As businesses around the globe have shifted strategies, those with the ability to adapt and think differently are still moving forward. It is the resilient leaders of today who will drive us into tomorrow.
This summer, the Foster School of Business hosted six executive leaders from our Advisory Board to discuss Resilient Leadership in the Age of Disruption. The panel presented students with an insider’s view of today’s business disruption and demonstrated how their classroom skills will translate into real-time solutions.
Here’s what we learned about why resilient leadership and a growth mindset matters in today’s reality.
Adopt, Adapt, and Communicate
In a time of disruption, resilience is the competitive advantage you need to thrive. Lily Ley, VP and CIO at PACCAR Inc., defined resilience as “The ability to adopt, adapt, and communicate. You need to accept the new reality and always have the ability to bounce back from adversity.” These skills are essential for leaders across all industries in order to shift to remote work and accelerate digital transformation efforts in a matter of days.
Vishwajeet (Vishwa) Uddanwadiker, Vice President – Engineering People Strategy at Boeing, echoed Lily’s definition of resilience. Vishwa was candid in displaying the historic declines in global passenger operations resulting in a loss of 95% of the airline industries business overnight, due to the COVID-19 crisis. “You have to absorb the extent of the damage, accept it, and respond.” We see this quick response as companies like Boeing have launched a confident travel initiative and continue to develop advanced technology solutions to enhance safety. MSIS student, Nam Saxena, was impressed by Vishwa’s candor during the talk.
“Vishwa gave us a wonderful way of looking at resilience and an approach to adapt going forward. Developing more resilience means being more humble, which will make us good listeners and thus a good learner.” She added, “My favorite takeaway was that if we are resilient – able to be mentally tough, adapt, and unlearn at any point – it is possible to build anew from the ground up and be successful amidst any challenges thrown our way.”
Operating Without a Playbook
Nikhil Sarnot, Managing Director at Accenture Security, shared with students that the immediate needs of the industry are forcing leaders to redefine IT strategies, adopt new digital technologies, and accelerate growth in the areas of cloud computing and cyber security.
On this note, Mark Horn, Principal at Deloitte Consulting, encouraged the audience to get comfortable with risk as it can embolden them to adapt to new business realities. “Everybody’s operating without a playbook. You have an opportunity where your ideas are probably just as good as everybody else’s ideas…so put yourself out there.”
MSIS student, Drew Gustafson, agreed with the advice, sharing that he will continue to push himself to try new things and take risks. As someone who joined the MSIS program immediately after his undergraduate degree, the speakers confirmed for him that now is the perfect time to learn and invest in himself.
The panel also emphasized that taking risks comes with the ability to fail and recover. Charu Jain, SVP of Merchandising and Innovation at Alaska Airlines, spoke about the importance of embracing failure.
“This leadership skill moved me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to take risks moving forward by carefully evaluating why something failed, and what I can do differently moving forward.” Charu shared that she does not focus on failures, but utilizes the power of her knowledge, confidence, and courage to think of new and innovative solutions.
Embracing failure is about moving through that moment and being mindful of how you respond during and after the event. Embracing failure builds resiliency in a leader’s character.”
-Charu Jain, SVP of Merchandising and Innovation, Alaska Airlines
The Growth Mindset
A hallmark of resilient individuals is what is commonly referred to as a growth mindset – cultivating grit, developing new skills, and setting impactful goals. Scott Baxter, General Manager at Microsoft, practices this mindset and shared that successful leaders “respond to change in the most productive way, the most opportunistic way, and the most constructive way.” He believes in the notion of grit and emphasized that there is always room for more experiences and experiments, “Identify the opportunity and define your course of execution.”
The leaders shined a spotlight on the importance of continuing to develop your soft skills as you gain experience from new opportunities. Lily Ley stressed that a critical component of today’s interview process is your ability to demonstrate skills such as flexibility, empathy, and curiosity. With a variety of ways to advance your professional development, Nikhil Sarnot advised students to take this time to set actionable goals. “What can you do now to set yourself up for future success?”
MSIS student, Partha Ray reflected, “This is the time to try new things – failure is doing something the old way. The session gave me the confidence that I can be flexible and my communication can be open. Knowing the skills I have and the experience I have will turn things around, and it’s important to have the conviction that I can succeed.”
In the age of disruption, resilience is tested more than ever, and organizations as well as individuals must adapt to unprecedented changes at lightning speed. As the MSIS students move forward, the panel of leaders reminded them to stay focused, cultivate a commitment to learn, and continue to spark innovative ideas that will define tomorrow.