Leaders Must Be Creative and Nimble to Excel in an Increasingly Complex World

Successful executives know how to adapt their leadership style to the challenges they face

This article appears in print in the January/February 2020 issue. Click here for a free subscription.

Shauna Swerland decided the best way to grow her boutique recruiting agency, Fuel Talent, was by filling open roles for clients in a variety of sectors. Debbie Crandall, president of Parker Staffing, came to the opposite conclusion. She narrowed her company’s lines of business from eight industries to focus on just one: filling open administrative-support positions.

“It was like running eight different companies,” Crandall says.

Two executives, two thriving companies in the same sector, two very different strategies for growth. Fascinating.

This month’s issue of Seattle Business magazine is all about leadership, from our 2020 Executive Excellence Awards recognizing leaders and their companies for innovation and growth, to our “10 to Watch in ‘20,” a look at how 10 prominent business leaders are driving their organizations toward a bright future.

As the stories attest, good leaders do so much more than just manage their organizations. They lead people. That hasn’t changed over the years. The work world has, and successful business leaders must become nimble, flexible and transparent to adapt quickly to increasingly complex issues.

A report from Seattle-based consultancy Fierce Conversations predicts several workplace trends that will shape the next decade:
• Remote work will no longer be treated as a perk, but rather a necessity for employee retention. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, remote working has increased 115% since 2005. More than 16% of employees in the United States work remotely at least part of the time.
• Leading through change will be a critical skill to master due to the pace of technology advancement. International Data Corp. says organizations will spend a whopping $1.7 trillion on digital transformation during the next two years.
• Companies will use predictive analytics and artificial intelligence to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of employees. The report notes that HR departments are hiring more data analysts than ever to help prevent attrition, to ensure the right people are hired and to invest in key employees.

A survey by McKinsey & Co. found that one-third of senior leaders consider finding talent their most significant managerial challenge. An astounding 82% of Fortune 500 executives don’t believe that their companies consistently recruit highly talented people.

It takes focus and commitment. At Wells Fargo, Pacific Northwest Commercial Banking Chief Executive Officer Mary Knell established a program to identify and train future leaders. At financial-data analytics company PitchBook, Chief Operating Officer Rod Diefendorf revamped the company’s communication structure and launched an intensive onboarding process for new employees.

Parker Staffing’s Crandall places workers with clients with the expectation that they could become permanent.

“What every company is facing is a labor shortage,” Crandall says. “That makes our company even more valuable.”

The so-called “war for talent” isn’t new. The term was coined in 1997 by a McKinsey & Co. executive. But it’s more pronounced now than ever.

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