Throughout 2021, we undertook an action research project into the ‘lived’ experience of executive teams. This revealed how they are increasingly confronted with existential challenges.
These stretch beyond the realm of operational, performance or commercial pressures.
They raise profound questions around the role, values and impact of their organisations, such as:
– How is the organisation responding to the climate emergency and the impact of their operations, products or services on the environment?
– How do they acknowledge and tackle issues of inclusion, social justice and inequality?
– How will the organisation adapt to wholescale changes in employees’ expectations around the nature of work and how and where work is done?
Leaders are being scrutinised and challenged by employees, shareholders, politicians or activists on how they are responding to such questions.
One new executive shared with us their experience of a meeting with their department where a group of employees expressed their dismay at the state of the planet and asked her what the point of their business was in this context. Rather than avoiding the subject, she acknowledged that she too held concerns about the environment and had no simple answers. This led to a passionate conversation around the work of the organisation, what it was doing to tackle sustainability, and what more they felt they needed to be doing.
If leaders are to engage with existential challenge they need to confront reality and not avoid the consequences of existing practices. In other words, not to ‘sleepwalk’ into the future. This process is necessarily unsettling and anxiety-provoking as they must face their responsibilities and the ethics of what they do. They need to act and, in doing so, take a risk in not following convention or habit. This requires courageous choices about what they stand for and do, or don’t do.
If you would like to read more about what helps executive teams to perform, you can download a copy of our research report –
The Unspoken Life of Executive Teams