Over the last 25 years, Thoughtworks has had the opportunity to work with some of the most accomplished executive leaders across the globe, many of which are pioneers of their industry, bold innovators and inspiring leaders. We found that the more incredible leaders we worked with, the more commonalities began to surface, which prompted us to take a closer look at the behaviors of these elite executives and ultimately release our first-ever report on courageous leadership. This report, called, “The Next Big Disruption: Courageous Executives,” helped us define courageous leadership and determine what sets these executives apart from the competition.
In honor of our 25th anniversary, we are revisiting the report findings to share our top 25 takeaways and what it takes to be a truly courageous leader in this age of disruption and innovation.
Approach to leadership
1. Appetite for Risk: Eighty-seven percent of all executives agreed that taking risks is necessary to achieve goals and maintain a strong competitive advantage.
2. Leadership Style: The most common leadership style among risk-taking executives is “supporting” followed by “friendly.”
3. Handling Setbacks: Courageous executives reported their most common reaction to setbacks was to focus on what went right.
4. Motivation and Failure: When asked how failure affected their employees, 54 percent globally said that they believed failure made them even more motivated to succeed.
5. Thinking Ahead: Seventy-one percent of executives are passionately curious and continuously researching new trends as a way to set them apart from the competition.
6. Close Relationships: Ninety-one percent of executives report that customer input directly informs their strategic decision-making, recognizing the necessity of maintaining a close connection to customers.
7. Leveraging Data: Seventy-five percent of executives report that customer research is the most common way to gather customer insights.
8. Internal Focus: Eighty-seven percent of executives report having an internal team dedicated to their customers, however in the US, executives are more likely to listen to their customers directly versus relying on their team.
9. Social Media: Fifty-four percent of executives say they use social media to gather insights from customers to inform their decisions.
10. Listening to Feedback: Sixty-nine percent of leaders say they listen closely to customer feedback and make changes accordingly.
11. Team First: Across continents, nearly half of all courageous leaders describe their company culture as “team-first,” meaning they hire primarily for cultural fit, with skills and experience the second consideration.
12. Collaboration: Over half (59% percent) of courageous executives say encouraging their employees to work together is what sets them apart from other C-suite executives.
13. Subject Matter Experts: Ninety percent emphasized the importance of key hires, stating that discovering subject matter experts and new talents helps their context and credibility and is crucial to success.
14. Team Priorities: Fifty-eight percent of leaders say encouraging their company and teams to stay innovative is a top priority.
15. Team Support: Ninety percent said having strong team support is crucial to a businesses’ success.
Adaptability to technology
16. New Technology: Sixty-five percent say that digitizing and adapting to new technology is a top business priority followed by growth.
17. Research: Sixty-three percent of leaders do their own research to stay ahead of technology changes
18. Trend-focused: Some of the trends that are on the business agenda of courageous executives are security threats, human and machine interaction, AI and machine learning, AR and VR and software and operational platforms.
19. Changing Styles: Fifty-four percent of executives adapted their leadership style to get more out of technology and deepen their own understanding of technology.
20. Networking: To stay ahead of digitization, 50 percent of executives say networking with other c-suite executives in their industry and other industries is important
Future of work
21. Tech’s Impact: Seventy percent of executives believe that replacing white-collar workers with technology is a natural progression and to be expected.
22. Skills for the future: Fifty-four percent of courageous executives have developed a deep understanding of technology with a remarkable 57 percent of these leaders reporting having written code.
23. Research: To prepare for the potential impact of technology on the workforce, 87 percent of leaders admit to researching new technologies that may help them save on staff costs.
24. Limiting New Hires: Eighty-three percent of executives agree that they’re preparing for the impact of technology replacing their workers by limiting new hires to reduce ongoing overhead.
25. Challenges: Fifty-three percent of leaders see the compatibility of different technologies as a technological challenge in the next five years.
Leaders who set themselves apart from their competitors are those that have an appetite for risk and are motivated not discouraged by setbacks and failures. They also ensure customer insights inform the strategic decision-making process and recognize the importance of bringing in subject matter experts. Finally, courageous executives are early adopters of new technologies and are always thinking ahead to prepare for the changing future of work. We’re proud to be led and to have worked with many courageous leaders and look forward to welcoming the next wave of innovators.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.