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Charlie Wagstaff, alumnus, MSc Human Resources Management, on adapting leadership

Alumnus Charlie Wagstaff, managing director of Criticaleye, argues in a fast-changing world, leaders must be prepared to adapt in order to survive

Charlie Wagstaff (MSc Strategic HR Management, 1999) is co-founder and managing director of Criticaleye, a peer-to-peer board community providing mentoring and experiential learning for business leaders as well as access to strategic thought leadership and exclusive content.

Charlie says in a fast-changing – and ever more uncertain – world, leaders must be prepared to adapt in order to survive.

"If there’s one lesson to be drawn from recent history, with its unpredictable politics (think Trump and Brexit), economic volatility, and the proliferation of social media giving a voice to the previously disenfranchised, it is this: forget established social and economic norms. Say goodbye to points of prior reference, accepted wisdom and familiar tropes. And instead, learn to embrace constant and seismic change. After all, if there’s one thing we can predict, it’s that there will be plenty more uncertainty to come.

"In this fluid landscape, it’s clear we will only succeed as leaders if we are able to adapt – to rationalise what we see happening around us, and understand the ramifications for the way we do business. Forget the old top-down approach and instead focus on these three interconnected core leadership skills that I believe can help us tap into the potential of those around and not only survive, but thrive.

Put your trust in long-term relationships

"This applies to leadership at all levels. As custodians we need to deliver; but we need to be clear about what we are expecting in return. Increasingly, customers accept that the quid pro quo for access to a steady supply of reliable, competitively priced goods or services is the provision of their personal data. For businesses, this means taking responsibility for that data, and ensuring that it is used to develop products that better meet consumers’ evolving needs: the basis for a long-term, sustainable relationship.

"Also critical is the ability to foresee where an organisation might be exposed in the future, and to take bold action to mitigate the risk. This might mean a loss of immediate revenue (which can be seen as counter-intuitive), but lead to longer term benefits and, again, help to build more enduring relationships. By way of analogy, think about the food and drink industry: high levels of sugar may provide an easier way of achieving a better tasting product now, but will certainly have adverse effects in the long term. Better to take the lead, own the issue, and reduce sugar content in your products now than wait for it to be enforced by law.

Create a consistent and compelling narrative

"The ability to formulate and deliver a personal narrative that encompasses values that resonate, and succeeds in conveying the ‘why’ as well as the ‘how’, will be a vital asset in negotiating a path through times of relentless transformation. Stories fire our imagination and help open our minds to new possibilities. On a personal level, sharing experiences and vulnerabilities in a way that is genuine and authentic can help manage the tension between authority and approachability and create a strong sense of community and shared purpose. Share both the credit for success, and the responsibility for failure, and remember that actions speak louder than words.

You are your customer

"It's impossible to separate the development of the team, and the nurturing of potential talent, from the ongoing work of ensuring that you are meeting customers’ needs. Remember, the colleagues that make up your organisation aren’t just colleagues; they are – or they should be! – a diverse community of people, just like your customers. It’s a valuable resource, so use it. Ask them for feedback on your products and services. Use them as your own in-house focus group. This will deliver another benefit too: helping you to keep it real, and really understand not only what your customers need but how they feel. That’s the key to making sure your interactions aren’t B2C or B2B but H2H: Human to Human."

“The world is moving so fast that the (person) who says it can't be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it.” Elbert Hubbard, US writer and philosopher

Charlie is speaking at an LSBU Alumni event about Pathways to Leadership on Tuesday 9 May, 6pm.

Find out more at or follow Charlie at @Chascritical