I watched a fantastic TED talk given by Angela Ahrendts (former CEO – Burberry, current Head of Retail – Apple) and it has stayed with me. The subject of her talk was human energy.

Before her talk, she did an online search for energy, and found thousands of entries, over 500 TED talks alone, on various different aspects of energy. But much more limited entries on human energy.

Angela has achieved incredible success in the last 10 years, having turned around the Burberry brand from near ruin amid serious counterfeiting, to tripling company turnover, and receiving a DBE. When Angela started her time at Burberry, external Consultants told the Board her plan had less than a 5% chance of working. She not only succeeded, but completed the plan a year ahead of schedule.

Turning around companies, amid a global crisis, when they are failing both operationally and on account of their haemorrhaging brand value, is not easy. What Angela emits in her talk is the most honest account of innovative management I have ever heard, and easily the most passionate. She comes across as nervous, open, authentic. I like that she is nervous, she is real, easily more important. She has content. She talks about the necessity of feeling, over thinking, and questions why we have such a hard time going with our gut, because on the face of it, something else should surely be right.

How many times have you felt something in your organisation is wrong, but stuck with the status quo, instead of questioning, based on your feeling that something could be better? You probably assume it must be right, or someone would have tried it before?  Perhaps you just don’t feel enabled to do anything?

I believe that the biggest thing impacting organisations today is a lack of courage. And unfortunately, we don’t have enough courageous leaders. What starts at the top trickles down through all levels of a business. You rarely find CEOs who are genuinely as committed to change as Angela, or more importantly, who are prepared to accept change themselves.

Everyone knows change takes courage. Change based on gut feel takes even more.

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Good CEOs have learned to follow their gut. I know it is not simple, because many businesses are global. But regardless of the cause, the outcome is the same. Once CEO’s lose their strength and stop questioning, you have mid-levels just accepting the way it is, not believing more is possible. Before you know it, nobody who works for you will tell openly what they think, or suggest ways to drive your organisation forwards. You might be able to hire people in the short term, but they won’t stay longer than a couple of years. This is particularly the case in larger organisations, where responsibility can be diluted. Organisations that are so big that everyone and no one is responsible. These companies are under pressure because people bringing good ideas to the table are not being heard.

Companies can’t survive without change and your top talent will leave when they feel their organisation isn’t cutting edge anymore. Before you know it, you are starting talent programmes to try to keep people, pressurising your recruitment providers, asking your staff what’s wrong. But nobody feels enabled to say. The fear of rejection outweighs the benefit. Get this sort of thing right, understand your clients, get your products market leading, but most importantly, inspire and innovate with your staff, and you can turn something good into great. That’s the power of human energy.

Maybe it’s because this CEO had come from the Midwest, raised in a family of 6. Perhaps her Native American upbringing helped her connect with her staff in a way which many managers find difficult. What strikes you most about her when she talks, is that she tells you everything openly. This woman is pretty much without ego, both when speaking and when you look at what she has achieved. Her lack of ego is undoubtedly one of her strengths.

Well, you don’t turn around a massive global brand doing the same things as everyone else, or everyone would be doing it. More importantly, you don’t achieve this success doing the same things you always have done. You make mistakes, you learn, you move forwards. You need change. Why do you need change? Because as a CEO you are the only one who has the power. Use it.

The year before leaving Burberry, Angela made history by becoming the highest paid CEO in the UK, topping the FTSE100 at £17million. There was a whopping £5million between her and the next Chief Executive. Commenting on Ahrendts pay, Burberry said she had “delivered record revenue and profit”, delivering a 186% increase in its share price over five years.

That’s what being authentic is worth.  As the French say, courage.

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