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Sustainable Brands ’19 Paris: The Future of Leadership Is Bold, Brave and Feminine

This opinion-editorial originally published on Sustainable Brands — echoes the growing call for a shift away from ‘command and control’ styles of leadership.

Europe’s largest event on innovation and sustainability, Sustainable Brands '19 Paris — taking place this week — echoes the growing call for a shift away from ‘command and control’ styles of leadership. Because time is running out…

To transform business as a force for good, we need bold and brave leaders — individuals that are not afraid to get personal, emotional, and to define and defend their values.

This has been one of the overarching messages this week at SB’19 Paris, and a message underscored in the opening address by Emmanuel Faber, CEO of Danone, who said:

“If we’re not bold as a brand, we face the risk of being meaningless. But it’s not just about being ‘bold’ as a brand; I’m sick of hiding behind brands! People are the brand. Don’t hesitate to make it personal and use your voice. Embrace your emotions and be vulnerable because, without making it personal, you will not stand for anything!"

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These rousing words reflect a much-needed change in business leadership to drive positive, inclusive and sustainable impact — one which Neural Beings founder Anahita Moghaddam articulated clearly. Building on Faber’s words, she said:

“We live in a world where we celebrate qualities like competitiveness and short-term gains. But we need to shift to celebrate qualities that live more naturally in the feminine;  intuition, interdependence and longer-term planning.”

In politics, we are also seeing new kinds of leaders embody this ‘alternative’ approach, proving that embracing values such as kindness and empathy is not only more inclusive, but more effective.

New Zealanders, such as myself, have long been proud of our young Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (38), who we've witnessed shaking up the world of politics. Not only has she given birth in office, but she’s pushed for a new world order, calling for kindness and humility on platforms such as the UN General Assembly.

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She is bold and brave, and she’s not afraid to show vulnerability and emotion — but she’s no soft touch: After the terrorist attacks in Christchurch, when Trump leaned in to offer ‘any support whatsoever,’ she was quick to respond: “Please extend your sympathy and love to all Muslim communities.” Quick to take action and enact new gun laws, she has proved an empathetic approach to leading is also more effective.

A few weeks ago, at Advertising Week Europe, Karen Stacey — CEO of Digital Cinema Media— echoed a similar sentiment:

“I don’t think companies with ‘command and control' models of leadership are going to survive. Companies need to look at leadership differently, and that means a greater emphasis on empathy and a greater emphasis on emotional intelligence.”

Yes, we need more women in power (in the advertising sector, only 12 percent of creative directors are women), but we need more men that embrace a more ‘feminine’ model, too — not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because, as Ardern has demonstrated, it’s the smartest thing to do (and also, the right thing to do).

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Chris Coulter, CEO at GlobeScan, agreed with this sentiment. He said:

“Brave leaders today don’t puff themselves up. We are seeing a new approach to leadership with those in power take on the role of nurturers. Expectations of leaders are changing, and ‘command and control’ doesn’t work anymore. People are empowered, and they won’t be bullied. Empathetic leadership is the only way to mobilize people.”

Speaking from a branding perspective, Nick Steel — Creative Director at independent creative agency HarrimanSteel, who’s attending the Paris event this week — insisted that an ‘ego-less’ approach to advertising is also the most effective.

“Empathy is a core value that drives genuinely impactful creative work,” he told me. “If I can’t just listen to my clients and step into their shoes, I can’t deliver the right creative solutions. Empathy means active listening, but also means no egos. It means motivating and inspiring, rather than leading from the top.”

In politics, and in business, Sustainable Brands Paris confirms that we’ve witnessed a shift far too far to the ‘masculine’ (prioritizing hard ‘rationality’ with short-term, immediate gain). To drive business as a force for good, it’s time for a new model of leadership to thrive.

We need leaders that emphasize collaboration and consultation — rather than aggressive, hierarchical cultures — who can show emotion, be vulnerable and understand and share others’ feelings; and perhaps most importantly, who understand the interconnectedness of things, which leads to consideration of the ‘impact’ of business, too.

Our planet is not an infinite resource, growth cannot be not endless, and sustainability should not be a burden, but an opportunity. This is not a call to altruism, but self-interest — as Coulter shared with me:

“From a business perspective, you quite simply can’t be a successful global company in a failed world.”


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