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Leadership lessons from consultants in business series - part three: looking to the future

When moving to a leadership position in business, we’ve looked at some key advice from CEOs in our previous articles- ‘Knowing the Basics’ and ‘Communication and Collaboration’. But when looking to the long term future of a company, what do the experts say?

  • Don't be afraid of renewal and change – New leaders and CEOs bring a sense of motivation and energy that can facilitate renewal of the business. Gaining experience in top positions at various FTSE companies will be of great benefit to both the leader, who can try their hand in a new environment, but also for the companies who can benefit from outside expertise. Liv Garfield, chief executive of Severn Trent, and former CEO of BT group business, Openreach, emphasises that new leaders must remember to not try and change the whole culture as it is too ambitious 'but if you can change something specific about that culture, it feels like the start of a snowball.' 
  • Clearly delineated, well-chosen acquisitions can be central to strategy – Many large organisations have successfully acquired others to form new partnerships in recent years, which looks to be a growing trend with the new realm of technologies and start-ups with large social followings that can be integrated into other business models. The merger of Dixons and Carphone Warehouse was much anticipated with CEO Sebastian James (former Bain and BCG consultant) saying that by blending the expertise of the electrical retailer with connectivity opportunities of a mobile company could together 'create a seamless experience for our customers that will enable technology to deliver what it promises – to make their lives better.'  Though it is vital to remember in mergers that clear power structures must be delineated between the new teams entering the 'parent' model rather than letting ambiguity settle in which is harder to disentangle later. 
  • Look out for collaborations – Working effectively across geographic boundaries, business areas and professional disciplines is becoming increasingly important as industries become more and more complex and globalised. Previous work as a consultant comes in useful here as the range of businesses across the world that will have been worked on will give a vitally important perspective that businesses are eager to exploit.  
  • Be aware of technology  Nigel Wilson of Legal and General heavily emphasises that digital technology will create tremendous disruption as the years progress whilst also helping to make processes faster and faster. In his private equity field, Wilson is quick to admit that 'if we don’t step up others are going to step in, and we’re already seeing the beginnings of that happening at the moment.'  It is certainly an apt warning for all business sectors though.
  • Allow for use of technical experts in managerial roles - Often there is a distinction between technological and managerial roles in large organisations, though recently heads of digital have been allowed to sit on boards as they will continue to grow in significance (such as WPP Digital Mark Read, former Booz Allen Hamilton consultant). Businesses need people with both technical and leadership expertise, sometimes in combination. Both are equally important and should be valued equally as well with routes available to progress in such a combined direction rather than remaining separate career paths. 

These lessons the consultant 'switchers' learnt the hard way – so take their advice and make sure you implement these principles into your strategies and behaviour to become the best business leader of tomorrow.