Matthew Syed

We speak to Matthew Syed, Writer, Broadcaster and Thought Leader, ahead of his conference session at the virtual CIPD Festival of Work on 11 June 2020.

Matthew will be presenting on 'Leading growth and change - developing yourself as an agile leader to drive business transformation' in the Leading Through Adversity stream. ​

Can you tell us a bit more about yourself?
My Mother is Welsh and my Father is from Pakistan so I grew up in a household which was both ethnically and cognitively diverse. I have always been fascinated by the way people think and how that drives their behaviour when faced with complex problems. I have built on these themes in my books Bounce, Black Box Thinking and most recently Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking.

I write a comment column for The Sunday Times and a sports column for The Times each week. I am also passionate about education, am an ambassador for a number of school organisations and have written confidence building books for children: You Are Awesome, published in 2018, and a new one, Dare To Be You, which comes out this September.

Before becoming a writer, I was the England table tennis number one and was lucky enough to compete at two Olympic Games. I live in London with my wife and two young children and we’re currently juggling our work and business while trying to home-school as well as keep the kids entertained.

We’re looking forward to your session on ‘Leading growth and change – developing yourself as an agile leader to drive business transformation.’ What do you hope delegates will be able to take away and apply in their own work the very next day?
Agility and innovation, are underpinned by (at least) two conditions. First, you need a diverse group, rather than people who inhabit the same silo or have the same background. This provides scope for divergent thinking and the cross pollination of ideas. Second, this group needs to think and interact in a way that surfaces their ideas rather than supresses them.

Leaders have the power to build that interaction, to foster a growth culture through their own mindset and behaviours. For example, language can drive different thinking and behaviours – it can limit our perception of potential or instead encourage people to see success as a journey and to put in the effort to improve. Attitude to failure can either drive or block progress, so leaders need to emphasise the importance of trying something new and learning from problems or setbacks. Seek to make progress rather than aim for perfection. I’ll be looking at these in more detail as well as at other thinking and behaviours leaders can adopt and encourage to foster innovation and agility.

What is one key action you feel is important in preparing to lead growth once we’re out of the current climate?
It will be important to reflect on and capture what we have learnt during this time and use this to build stronger businesses and organisations. Many have shown that they can adapt and do things differently, removing what were previously thought to be barriers. The current climate has flipped many of our assumptions about how work is done, and shown that we can do things differently. So, keeping that openness to new ways of working and to adapting to meet changing customer needs will help organisations continue to grow and innovate.

What does an ‘emotionally intelligent leader’ mean to you? 
Innovation, breakthroughs and progress are typically achieved as a result of people coming together, learning and constantly seeking to improve. Emotionally intelligent leaders recognise this and will create an environment of psychological safety and humility in order to enable and encourage their people to be the best they can be, stretching them to develop and improve over time so that they, and the organisation, are constantly evolving.

What is your biggest piece of advice for anyone attending this year’s virtual CIPD Festival of Work?
Seek out and be open to diverse views that challenge your own assumptions and usual ways of thinking. It’s a fantastic opportunity to gather new ideas and see things from different perspectives, drawing on the collective intelligence of the CIPD community.