· 3 min read · Features

Lessons from the C-Suite: Dustin Seale, Heidrick & Struggles

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My work is to help create a world that is better led.

I started out...

In the corporate culture space in the 1990s when culture was not the hot topic it is today. The culture space is where business outcomes meet people, and I am fortunate that my upbringing was so apposite, preparing me for that space.

 

I knew this was the right career path for me when…

Starting this work at quite a young age I questioned my right to advise CEOs and CHROs of large organisations. As I gained traction near the end of the first year, I was part of a two-day off-site session with a large retailer. I spent some quiet time with the CEO and CHRO and found myself being able to provide counsel and focus that got them to clarity. I suddenly didn’t doubt myself so much.

 

The biggest lesson I’ve learned along the way…

It’s about them, not you. Let go of your ego. It’s about your client, your colleagues, their aims and ambitions and helping them achieve those goals.

 

My proudest achievement...

Raising my two boys. They are amazing people, very different to one another, and I delight in knowing them, watching what they are becoming and being with them.

 

My biggest mistake…

I left a meeting with a CEO after he had agreed we should work together. In the back of my mind I was thinking, ‘I’m not sure he knows what we do or what he’s just signed up for’. Later, in our work with them, it was very difficult for him and for us. I don’t think anyone was satisfied. It’s key that the client knows what we’re saying and what we’re going to do, and if it doesn’t make sense to them, not to do the work.

 

My biggest inspiration…

When working with a charity we support I was sitting on a deck on the plains of Zimbabwe watching an elephant in the distance. I was struck by the undeniable fact that we need to fix what we’ve done to this world, its people and its biodiversity. We need to take care of people on the fringes and give them hope and opportunity, but also take care of the wildlife and natural environments that make the world that we need for survival, sustainable. My work is to help create a world that is better led, and my belief is that this work can make a small dent in the challenges mentioned above.

 

Keeping me awake at night right now…

The world is in a bit of a mess. Not just the pandemic, but the leadership I see across the spectrum, and that leadership’s impact on sustainability and inclusion is not inspiring. I’m committed to changing the trajectory in leadership across the business sector and in the public sector in order to leave a better world for my kids. This is a tall task, but one that needs to be done.

 

The biggest challenge for organisations over the next five years will be…

How to remain relevant and competitive in a continually disrupted world. In 2008 we talked about a VUCA world (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) and thought it would never get more difficult. Today’s world is VUCA+++ and seems to be accelerating. Companies will need to be able to make the right long-term bets to remain relevant and create the sustainability we need in the world, whilst being able to pivot quickly and win in the now.

 

I need my HR director to…

Work with the business to better define the workplace of the future. What got us here will not necessarily be the answer going forward.

 

More HR directors would become CEO if…

They thought strategically and connected all people efforts to improving business impact in all its forms. To do this, HR professionals should perhaps step out of HR for a while and lead in the line. There are three components of agility they’d need to embody: foresight – to see implications beyond the horizon; dexterity – using foresight to help people take action; and outcomes focus – to frame activity or process in the form of desired outcomes.

 

What I’m reading right now…

Livewired by David Eagleman and Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World by Fareed Zakaria.

 

My top leadership tip…

Know your true north and place yourself in roles where you can bring that to life. If the position you’re in is not that, get out. If it is, stop waiting and move forward boldly.

 

Dustin Seale is partner at Heidrick & Struggles, London and managing partner of Heidrick Consulting, Europe.

The full piece of the above appears in the January/February 2021 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.