Cultivating our hidden leaders

Author: Alain Bejjani — CEO, Majid Al Futtaim — Holding

There’s been much debate over the last year about the future of the workplace — will we work from home, from different geographies, how will we collaborate and so on. Less has been said about the future of the workforce.

I recently had the privilege of participating in a very thought-provoking panel discussion on this with some of the brightest minds in global business today. The Fortune Global Forum panel on ‘Reimagining the Future Workforce,’ moderated by Fortune’s Lee Clifford and with co-panelists Marta Martinez of IBM, Zoetis CEO Kristin Peck and McKinsey’s Bill Schaninger, discussed topics from leadership to purpose in the future workforce.

There were many valuable takeaways from that conversation, here are a few:

1. Purpose remains vital. Many times, especially when we’re younger and/or have more opportunities, we look for the perfect career that ‘completes us’ and gives us meaning. But the reality is that purpose comes from within; we build it rather than find it. And, as this highly recommended article explains, meaning is something we consciously pursue and create — as it says, ‘with the right approach, almost any job can be meaningful.’

As Bill from McKinsey shared, Covid and its resulting disruptions have made many of us question our purpose, the role work plays in our purpose, and whether or not what we do is really what we’re interested in. The challenge for both employers and employees is to dig deep and discover that purpose and articulate it — because purpose drives productivity, longevity, sustainability and pleasure.

The best gift we can give our people is to help them articulate what matters to them and determine the extent to how they can live that with businesses, he added. I echo his sentiment that it is arrogant to assume that our purpose as a business will line up perfectly with every individual’s purpose — but to the extent that we can help our people figure out what matters to them and see how much we can maximise it for as many as we can, it can be transformative.

2. Experience will be crucial. At Majid Al Futtaim, we’ve found that the key driver for our customers to go back to our malls and leisure and entertainment destinations is experience. Customer experience was important pre-Covid — now it is pivotal. I think this is true for the workplace also.

We have to make the office a place that people want to go to because it’s enjoyable to go to the office, and enjoyable to be together. I believe the future workplace is going to be where people meet and enjoy meeting. Other than those work functions that need to happen in an office environment, I believe we will continue to work from anywhere.

3. For companies and individuals, leadership is being redefined, or certainly refined. Where companies once focused on career, then purpose, wellbeing is now the at the center. Leaders, as Zoetis CEO Kristin shared, will be those who are willing to demonstrate their concern through policies that empower people, by words and by how they are managing their own wellbeing and career. Empathetic leaders, as well as companies with purpose who talk about both career and wellbeing, will be well positioned for the future.

4. For me, one of the most evident lessons from this last year has been that leadership is circumstantial — or in other words, cometh the hour, cometh the man (or woman).

I’ve seen first hand that every one of us has a spectrum of leadership qualities and capabilities, some more evident and some less called on. In this pandemic year, it was very difficult to hide our empathy, for example — we were all facing the same problems, the same fears, we all discovered we had to deal with uncertainty, fear of this virus, our kids, everything.

Even as we redeployed our people at Majid Al Futtaim, it was a rapid response to a need. We didn’t go out of our way to reinvent the wheel, we just said ‘We need to make it happen’ and everyone did their best.

I wish we could have this same mindset all along without having to face a pandemic or a burning issue, but that’s a great lesson of leadership and one we have retained: What can we do differently in our organisational culture to make sure that we actually bring out the best in people whatever they are doing and whenever they are doing it.

Finally, I want to encourage my fellow business leaders and my fellow MAFers, and others in the business community, to stay in 2021. In the last year and change, we achieved things that we previously thought unimaginable, whether zero-based budgeting or growing our digital platform exponentially. Let’s focus on the things that made that difference rather than focus on going back to how things were. Let’s not regress to our default settings, but progress with our new ones.

These, I believe, are some of the ways we will shape the workforce of the future, and with them our collective future. I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

Sharing how we create great moments for everyone, everyday. twitter.com/MajidAlFuttaim