to succeed, sound judgement and of course the ability to attract and retain talent – are not necessarily different from the ones we consider today with one difference: it is now mandatory for a business leader to be able to thrive in an environment that is moving faster and is much more complex than it used to be.

In less than twenty years, the world has become defined by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. The economic turmoil, the overall changes that occurred in society and the rapid pace in technological progress are pushing companies to constantly review their business model in order to survive. Business leaders need the ability to successfully drive their company into the unknown.

A good approach to assess whether a person will be a good a leader is to observe the individual as a whole rather than just as a business person. To do so we can consider the leader’s life experience and her/his values or her/his ability to project herself/himself into the future. By considering the leader as an individual one can better assess if she/he will to be able to thrive in an environment that is defined by its uncertainty.

We can be firm on certain life principles yet flexible on how to approach adversity. In a world that is moving so fast, flexibly goes hand in hand with humility. The latter is also an essential attribute one needs to have to reconsider her/his convictions and explore new paths.

On another note, today’s business leader must show curiosity towards her/his industry and must monitor the environment and therefore be open to change. When the leader needs liberty to reassess her/his strategy then she/he has to be able to let go of the processes that govern her/his company. She/he must incorporate information from the ecosystem the company is part of in the business decisions. 

Today, I believe we are also witnessing a new managerial trend that is characterized by the will to cooperate, the reliance on collective knowledge and the desire to establish new ways to work together. This doesn’t apply only to start-ups. This new type of management is defined by the ability to listen, sharing values and goals, and developing collective effectiveness (being autonomous, trusting others).

LL: What are your suggestions to successfully lead the generation Y? (1980 until 2000)

MD: Some psychologists define these generations as less hard-working, utopian, impatient, and not committed to their job and employer. In my opinion the truth is far more complex than that. The work remains essential in the eyes of the younger generations but it seems to be part of a project that is centered around self-improvement and self-fulfillment. The goal is to find a healthy work-life balance.

With a vision of the world and of their environment that is different from the ones of the previous generations, the generation Y and the Millennial generation have joined companies with very strong convictions that can be qualified as disruptive or even rebellious. A number of them dream to be their own boss. It is almost trendy nowadays to be the Founder/CEO of a startup and outmoded to work at a large company even though it will not happen to all of them.

For the company, the challenge lies in the ability to take advantage of their appetite for innovation and their creativity.

Reflecting on the practices of L’Oréal and Harpoon’s corporate clients, I would say that there are 5 points to consider in order to successfully manage these new generations:

(1) Supporting them in finding meaning in work

The generations Z and Y need to understand perfectly their mission and the meaning behind their work because they expect a lot from themselves and from others as well. Unlike their elders – whose career they often reject – they do not want to work out of necessity, rather for pleasure. This hypothesis is reinforced by the fact that receiving a salary at the end of the month is not enough to motivate them. They look for a sense of purpose in what they do.

To address this behavior management models must integrate coaching practices. Some companies, for example L’Oréal, have already started to address this behavior and trained their Human Resources Managers on coaching techniques.

(2) Set challenges to motivate them and increase productivity

I believe that a good way to motivate a team is to make work “fun”. This can be achieved by providing non-repetitive work assignments, setting new objective regularly and providing the opportunity to explore related positions within the company. This is especially true for the Y and Z generations as working in a fun workplace allows them to satisfy their curiosity. During my time at L’Oréal, I launched in Spain an innovative program which aimed at nurturing employees’ creativity and it was called the “innovation-labs”. This program allowed employees to dedicate 25/100 of their time to a project that had nothing to do with their regular work.

(3) Create a positive learning environment

The millennials realize at an early age that the world they live in is not only evolving but also moving increasingly fast. They have an innate sense of awareness and have become accustomed since childhood to fast-paced technological changes. They do not fear to position themselves as eternal learners to develop their knowledge and expertise. Many of my clients tell me that this generation has high expectations in terms of training. They are always looking to progress and evolve.

 (4) Foster a flexible and collaborative environment

Many are attracted to entrepreneurial careers to the point of wishing to reconcile the status of employee with that of the entrepreneur. And contrary to popular beliefs, their ideal workplace is an SME/start-up and not a large group. The narrative is that they see value in working in a structure of human scale because it would allow them to get recognition and feel that they are an important part of the organization. They are appealed to benevolent companies who are receptive to their individual requests.

These requests go from remote working (most of my clients practice it), performing an ancillary activity, possibility of going on a sabbatical to travel around the world or just working in a start-up to even to get involved socially. If a company is to attract and retain talent amongst the millennials, it shouldn’t try to change the characteristics above-mentioned that define Millennials and should rather focus on how to address their needs. Hard to accept but I think it’s the optimal approach.

 (5) Set goals and objectives

It is a generation that has the need to exists and succeed. Passionate, the generations Y and Z have to know why they are working. I am really under the impression that in Europe, getting a salary isn’t a good enough reason to go to work. The millennials tend to prefer working for companies that contribute to changing the system and even the world. It is a bit utopian but I believe that in order to retain young talent – on top of reassessing the organizational chart – the companies now need – and more than ever – to train their workforce and allow them to acquire new skills.

LL: Any advice on how to manage mixed generation teams?

MD: I believe that age doesn’t matter that much rather it is the person’s approach towards life, the relationships she/he has with others and her/his values that will affect her/his approach to team-work. Some individuals – whether they are juniors or seniors – are naturally inclined to cooperate, share and train other people. However, it isn’t the case for everyone.

In order to foster cooperation across age groups it is necessary to avoid classifying people by their age and it might become a criterion for discrimination. In my opinion, what matters most is a person’s ability to learn. Instead of trying to split a group of people by their age companies should embrace the complexity of the human being.

The previous generations were shaped by education and careers founded on values and methods, Those values and methods are not necessarily in tune with the times. This generation’s workfoce will be shaped by the desire to learn and the acquisition of new skills and it is this attribute that organizations need to put to use. For this purpose, companies such as L’Oréal implemented reverse mentoring programs: the partnership between a senior executive and a junior has shown to be an effective way to allow both parties to reassess their perception and comprehension of the outside world.

Here are some important skills a business leader needs to succeed according to the World Economic Forum.

Top 10 Skills

In 2020
 In 2015
1.Complex Problem Solving 1.Complex Problem Solving
2.Critical Thinking 2.Coordinating with Others
3.Creativity 3.People Management
4.People Management 4.Critical Thinking
5.Coordinating with Others 5.Negotiation
6.Emotional Intelligence 6.Quality Control
7.Judgment and Decision Making 7.Service Orientation
8.Service Orientation 8.Judgement and Decision Making
9.Negotiation 9.Active Listening
10.Cognitive Flexibility 10.Creativity

Source: Future of Jobs Report, World Economic Forum
You can find more information on VUCA here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9tKGQ3Fv98

Share article: