What it Takes to Lead in a Fractured World

HCLI Research
Published 10 October 2017

It takes the ability to influence, to inspire, to unify. At the 2017 Singapore Human Capital Summit, first held in 2008, we explored how to lead in these uncertain and volatile times. Below are insights into the fractures in relationships and business, and three ways that leaders can rebuild and repair these fractures and tensions.

This Summit was co-organised by the Human Capital Leadership Institute and the Ministry of Manpower. Attendees heard from 41 speakers from nine countries with representatives from business and HR, government, and academia. Speakers included bestselling author Daniel Pink; Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Second Minister for Manpower and Home Affairs; C-suite leaders from Medtronic, Shell, Mastercard, Citi, SingTel, AirAsia, and Olam; professors from IESE, Victoria Business School, and University of Bath; and HR consulting partners such as ADP, Kelly OCG, and the CIPD.

Participants were challenged to grapple with complex issues including how to lead in uncertain times, how to rebuild trust in times of crisis, and how to ensure a purposeful and passionate business.
The Fractures

In many ways, humanity has it better than ever before. For most of the world, famine and disease have been eradicated. Though there is serious unrest in parts of the world, we are living in the most peaceful time in history.

Yet, we see growing income divides and stark income gaps that are leading to social unrest. A report released at WEF earlier this year estimated that the world’s eight richest billionaires control the same amount of wealth as the poorest 50% of the population. Which translates into an astounding 3.6 billion people. When we consider this, it is understandable that large segments of society are disaffected. There is a lack of trust in institutions and systems.

And we are faced with severe headwinds. We see this played out in a number of significant world events over the last twelve months, including Brexit, the collapse of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and an increasing anti-globalisation sentiment. There is certainly fear and division in our communities and organisation.

What does it take to lead in this fractured world? Recalling the dialogues and discussions at the Singapore Human Capital Summit 2017, we suggest three shifts:

Prioritise partnership

Instead of divides, we need to find ways to work together.

During renowned management thought leader Fons Trompenaars’ session on the power on inclusive thinking, he touched on the importance and impact of servant leadership. What would our world look like if we paid attention to both internal customers and external customers? What if our focus was on partnering to ensure success?

Operationally, successful organisations will have the capability and organisational model that allows them to partner with governments and the broader community to advance policy, economic, and social solutions in tandem with embracing the disruption.

At the Human Capital Leadership Institute (HCLI), we have looked at how to create new synergies, rather than shutter ourselves against change and fear. It is no longer about competing; rather we have shifted focus towards partnering. The result is a recent merger with TMS Academy, the leadership development arm of Temasek Management Services.

Respond to the needs

It is time to move away from the singular focus on shareholder value. Going forward, we will need to listen to and respond to multiples voices: customers, employees, and the community. And we need to build solutions that respond to the complex needs of multiple stakeholders: business, government, broader society, and shareholders.

By doing so, we can rebuild trust and belief in institutions.

Unleash hope and energy

The times ahead will be challenging. But to engage employees so that they work on solutions, people must be inspired and energised. A key to this will be developing leadership that can rebuild trust and hope.

In his keynote session, Global Executive Advisor at Blackstone and former Chief Operating Officer at Unilever, Mr Harish Manwani, challenged leaders to unleash energy amongst the ‘troops’. When a leader walks into a room, it is his or her job to fuel the people around them.

Let us rise to the challenge and mend the fractures. Will you join me?

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