An accomplished and experienced leader, Arnaud Vaissié co-founded medical and travel security firm International SOS more than 30 years ago. He is still the chairman and CEO and has seen the company grow to more than 10,000 employees in 90 countries. Arnaud is well respected in his industry and company and has a 90% approval rating from employees.
As part of the research for my new book, The Future Leader, I interviewed more than 140 CEOs around the world to get their insights and what it will take to be a successful leader over the next decade and beyond. You can learn more and get a copy of the book with all of the insights and research at GetFutureLeaderBook.com. I talked with Arnaud about the future of leadership and how organizations and individuals can prepare now for an uncertain future. His experience shines in his insightful answers.
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Jacob: What trends do you think will impact the future of leadership?
Arnaud: The critical trend will be the combination of additional technological changes and more independent work. The office worker as we know it today might become the minority in the future. Independent work and all forms of traditional office work will have drastically been changed. Therefore, leadership will be more through influence than command.
Jacob: What mindsets do you think leaders of the future in 2025 will need to have?
Arnaud: The fundamentals won’t change, but some behavioral adjustments will be required. First of all, the fact that a leader needs to show curiosity will stay the same because the world will keep seeing an acceleration of innovation. The second aspect is having a global mindset.
Jacob: What should leaders of the future need to know how to do? Are there any specific skills you can think of that come to mind?
Arnaud: They will need to know how to communicate. At the same time, they will need to have a better understanding of technology. Today many leaders have relatively little understanding of what technology and engineering can bring to the table, the risks and rewards.
To be able to create an environment where both the staff and the customer become individuals. In a similar way, customers were looked at as generic groups. Going forward, the understanding of what individualization is going to bring to the table is going to be critical.
Jacob: When you think of leaders of today versus in 2025, what do you think some of the main differences will be between the two?
Arnaud: Leaders of the future will be motivating their people in order to get them to be innovative and create new ideas. It means relinquishing some control and power. Leaders of the future will have to understand the triggers of a regulatory environment even more than they do today. In the future, I believe countries are going to rebuild as many barriers as they can. Therefore, to understand and manage those barriers in the future is going to be critical to success.
Jacob: If you were to imagine a day in the life of a leader in 2025, how do you think they’re going to spend their day?
Arnaud: I think they will spend more time on the environment. I mean by that the stakeholders at large, whether they are the regulators, the politicians, the employees. The non-client related issues. Because they’re willing to hear with the development of the business even more in the future than they’ve done in the past.
Jacob: What do you think some of the greatest challenges will be for leaders of the future?
Arnaud: You have to continuously shield your opinion, and at the same time good leadership is about being opinionated. You have to have a strong belief in what you believe in and what you want to go for. At the same time, the facts around you change all the time. How to be constant enough so as to develop a successful future for your organization, but accepting to change enough so as to adjust to a world that is changing all the time.
Jacob: Are there any leaders today that you can point to that you think illustrate what you think leaders will be like in the future?
Arnaud: I think our French president is pretty good in this regard. He has a lot of what leaders in the future need to have: smarts, vision, optimism, communication skills. I didn’t vote for him in the first place, but I think he’s pretty good there.
Jacob: Internally, are you thinking about leadership of the future?
Arnaud: Sure. Day in and day out. We spend 6% of our revenues on technology, and technology is what the future is going to be all about. Are we missing the right one, are we going to be disrupted by some guy that we’ve never heard of somewhere, or by the big guys somewhere else? 2025 is not that far down the road. I don’t have the feeling that things are going to be drastically different. It is just that if we don’t have the leaders who really promote and push innovation quickly enough, we won’t be in a leadership position any more.
Jacob: How do you define leadership?
Arnaud: It is having the capability of making knowledgeable decisions and liking to do so. Some people like to be leaders, others don’t. It can be helped in the teaching. To me a leader is someone who has this capability, but leadership needs to be based on the right grounds: knowledge, listening skills, and courage.
Jacob: Have you thought about skills that you yourself will need as a leader in the future?
Arnaud: I’m an old leader, and the thing that one may lose with time is curiosity. Because I’ve been in leadership for so long, I need to maintain this edge on curiosity and not being blasé. Because some points you say, “I’ve seen it all,” and frankly with changes going on, nobody has seen it all.
Jacob: Do you have any leadership hacks that have worked well for you?
Arnaud: What I really believe in is collective leadership. Even though in the end the leader may make the final decisions, there is a need for a core group of a few people with whom there is complete freedom of expression, and therefore where ideas can be confronted in a completely open way, where you know that there is minimum ego or political issues involved.
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