Last weekend, I had the privilege of experiencing the Women’s FA Cup Final from the comforts of a corporate box, generously hosted by a prominent consultancy firm. Naturally, I expected the event to follow the typical corporate hospitality script—a gathering dominated by ambitious white male business professionals, all vying for lucrative connections and deals.
To my pleasant surprise, however, the atmosphere I encountered was strikingly different.
The majority of attendees were women, and their purpose for being there went beyond the pursuit of business ventures—they were genuinely enthusiastic about the football. This divergence from my past experiences created an atmosphere that was refreshingly devoid of cutthroat competition, instead fostering an environment that was warm, approachable, and grounded.
Initially, I found myself questioning the absence of certain familiar elements: Where were the grand welcomes and elaborate speeches over exquisite cuisine? Where were the stacks of business cards usually thrust upon me? Yet, upon reflection, I began to consider whether this shift in experience symbolizes the broader changes we are witnessing in the realms of business and leadership in 2023.
Propelled predominantly by women leaders, we are witnessing a transformative embrace of vulnerability and authenticity. Whereas leaders of the past sought to project unwavering strength above all else, the leaders of the future prioritize embracing their true selves in their interactions with their teams. Their focus lies in forging genuine connections, rallying their people around a shared purpose, and driving performance and results through this unity, rather than relying on antiquated carrot-and-stick approaches.
The unique environment even afforded me an unprecedented opportunity: conducting a coaching session with a CEO in front of others. Traditionally, coaching has been shrouded in utmost privacy, with leaders understandably preferring to keep advice and feedback confined to themselves.
The CEO in question had been enlisted as a change agent, successfully turning around a struggling business. However, as time wore on, he found himself overstaying his welcome. We engaged in a candid and sincere conversation about his challenges and explored strategies for overcoming them. I advised him that the best course of action would be to identify potential successors within the organization and gracefully transition out, leaving capable individuals to assume the reins.
It was astounding how comfortable he felt having this conversation in the presence of strangers. In this environment, his openness was admired. In the past, many leaders would have recoiled at the thought of exposing their strengths and limitations—admitting to having a coach would have been perceived as a sign of weakness.
This new brand of leadership embodies emotional intelligence, empathy, and comprehension. In times of volatility and unpredictability, we seek leaders whom we can trust to be forthright and transparent, unafraid to acknowledge their failures alongside their triumphs.
While these qualities have long been embraced by women leaders, this weekend provided a refreshing glimpse into the increasing adoption of such attributes among business leaders at large.
To remain relevant, leaders must adapt to the changing times, cultivating greater vulnerability and authenticity, and fostering an environment of openness within their teams. By doing so, they will not only lead with contemporary prowess but also inspire a new wave of inclusive leadership.
Thought for the week
Stand up and face the music now – no matter how loud it is.
Tips for being an A player:
- A positive disposition is contagious.
- The toughest days make you stronger.
- Caring isn’t expensive – it’s priceless.
- When we look out for others, others will look out for us.
- None of us are perfect, but every single one of us is important.