2020 Vision: Leadership Advice for a Fast-Changing World

By Andrew Chastain

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t speak with another CEO or top executive about their challenges and vision for the future. I also make it a point to survey my firm’s consultants, researchers, board members and advisors about what’s ahead—to hear different viewpoints and test theories.

What are the CEO challenges and leadership opportunities ahead for 2020? I’ve done some informal canvassing and boiled these ideas into the following leadership advice for the coming year:

Re-prioritize your business purpose.

Society is much less forgiving to businesses than it used to be. Citizens, interest groups and investors are pushing to have their demands met, whatever the issue: pay equity, personal data security, operational transparency, climate consciousness, and so on. The purpose of a corporation – or any organization for that matter – is no longer just about maximizing shareholder or stakeholder value, but also in ethically supporting employees, suppliers, communities and the world. This sentiment – eloquently expressed recently by the Business Roundtable – is a subtle yet seismic shift in the way businesses operate.

Test your resilience for recession.

The world’s major economies remain on high alert for recession. Experts tell me that, in the U.S. at least, we’re in year nine of a seven-year economic cycle. Every leader should be thinking, what are we going to do when – not if – it comes? Don’t shelve your growth plans but ramp up your contingency planning and ask the big important questions to keep your organization recession-proof:

  • How can we reserve capacity?
  • How can we invest in areas to counterbalance and diversify revenues?
  • How can we simplify to be more agile?

We may not see a recession in 2020 . . . but then again, we may.

Innovate beyond technology.

CEOs and other executives get carried away that innovation has to mean new technologies. I’m reminding leaders that I speak with to consider innovation in the context of practices and processes as well. These innovations can have immediate, predictable impacts. It’s good to remember that people, not technology, drive innovation. Innovation winners, McKinsey reminds us, set bold yet plausible goals, then find the people and funds to act on them.

Be mindful of employee and executive burnout.

CEOs tell me: “Our people are overworked and overstressed despite our best efforts.” Employees just aren’t turning off their devices and checking out. A typical professional may spend 12 hours a day – half our lives – engaged with screens, notes author and psychologist Doreen Dodgen-Magee, PsyD, who recently presented to a group of WittKieffer consultants on meditation and the importance of maintaining mental health. The idea of increasing organizational mindfulness is important—being acutely aware of how employees are affected by their work habits. Another avenue of improvement toward employee retention and wellbeing centers on Carol Dweck’s idea of a growth mindset, and how embracing change and newness stirs workers’ passions and reduces stress. My advice to CEOs: Start with yourself. Establish your own wellness goals so that you can lead in good health.

Remember: It’s about talent.

When I ask my colleagues what the greatest pain point is for leaders today, they unfailingly say, “Talent.” It is the scarcest, most precious resource across industries. As the war for exceptional workers rages, many CEOs are embracing the gig economy. A caution for these executives: you still must define what loyalty will look like. Experts note that companies’ greater reliance on temporary or contingency workers is breaking apart the relationship between workers and the organizations that theoretically should protect them. For all employees, contingent or permanent, we must still ask fundamental questions: How do we make meaning? How do we build loyalty? How do we retain our best and brightest?

Let me know what’s on your leadership list for 2020. I’d love to hear from you.

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