Managing in a Tumultuous Environment – How Should People Leaders Respond?

Antony D’Angelus

Senior VP of International Employee Relations at Wells Fargo Bank N.A.

Learning Objectives

With the changing geopolitical and geo-economic environment, leaders of businesses and organizations of various sorts are facing new and unprecedented challenges. The very essence of globalization, as we have come to know it, is changing dramatically. As people leaders, we need to change with it. What is our response? There is no one answer, and we need to constantly learn and unlearn in this environment.

Key Takeaways:

  • The changing dynamics of the environment

  • Western-centricity has been at the forefront of organizational thinking. Can this continue?

  • New approaches are necessary, and inclusions in the real sense is a prerequisite

"As leaders, we must take the lead to evolve constantly. "

Antony D’Angelus

Senior VP of International Employee Relations at Wells Fargo Bank N.A.


Hi, everyone. I’m Antony D’Angelus. We live in unprecedented times. I hope everyone is safe. The theme of my presentation today would revolve around managing in time such as this changing times, and how, as people leaders, we should be responding. These are just some of my thoughts. Clearly, I’m hopeful that we would interact by way of some questions, answers, comments, via email or via any chat box that’s available. What I do is I’ll cover of some current day challenges, and then try and frame the discussion through some questions. I’ve also got together some quotes. Then, we’ll talk a little bit about global leadership and some elements of inclusion.

Now, globalization, as we know it to be, has really been in existence since a very long time, I think, for generations, for centuries. It is, however, picked up in the recent past since the advent of the World Trade Organization in 2004. In the recent past, we had a break in terms of the expansion of global trade between the first and second World War. Now, from 1913 until today, it is estimated that global trade has grown by some 40 times. That really is a reflection of how things have changed from a trade perspective from an economic perspective. That has effects on politics, culture, social issues, and things of that nature.

Supply chains are being challenged with the current issues, what I would term as being the trade war between China and US. It is something that we need to think about, because over the last, say 20 years, we would find that supply chains have become global. What has happened is that for a product to reach the hands of a consumer, it would have likely gone through many hands in many countries. Where it concerns thought leadership, though, it would seem to be the case that it is still very western oriented. Now, this relates to systems, processes, economics, politics, philosophy, things of that nature. Because of the current issues, in terms of really the change in the geopolitical landscape, there are alternatives to traditional institutions, such as the IMF and World Bank. I think the rise of China has caused some rethinking of the global order—the world order.

Now quite apart from that, what has happened is globalization has had its ill effects as well. There’s a good number of people, some of them has been the 99%, who feel that they have left been left behind. The whole theory that all boats would rise with the rising tide has proven to be untrue. The whole idea of trickle down economics has also seemingly failed. What has happened is that the rich has gotten richer, leaving a vast number of people to feel the effects of the downside of globalization.

Inclusion. I’ll speak about this a little bit more later. But inclusion is a perennial challenge, whether it’s within a nation or across borders. Companies that global in nature, whether it’s multinational companies, transnational companies, they somehow have adopted along the way new imperialist tendencies. Businesses today are less popular in that they are facing the wrath of society. This has become more apparent since the great recession in 2008.

Some questions frame of discussion. Is there a universal approach to anything? What do we mean by universal approach? Is there a need for a universal instead approach? Many times in a company, we tend to think one way works, and it works best. I think we need to ask ourselves, is that really the case? Does that reflect in terms of results, outcomes, and the bottom line? Where’s the conflict? See between two cultures, how do we reconcile? In a case of saying that, “Well, there’s one way that works.” If it’s a company that’s based out of the US, does it mean that the US way has to [inaudible]? What do we really mean by best practice? How do we apply it?

Best practice means how certain management books have described things to be. Usually, you find that literature is dominated by the West. When we talk about management gurus, we tend to refer to the likes of Peter Drucker—leadership. We talk about Stephen Covey—business leaders. We tend to think of say, perhaps the likes of a Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, but we also have leaders in other parts of the world. For a very long time, it was a case that they were not given any prominence, that seems to be changing in some small measure. We have the likes of Ambani in India, Jack Ma in China, that have become more prominent and are sharing their thoughts on leadership more openly, and in a global context.

I have some picked up some statements made by leaders. If you look at Nelson Mandela, his view of leadership. Clearly, one of probably the more significant leaders of our time. His idea of leadership is that a leader should lead from behind, shepherding his people through, and stepping in when necessary. Kissinger, if you read his many books, he tends to take a slightly different stance or viewpoint. His view is that a leader should lead from the front. I’ve also have quotes here from Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. concerning diversity, the importance of it, and the need for us, as a global society, as citizens of this world, to actually respect differences, and being inclusive of others.

Global leadership is not something new, b`ut it has been in demand more so over the past 20 to 30 years. The end of the Cold War has internationalized businesses more than ever. A global leader today is someone who can operate across multiple countries. There is a premium today, and probably a shortage of people with real international global experience.

When you talk about leadership in a global context, Western centricity seems to be very evident. I think I mentioned a while ago about literature, and who do we idolize as global business leaders. When we take it even at a slightly lower level or at the level of any company, we will usually find that leaders are those who are from the West, off who have been exposed to the West. The effectiveness of global leadership has not really been measured. The rise of non Western companies, it is now actually challenging the traditional business leadership models.

Despite of what’s being not talked about as the process of the globalization, and think there many examples of this in the current context, whether politically or economically. It is my view that there would still be a need for global business leadership. In fact, the need may be more apparent, as leaders will have to navigate the complexities of the changing world order.

Now, for a company or an organization to appoint, select a business leader that has to operate across multiple countries, international experience should be a prerequisite. What we mean by international experience is the experience of having lived and worked in different countries. Often we find that many leaders appointed into senior positions have never worked outside of their own country, but yet they assume positions managing businesses located in other countries. Now, the effect of it really would be there would be a leader in place who cannot truly understand and appreciate how things work differently ,and the need for things to work differently in different places.

Diversity and inclusion as a whole. So much money today has been resources are being spent on DNI. I think we would aggregate it across, say, the major companies around the world, this would add up to billions of dollars. Now, the real effect of it, again, there’s a question mark over it, and whether we have hit the right buttons. Inclusion has to be genuine, not tokenistic. I feel that that’s something that we have to bear in mind and pay real attention to. Often there are contradictions between the right thing and the need for inclusion. Contradiction, because doing the right thing may not necessarily result in a better bottom line. But as an organization of any sort with multiple stakeholders, one of which is the largest society, there is a social obligation to do the right thing even if it means that there is no immediate monetary benefit or business benefit to that.

Inclusion, in a global context, needs to consider cross border cultural issues. Often, we tend to look at inclusion within the narrow confines of a particular country. As an example, in the US, we would look at things such as gender diversity, ethnic diversity, [inaudible], those with veteran status, and it works well within the US. Now, if that same context or principles applied in different countries, it may not work and may or may well be very different. In fact, it will be very different. When we talk and preach about inclusion, diversity, we must bear in mind that people can judge whether our efforts are genuine or otherwise. So, it’s not just a public relations exercise, it’s something that would actually go to the very heart of engagement levels in an organization.

I would conclude here by talking about what I see to be prerequisites of leadership traits in a global context. The first is awareness. My awareness, I mean, being aware of the global context in the real sense. What’s happening around? How do people from different countries react or relate to things? How do we, as leaders, relate to them in turn, to those differences in turn? We must be open, and in a sense, tolerant to different views and approaches we will often go in. That’s, I think, a very natural tendency with a particular bias. We must recognize that we are going into something and going regionally going to things with a particular bias.

Once we have that recognition, I think it’s easier for us, as leaders, to be able to look at different vantage points. Often, it’s not a case of having to make one decision or go one way because we need to balance it in different needs, and come up with a solution that works best and is inclusive of different contexts. I think, as leaders, particularly in a global context, there must be a keen sense of learning—we must have a keen sense of learning rather. By that, it’s about keeping up to date with current events, anything in a part of this reading, this social media, which we have to, certainly in this time and age, be aware of what’s happening around us. I think another important facet is that there has to be a genuine desire to enhance engagement levels of the people.

Finally, I’d say that change is ever present. As leaders, we must take the lead to evolve constantly. Setting who we were 20 years ago is not who we are today, and will not be who we are in 20 years time. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you. I hope that you would have some interaction based on what I’ve shared here. Thank you very much.

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