Leadership in the age of fear

Kate Howe is chief growth officer for Dentsu Aegis Network UK, working with the group’s portfolio of 20 agency brands to enhance their reputation and drive overall growth.

Previously, she was UK chief executive of DAN’s business-to-business agency, gyro. She joined gyro as managing director in 2014 when it was still an independent network, and led the agency through the 2016 DAN acquisition, as well as a merger with media group Interprise.

Kate’s career spans senior management roles both client and agency-side.

Kate Howe, Gyro UK's managing director

Doubt and doom seem to be the enduring themes of our time. Uncertainty in the world of business creates a paralysis of fear. And though this disruption might be inevitable, fear needs to be embraced and adaptation must follow. Kate Howe, managing director, gyro, tells you how.

The turmoil of volatile economies, technology disruption, convergence, automation, greater globalisation, the Trump/Brexit factors, and now the general election outcome have created previously unimaginable challenges for business leaders. Creating an environment in which making long term future decisions looks remarkably different.

This has many consequences. Firstly, as our fear of losing control compels us to look for order and certainty, businesses end up getting distracted and set themselves up for serving only short term goals. Second, there is a temptation to create behaviours that ultimately don’t serve us, because long term priorities can no longer be determined.

Disruption is however inevitable and as such cannot be resisted. In order to embrace it, businesses will need to master fear ignite business ideas for which a new approach is needed — in the form of humanly relevant ideas, but with the precision that technology affords us, to create relevance at the critical moments for maximum impact. Neuroscience has already taught us that what we consider to be “rational” is the outcome of a delicate balance among several distinct brain functions, including emotion, memory and logic. To take advantage of a volatile environment in order to thrive at times characterised by uncertainty and sneak up on your own fears, there is but one answer — embrace change.

For that you need a visionary leader. Not fundamentally true. A recent research by CEB (now Gartner) shows that the people who change organisations do so because they have certain personality types. People who embrace change within organisations and are able to take others with them on the journey.

Our own gyro research shows emotional still precedes the rational when it comes to business decisions. So, if we are to fully embrace the opportunities brought about in these volatile times, it is not “visionary leaders” but instead “change-makers” that need to be empowered with relevant, emotionally charged messages to help others to channel their fears into creativity. The challenge her is to find the ‘change-makers’. Change-makers who understand the realities of a re-invented world and can help design and sustain innovation and also communicate the compelling destination to keep people focussed and balanced. At gyro we’re collaborating with various partners whose data is enabling us to identify these change-makers and talk to them with emotionally relevant content and precision targeting. Together with clients’ own data, this approach to identify the doers, the builders and the dreamers amongst us has huge potential.

A recent survey by Ernst & Young underscores this desire amongst businesses to build agile strength to boost growth against a background of fast pace change — with 90% of business leaders viewing uncertainty as an opportunity for growth. Nearly one-third expect to increase revenues this year between 6% and10%, far more optimistic than the World Bank’s global growth forecast of 2.7%. The survey, across 30 countries, also finds that corporate leaders are harnessing the power and creativity of their people to drive innovation within their business, and not just relying on acquisitive business growth.

Turbulent times offer a great opportunity for businesses to transform their fortunes, hurdle the competition and enjoy rapid growth and success. You only have to know how best to connect the dots.

Kate Howe is the managing director of Gyro UK

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