Urgent leaders think big for the future

The urgency of now is before us

There is much to learn for business leaders from George Bernard Shaw's unreasonable man provocative statement.

George Bernard Shaw once said "the reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

There is much to learn for business leaders from that provocative statement.

Shaw helped establish the London School of Economics, so he knew a little about human behaviour.

As a newish Australian, I often admire this country's flexibility, camaraderie and ability to work together.

However, if the 2015 intergenerational report has taught us anything, it is that Australia has some major and structural challenges to face over the next 50 years, if we want to keep our businesses profitable and our shareholders satisfied.

According to the report, Australia's population will explode by more than 50 per cent in only 40 years, up from its current 24 million to almost 40 million by 2055.

By 2055 there will be 40,000 people aged over 100.

Think about this for a moment. In 1975, there were 7.3 working aged Australians to support every person over 65. Now it's currently 4½. By 2055, it'll drop to 2.7 people.

Inevitably this means Australians will be working well into their 70s. For employers this means we have to adapt to the growing realisation that our teams will be blended with 21-year-old university graduates, middle aged professionals and those in their 70s with a lifetime of experience.

Urgent leadership is needed to ensure such a dynamic can satisfy the sometimes competing demands of shareholders, employees and customers.

Fifty years ago, the United States faced a similar moral and economic challenge, as the public mood for change gave birth to the civil rights movement.

In arguably the greatest address of the 20th century, Martin Luther King famously spoke in 1963 of the "urgency of now" in his landmark "I have a dream" speech.

In an economic sense, Australia is at a similar crossroad.

It is critical our business leaders help the Government move Australia through the economic and social dilemmas that lie ahead.

We need urgent leadership.

Is Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson a reasonable man? Did Apple founder Steve Jobs bend to the whims of others? Did Sir Frank Lowy build a multi-billion global real-estate empire by compromising his vision for Westfield? Does Facebook COO Cheryl Sandberg water down her vision, or does she power on to create a truly unique product for a changing marketplace?

Innovators are agitators. They change the status quo. Even Mother Teresa challenged accepted thinking.

Our business leaders need to think differently, and think BIG. Incrementalists need not apply.

We need more unreasonable people to bring about change.

Urgent leaders have the vision, passion and resilience to bring our ideas to life.

They have the courage to implement change and a passion that inspires their teams to deliver the highest levels of performance, creating great organisations in the process.

Urgent leaders have a clear vision and know how to empower and motivate their people to follow them.

Urgent leaders play to win, and focus their energy on the activities that get the best results for customers and the business.

Urgent leaders don't set up or join committees. They don't communicate via PowerPoint. They don't put up with bureaucracy or see themselves as caretakers of the business.

Rather than resisting change, they embrace it.

Urgent leaders have a clear customer focus. They make sure they know their customer and move quickly to meet their changing needs.

Urgent leaders take accountability. They don't allow bureaucracy to stop their ideas getting to market.

Urgent leaders make quality and timely decisions. They do this by staying well informed, understanding the business landscape and having confidence to move quickly.

Above all urgent leaders are resilient. They have the courage to be the lone voice at the table and will persist when they're knocked down.

It is often said that Australia is a champion team on the sporting field. We need to harness that same competitive spirit and channel it into commercial creativity and take a leading place in global innovation, if we are to meet the structural and generational challenges and opportunities that lay ahead.

The urgency of now is before us.

February 2016