By John Gerzema, CEO of The Harris Poll | U.S. News & World Report
“MY GOAL IS TO BE THE least-powerful CEO ever,” Ilkka Paananen told me in an phone interview in 2015. At the time, we had just published our book The Athena Doctrine (How Women (And the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future. I was trying to document how modern leaders were adapting from the old ‘command and control’ style of leading. And Paananen’s leadership ethos was not just humble, but practical. As CEO of Supercell, the Finnish mobile game studio (e.g. Clash of Clans), the decision to put the CEO at the bottom of the org chart was an intentional strategy to leave power in the hands of developers and those closest to their customers.
More leaders should take note of what’s happening in Helsinki. Today, new demographics, new social movements and new attitudes on what makes a great leader are hollowing out the perch on which traditional leadership sits. And our Harris Poll data suggests there is a referendum upon leaders to build organizations that are more diverse, more inclusive and more in sync with society.
The movement toward inclusive leadership is everywhere. In politics, America elected the first Muslim and Native-American congresswomen to the House of Representatives, which is now the most racially-diverse and female in U.S. history. In the wake of #metoo and #blacklivesmatter, the world is awaking to the perils of privilege and the need to re-think leadership access. According to The World Economic Forum, 86 percent of people globally say, “we have a leadership crisis in the world today”. And in our Harris Poll data, we discovered a fifteen-year inverted relationship between corporate reputation and the size of a firm. In fact, 60 percent of Americans today trust smaller companies over larger ones.
This ‘Scale is Fail’ phenomenon highlights a growing mistrust of power at the top. People see institutional self-interests – 79 percent of Americans think big company leaders are only looking out for themselves (tied with U.S. Congress) – as a reason why power is an obstacle to progress.
Yet no group demands more of leaders than millennials. Unafraid of the ongoing transformation – because they were born into it – 63 percent say they buy more from businesses who speak out on social issues, while 60 percent feel CEO’s of large companies should be visibly discussing income, racial and gender inequality and their own personal views on social issues. That millennials are now moving into the c-suite (while Gen Z are becoming their interns), the top-down leader is being replaced by a bottom-up consensus seeker, who acts decisively by utilizing multiple streams of information.
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