Opinionista

Chief visionary officers are needed to chart a course of change in the media industry

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Styli Charalambous is the CEO and co-founder of Daily Maverick, having joined the effort a few months before launch in 2009. Over the years, he has studied media models and news innovation efforts. He has also helped launch various projects and products within the Daily Maverick orbit.

I am a Simon Sinek fanboy. I am also one of the 20 million people who have watched his Ted Talk on 'How great leaders inspire action' and how important it is to know the ‘why' of any organisation, project or endeavour. Sinek is an author, speaker and leadership guru – one of those who operate without the BS that sometimes accompanies those three job descriptions.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

 Simon Sinek’s book Leaders Eat Last is a take on learnings from the US military and how the role of any leader is to make their team feel safe and inspire them to feel fulfilled and grateful in their work. Caring for people, over caring for numbers, has become a luxury in the workplace and Sinek laments the fact that there is demand for his insights into trust, empathy and leadership.

This week I came across another of his fine musings, this time about the role of the CEO and how organisations often pick the wrong people for the job, mostly because the job description is vague and poorly defined.

All the C-suite jobs are pretty self-explanatory – the clue is literally in the title. CFOs need to be financial operators. CTOs are technologists, CMOs are marketing wizards, and so on.

But what exactly is needed of the CEO? Sinek posits that we should rename the position CVO – chief visionary officer. A person tasked with driving the organisation’s vision and making that a reality. A person constantly looking to the future, anticipating opportunities and challenges and charting the course. CEOs/CVOs are unlike the other C-suite leaders because they shouldn’t be operational. Instead they need to operate in the realm of visionary leadership, inspiring people and navigating tomorrow’s challenges by laying the groundwork today. And when operators like CFOs and COOs are thrust into the visionary role, it can often end badly.

This got me thinking about the mess the news industry is in today. We are here because we failed to innovate. Operational efficiency stole the focus of our attention and budgets, and little time was spent crafting a culture of innovation that could ride out the great disruption. As an industry, we failed at leadership and our leaders failed the industry. The news industry operated with high margins and low competition from the really high barriers to entry. A near-perfect set of trading conditions that would eventually devolve into a near-perfect recipe for disaster.

With those protective layers all but gone now that news and information has been democratised, the news media is rebuilding. Forging new business models, where its organisation is forced to design its own sustainability plan. Within that, the role of the CEO/CVO is critical. How do we design an organisation that is adept at change and is continually creating value for its audience?

As organisations grow, the job of CEO/CVO matures into building a culture of innovation – essentially teaching people the “how”. Starting with a vision and then working backwards to make it happen. Not being solely responsible for innovation but rather creating a space where others are inspired to create successfully. If media organisations are to make it out of this period, we need to take inspiration from the practices and insights of those who have built resilient, malleable and innovating enterprises.

The other side of the innovation coin is change. And the only thing waiting for us on the other side of change is more change. This is our reality. And we best get good at it, because our future depends on it. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.

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