Why CEOs Should Be More Vulnerable And Learn To Conduct

Sanjay Brahmawar, CEO of Software AG explains why he believes CEOs should allow themselves to be more vulnerable and learn to conduct.

The quality of an organisation’s leadership will often determine the quality of its work. But the idea that the CEO should dictate proceedings from an ivory tower, or that they should be infallible, is a misplaced one. 

The way that a CEO personally demonstrates their own vulnerability is far more important. By showing that they are on a journey, where mistakes will be made and learnings captured, they can cultivate a culture of inclusivity and collaborative thinking that will enable all employees to flourish.

It is counterproductive to proclaim omniscience – a ‘know-it-all’ culture inhibits learning, growth, and evolution. If the past 18 months have taught us anything, it is that we do not know what the future might have in store. There is always something we can learn from another person, another situation.

Culture is critical

The culture of an organisation is critical to its efficiency and output. Creating and fostering the best culture for your organisation requires the CEO to operate like the conductor of an orchestra. A conductor ensures that all of the different families of instruments play at the same pace. Similarly, a CEO must ensure their different departments are all working towards the same goal.  

A company relies on strong connections between all of its people, not on the will of one. A conductor makes sure that every instrument complements the next, but they do not play each one themselves. CEOs should not be the decision-maker in every situation. At Software AG, over 5,000 fantastic people make up our workforce, therefore it would be extremely bold of me to assume that I know best in every decision. Our strength is in our ability to communicate and collaborate.

A truly great CEO will know that the key to a productive environment and the best results lies in finding the best team and the best people to work towards the organisation’s ambitions. However, this team approach only works when it’s truly collaborative, which means allowing yourself to be vulnerable enough to concede that other people may have the best ideas. Navigating difficult situations or complex change becomes much more achievable with a diversity of thinking and that can only happen if you have a strong team set up that feels empowered. 

Leading through the pandemic

Security and safety have been primary concerns over the last 18-months and really should always be. Every business faced surprises and unknown territory with the pandemic, it was a case of learning and working together not just to weather the storm, but to come out of it stronger and more prepared for the future. 

Agility and responsiveness have been common characteristics of those who have fared best throughout the disruption of the pandemic – research has indicated that business units that adopted agile models before the pandemic performed better (60%) or significantly better (33%) than those that hadn’t after lockdown measures were introduced. To do this requires a propensity to learn, communicate, and collaborate, which brings us back to the importance of culture. 

At Software AG, we have been on the frontline of the rapid acceleration of digitisation and technology investment that has been necessitated by the pandemic. Becoming truly connected through integration, Application Programming Interfaces (API), the Internet of Things (IoT), and analytics helps ensure business continuity and progression. We have now had the opportunity to listen and put people at the centre of our business transformation – and I have always strived to ensure that the business is open to constant feedback through accessible, two-way channels of communication.

There are always opportunities amidst difficult situations – every business has had the opportunity to transform and evolve over the past 18 months and those with the best culture and leadership have embraced it.

Leader’s lessons

As leaders, we must understand what is most important to our organisations and stay true to it. The CEO of today should show resilience, perseverance, and focus on execution – you cannot just be a high-level visionary, you need good attention to detail. Staying consistent isn’t the same as being boring and doesn’t detract from your ability to energise and inspire. 

As CEOs we’re not saviours, we must think about the impact we have on the organisation, customers, and wider society in order to do the best job possible. As we move into a digitally transformed post-pandemic world, it’s crucial that your company’s culture and values are exemplified by its leadership and built into every facet of the business. A company that functions from a people-first base will do so at the highest level. 

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