Saturday, July 13, 2024
CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - Executive Insider - Polar Perspectives on Leadership

Executive Insider

Polar Perspectives on Leadership

Fiona Logan

Recently, I voyaged to Antarctica as part of the Homeward Bound Ushuaia Voyage 2023. I was one of 87 female STEMM changemakers who took time away from our day-to-day to learn and grow, both personally and professionally, and to face into the intractable environmental, political, economic and social issues facing organizations today. This expedition provided a unique opportunity to bear witness to the impacts of climate change, sharing the journey with experts – an experience that has left an indelible mark on my perspective. 

Not everyone would sign up for their learning and development in such an extreme environment; not least because of the high seas, the ‘Drake Shake’ and the unpredictable Antarctic storms. Never mind the prospect of the relative discomfort of 87 women and 40 odd crew sharing an 80 meter science vessel!  But because, as business leaders, it’s also difficult to step away from the strategic and day-to-day leadership and management of the businesses we’re entrusted to run. In the dynamic world that we currently occupy, can we afford to step away for even a moment? 

Having started to reflect on this incredible, life-changing experience, it’s my position that, as leaders, we must make 2024 the year to carve out time to think about the development we need to be the best leader we can for our evolving organisation. To do something completely different, shift our perspective, move out of our comfort zone and re-energize. The resultant focus, energy, adaptability and awareness is vital for leading our teams through today’s turbulent business environment of ambiguity and disruption.

The gift of time

Managing the balance between working on the business and in the business isn’t easy. To work on the business, stepping away from the busy day-to-day management of a thriving global business is essential. Taking the proper time to reflect, to think through complex strategic challenges and opportunities, is very much in keeping with who we are as Insights and who I am as a leader – and the high bar I’ve set myself for transformative change as I develop and grow. At Insights, we continue to embrace learning and our teams are highly creative, pushing our boundaries to be ever-more innovative in delivering strategic change. Nevertheless, I asked myself, how could I use this experience to reinvigorate my personal energy? To provide stimulus and space to ruminate on our biggest business opportunities and threats.

There was something necessary, for me, about going to Antarctica, which I hadn’t realised before setting off. After striving to achieve our aims and lifting the calibre and capabilities of our team, I needed the time to consider my personal and professional response. Surrounded by such inspiring leaders in our business, how could and should I develop? 

The experience re-energized my connection and commitment to our vision and helped me appreciate my role in our next era of evolution. The breakthrough thinking and critical analysis made possible with the perspective, time and contemplation the journey provided.  All CEO’s operate across a broad spectrum of challenges and issues. Somehow, being on the ship, with limited internet or access to what was happening in the world, gave me a unique opportunity to stand back, take a view of our business from a number of different angles and draw new conclusions. In addition, being so far away gave me the gift of appreciation not only for our team, but our strategy and our wider purpose in the world. 

In 2024, if you are serious about your development, I would recommend taking the time to reflect, refocus and re-prioritise. And it’s worth considering, in context with your own workplace, how you could do it openly so that you can role model the importance of gaining new perspectives whilst investing in your own learning and development. 

Your team

I would argue, that as a leader, and even more importantly, as a CEO, if you have the right people on the team, with a shared vision, purpose and values; with complementary and diverse skills and perspectives; and with whom you trust, this allows you to consciously build in time to your routines to gain the perspective you need to be the most effective CEO you can be.  

Ask yourself, is this team really driving our success, or their own. If your inner circle isn’t working with you, in a shared endeavour towards a shared vision, it’s time to consider why not? Or, is there disharmony in the team? Enough to limit output if you aren’t there? Scary though it may be, stepping away from the desk for short periods should not cause any interruption to business. If your absence disrupts the workflow, it is a sign that your leadership strategy may need recalibration. 

In addition, I found that in my absence, my colleagues benefitted from the experience too, in different ways. Yes, the challenge of holding the responsibility for the custodianship of the organization in my absence, but also in their acknowledgement of how they behaved, showed up and delivered whilst I was gone.

Decisions will be made when you’re away – and in my case, they were. I know it is essential that I get behind every decision I entrusted them to make. However, being away gave me space and time to focus on the team dynamic, team performance and our capabilities and capacity for this next growth phase of the business.  

Your comfort zone

As a CEO, it is easy to fall in to thinking that the cut and thrust of the ‘big’ decisions and the everyday challenges and issues that come across our desk, means that we are always ‘out of our comfort zone’ – adapting, changing and learning. This is to some extend true. However, it also becomes second nature, we make it look ‘easy’ to hold the can, pivoting and shouldering ultimate accountability for decision making. To pull us out from this, to find where our zone of comfort ends, and challenge ourselves in new and different environments is exhilarating, and necessary for our development, and for the perspective it gives us it is vital to the long term  success of the business. We must find strategies to stay fresh. 

How could the intense environment of Antarctica translate back to the workplace? While the average leader may not find themselves in the eye of a 150-mile-an-hour katabatic winds, or with a 35-foot humpback whale playing right beneath our 15-foot Zodiac, the business landscape is never-the-less characterized by increasingly extreme ups and downs. 

The icy landscapes of my expedition to the icy south provided not only a majestic polar backdrop but also a profound canvas for leadership reflection. So, as leaders, let’s make 2024 the year we carve out more time to intentionally examine how we develop as leaders, the legacy we want to leave behind – globally and locally – and how we can take our businesses forward responsibly, in sustainable and inspiring ways.

Written by Fiona Logan.

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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - Executive Insider - Polar Perspectives on Leadership
Fiona Logan
Fiona Logan is Chief Executive of Insights. Fiona came to Insights in 2015 as VP Europe, and soon took on the role of Chief Operating Officer. She joined from her post as CEO of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park following an international corporate career with IBM and Unilever. Fiona has attended Henley, Harvard and Macquarie Business Schools and is a previous winner of the UK Public Servant of the Year from the Women in Public Life awards. Fiona enjoys life as a mum to two teenagers and is a passionate wild swimmer, walker and environmentalist.

Fiona Logan is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow her on LinkedIn.