by Saemoon Yoon and Michelle Watt*
A Greek philosopher Heraclitus is famously quoted as saying, “change is the only constant in life.” Though change is inevitable, the speed with which the world is changing from multiple perspectives is fast and accelerating daily. We asked leaders of the World Economic Forum’s Innovators Community, a group of mission-driven start-ups and Unicorn companies, to share one characteristic they believe every leader should possess to succeed in today’s world.
Andreas De Neve, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, TechWolf
Curiosity. The world is changing on a fundamental level and leaders will need to accept this new reality, breaking with some of the structures that once brought great success but might not work in the future – being curious and figuring out what works in this "new world" instead of failing to accept this new reality.
Bjorn von Siemens, Co-Founder and Chief Financial Officer, Caresyntax
I believe that resilience is a characteristic that every leader must possess. Resilience, on the one hand, means having the flexibility to adapt to fast-changing situations, enabling leaders to thrive in any context. On the other, it means remaining focused on the long-term goal and bouncing back, despite short-term challenges.
In other words, a resilient leader can continue building towards a vision even in highly volatile or shifting contexts. To me, growing and developing as a leader is closely linked to my community and mentors. I strongly believe that learning from those around you, whether from others in your field or completely different areas and self-reflection are key to growth.
Jacqueline Heard, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Enko
With unprecedented economic and geopolitical challenges on the horizon, leaders must be agile and view each challenge as an opportunity. A scientist at heart, I have experienced my fair share of failed hypotheses and have been forced to get creative to find valuable insights. I apply that philosophy of experimentation and openness to changing course in my role as founder and CEO, a leap I took a few decades into my career.
In Enko’s latest field trials, for example, our failed experiments actually told us more than the successful ones – whether by ruling out molecules that didn’t pass safety testing or identifying the limits of a plant’s growing conditions. This data eventually led us to a breakthrough: a chemistry that outperformed a leading herbicide using 13 times less product. Helping my team foster an experimental mindset across all aspects of our work allows us to have a bold vision for what tomorrow can look like, even when current circumstances are daunting.
Authenticity and purpose
Priya Lakhani, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, CENTURY Tech
No matter what the economic climate looks like and how fast the environment around us is changing, the one characteristic a leader should possess and demonstrate at all times is leading with authenticity and purpose. Not all managers are leaders and not all leaders are managers. Strong leaders can weather adversity and challenges if they are true to their values, communicate them constantly, and use them as their North Star to lead people on the journey with them.
During a crisis and rapid change, all stakeholders, from customers to employees, judge the leader. Did they forget all of the cultural values they put in place during the easier times and abandon their principles or were they authentic about their values?
The best leaders can leverage changing circumstances and challenges, which would hurt most organisations, into a shared goal and a sense of purpose. A strong network of peers and a diverse board of those that can impart advice and support is a great way to continue to grow as well as having an open mindset that mistakes and failures can all provide learning.
Michael T. Suffredini, President and Chief Executive Officer, Axiom Space
Every leader should possess the ability to recognize and celebrate the value and contribution of all individuals on the team and provide the time and resources to develop them. I strive to surround myself with people who challenge my thinking, bring diverse experiences and new ideas to the discussion, push boundaries, take risks and innovate. This is the culture we are establishing at Axiom Space.
Antoine Hubert, President and Chief Executive Officer, Ynsect
In a world that is rapidly changing, every leader must believe vehemently in their mission. Only through true determination can one succeed in changing the status quo.
On our side, it is thanks to this that we continue to grow: we have already seen some real change between advancing regulations and changing mentalities. In 10 years, we have already overcome many obstacles: we have enabled the insect industry to address new markets, entered the human food market, and this is because we are convinced of the legitimacy of our mission.
If I can add another, a leader must also be humble enough to surround themself with the talents they may lack. Only through a diverse set of determined, agile experts can a leader possess enough know-how to succeed and keep on succeeding.
Jan Goetz, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, IQM Quantum Computers
We live in a world where science and technology are paramount. Our lives are simplified, faster, and safer owing to science and technology. Science and technology advancements have undoubtedly made our lives easier and faster.
As leaders, we need to identify local problems and weave solutions through global, human and multifaceted perspectives. That means we must continuously develop our thinking and adapt to new situations. Especially with the younger generation of talent coming up, we must focus much more on empathic leadership and ensure that we provide purpose and meaning to the jobs we create. Take, for example, quantum computing.
Given the ability of quantum computers to simulate quantum interactions at the atomic and molecular level, problems well outside the scope of current computers have the potential to be solved. That could launch a new chapter of scientific discovery (in new materials, medicine, energy biology) that could transform the way the climate, energy and health are managed, according to the World Economic Forum’s State of Quantum Computing report. These are topics that motivate people to join companies and seek solutions.
*Leads, Innovator Communities, World Economic Forum
**first published in: Weforum.org