Vistage Worldwide regularly interviews top leaders to gain insight from their experience and approach to business and life. Past guests have included Jim Collins, Simon Sinek, Colin Powell and Patrick Lencioni. Last month, we had the privilege of listening to Indra Nooyi, past CEO and Chairman of PepsiCo.

As well as an astute strategist at the helm of one of the most recognised companies on the planet, Indra is a recognised champion for inclusivity of both women and immigrants. In her recent book My Life in Full: Work, Family and Our Future, Indra guides us on her views of achieving work-life balance.

The theme of her Vistage interview was Leadership in Times of Crisis. Explaining that her unconventional and unlikely growth from a small Indian town to become the CEO of one of the most recognised global companies, Indra attributes her success to putting her hand up for the toughest assignments, and focusing on delivering to the best of her abilities, rather than seeking out promotion and accolades. Her advice to Vistage CEOs was succinctly mapped out in her ‘Five Cs’ requirements for leading in a time of crisis, as follows.

Competence. The CEO needs to be looked up to as someone who can take charge, offer solutions and know how to navigate strategy and deliver on execution. They don’t necessarily need to be highly technical, however they certainly need to equip themselves with the information necessary to make timely decisions. A CEO that is recognised as competent is more likely to be trusted when tough decisions that make people feel uncomfortable need to be taken.

Executing on competence requires Courage, and with courage comes confidence. These two are interlinked, as false bravado is easily spotted by their team. With the courage to navigate the unknown, learn from failure and build confidence through resilience, leaders are far more likely to adapt to change and stay ahead of the curve.

Great leaders need excellent Communication skills, delivered through human interaction with authenticity, sincerity and passion. As a CEO, one of the main reasons to come ‘back to the office’ for at least some time in the week, is to engage in meaningful conversations with your teams. Communication is not information dissemination, but rather the ability to convey a message with purpose and vision, to inspire and motivate your team into getting out of their comfort zone. Never more than now has the ability to communicate convincingly been a key skill for leadership. Slack channels and message boards won’t cut it.

Curiosity, according to Indra, is the only way to survive in a VUCA environment. CEOs must embark on continuous learning and development in order to adapt to the changes happening around them. Whether this is technical skills that go with the role, or new ways of making strategy, economic drivers or technology adoption, we can’t rely on what we knew anymore. To stay relevant as leaders, we need to evolve alongside our people and our communities.

Finally, a clear moral Compass is key to building trust in your team, and your team in you. Integrity is an all-or-nothing condition. “You can’t have 90 per cent integrity,” she says. Either you have it or you don’t. No shortcuts.

These five Cs have guided Indra in her quest to create sustainable and successful businesses. At PepsiCo, she changed the organisational culture to one playing the long game, to build an organisation that would outlive her tenure as CEO. Future-proofing is certainly not about quick wins. Understanding mega trends (10-year time span) Indra shaped the company to prepare for the future.

Long before their competitors, they were building strategies for health and wellness product ranges, reducing plastic, protecting water sources and moving to green energy. Indra dismisses CSR as a sideline activity, and giving money away to charity as the wrong idea. Her goal was to create a business that was making money in a positive way, “cherishing our people and the world around us”.

Today, with mass resignations and talent shortages, it is the perfect opportunity for the companies with strong vision, diversity focused and sustainability driven, to attract the best people back. Many unfortunately resort to hiking wages above their competitors; and while that may work to attract money-minded employees, they will often leave at the first opportunity for another raise. It’s short term thinking. We need competent and courageous leaders to communicate their vision clearly, inspiring a new generation of employees to grow within our businesses and feed their curiosity and potential. Our Compass should align everyone within the company.

Following on this, in my view, companies are better off reducing their workload and only promising to deliver with the resources they have, with a focus on managing expectations and growing slowly. Saying ‘no’ to new business is hard, especially when many are reeling from the pandemic’s impact; however, with the increase in costs and slow-down of supply chain, we can only sustain increased margins to make up for this by raising quality levels. Customers are becoming more discerning, so with no ‘cheap option’ anymore, they will start to set higher expectations for services and customer care. Are we ready to regroup and refocus on long-term strategic growth, rather than this rush to capture lost business that we are seeing around us?


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