National Grid CEO Shares Three Ways To Be A Successful Future Leader
Before becoming CEO of British multinational electricity and gas utility company National Grid, John Pettigrew worked for the company for 25 years. He joined National Grid straight out of college in the early 1990s, when electricity and gas production was drastically different than it is today. To say he has seen the industry and his company change over the course of his career would be an understatement. But John knows that successful leaders anticipate change and are able to adapt quickly.
Today, National Grid provides electricity and gas to more than 10 million customers across the United Kingdom and the northeastern United States and is one of the largest investor-owned utility companies in the world. John oversees more than 23,000 global employees pushing for sustainable natural utilities.
I had the chance to talk with John for my book The Future Leader. From the changes he has seen and led over his nearly 30 years at National Grid, John told me three things future leaders must do to be successful in the next decade and beyond.
John is a prime example of leading a company through change. During his tenure at National Grid, the company has merged, acquired new companies, consolidated areas, and developed new products and departments. But that amount of change isn’t any different from what other companies and leaders will face—the key is how leaders respond to change.
John told me this: “Change and disruption are becoming commonplace. Leaders will therefore need to be able to do things quickly and will need to pivot regularly, meaning they will need to be agile.”
Pivoting regularly could be switching directions to go down a road with new technology. It could be adapting to what customers want or where the industry is going. All industries are being disrupted. Leaders who aren’t agile run the risk of being disrupted instead of leading companies that are disrupting others.
To pivot regularly, John says future leaders must have skills in agility, problem solving, and life-long learning and development. They must be physically and mentally resilient, which means taking care of themselves and looking after their teams’ wellbeing. Employees can pivot and adapt much more easily when they are in a good mental state and feel engaged at work instead of feeling overwhelmed or uncertain about the future.
Leverage Technology And Collaboration
John is a champion of remote and flexible work and sees it as the future of the workplace. We’re already seeing this with countless companies encouraging their employees to work from home indefinitely after the COVID-19 pandemic. But remote teams are only effective with the right technology and collaboration tools. Leaders must know how to use different communication channels to bring people together and motivate their teams.
Future leaders won’t shy away from automation, especially in routine tasks that can help the organization run more efficiently. Even with automation, John believes people will continue to play a key part in delivering solutions for customers and stakeholders. Teams must be able to come together to solve problems quickly and effectively, which means not only being united towards a common goal but also having the collaboration tools to make it possible.
Effective collaboration comes from bringing together people with different backgrounds and ideas to create cohesive solutions. Future leaders need to celebrate diversity and inclusion and bring people together. The workforce of the future will be even more dynamic than it is now, meaning that employees will often move between companies. To be effective, leaders must know how to quickly connect with and motivate a diverse group of people, many of whom may only be with the company for a short time.
Lead as a Role Model
Leaders of the future will lead under a microscope and must be examples to their employees and customers. National Grid focuses on developing future leaders who are customer-focused and make smart decisions to meet customers’ expectations.
“The fast paced and significant technological and societal shifts we are all experiencing create complexity,” John said. “Leadership is about embracing that complexity and the ambiguity it creates and helping those you lead look ahead and navigate it so you and they can seek opportunities to influence positive change.”
Leaders are also responsible for creating an environment where employees and teams can collaborate and thrive. John says it is crucial for leaders to have regular constructive conversations to hold themselves and their teams accountable. As leaders set the tone for their organizations, other leaders will follow suit and develop an open and forward-thinking culture.
How Can You Develop In These Three Areas?
- Take calculated risks to pivot your company as needed
- Practice self-care to become mentally strong and resilient
- Understand collaboration tools and use them frequently to bring teams together
- Create diverse teams with different backgrounds, experiences, and points of view
- Find ways to apply automation in your organization, even on small, mindless tasks
- Establish regular construction conversations with employees
In the future of work, the only constant is change. Leaders will need to adopt the skills to pivot regularly, leverage technology and collaboration and lead as a role model to move their organizations to continual success.
Leadership is changing. What are the skills and mindsets you need to master in order to lead in the new world of work? According to over 140 of the world’s top CEOs there are 4 mindsets and 5 skills that leaders need to master. Learn what they are and hear directly from these leaders by downloading the PDF here.
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