Lance shared his insights on the Venari Podcast
With over 20 years’ experience of leadership roles in multiple sectors across the globe, Lance Burn is more than qualified to talk about what it takes to reach the C-suite. In this episode of the Venari Podcast, Lance – who was most recently CEO of IG Design Group, where he was responsible for a business unit worth $650 million – spoke to our Senior Sustainable Packaging Consultant, Tim Hartnell, about leadership, team dynamics, and why he’s optimistic about the coming months.
Key qualities for C-suite success
For Lance, success in today’s business landscape comes down to ‘experience, practice, and actually more importantly, experimentation.’ However, he also shared the six qualities that he believes have been particularly important on his journey to the top at C-level:
Making decisions with speed and conviction ‘The way I interpret that is: don’t let perfection override pragmatism,’ Lance says. ‘Decisions that are made quickly actually have greater outcomes than long deliberation and procrastination. So that is a key lesson.’
Prioritising what you want to achieve and thinking about engagement Lance asks: ‘Is engaging for impact’ your main goal? ‘How do you communicate with conviction to the team, so you can carry those ideas forward? For Lance, ‘it’s all about engagement.’
Adaptability The last few years have shown us that flexibility is essential – ‘you just have to adapt to very changing circumstances.’
Reliability This is the other side of the coin; being agile does not mean giving up on what you believe. For Lance, being ‘consistent in your values, your messaging’, is a central aspect of leadership. ‘People appreciate that level of stability and consistency as you navigate difficult circumstances.’
Resilience Another topic that Lance expects to resonate with people after the rollercoaster last few years. When it comes to leadership, he believes that having a personal reserve of resilience will see you through particularly difficult periods, ‘and that’s what people expect of the C-suite’.
Listening Finally, Lance’s favourite leadership trait is simply listening: paying attention to feedback, checking the pulse of an organisation, and being prepared to change direction if necessary.
How does this affect talent strategies?
When Lance is looking to build out a team, the key word for him is diversity. ‘I focus on things like diversity of talent, personality, and demographic’ within an organisation’s ‘defined cultural bandwidth.’ The individuals need to adhere to the culture and markets in which the company operates, but it still ‘makes good business sense to have a broad church of opinions around the table.’
This is where team dynamics become so important, when personalities and skillsets blend to become more than the sum of their parts. For Lance, it’s no bad thing to have particularly ambitious people on board; ‘they’re hungry for progress and prepared to drive change, take measured risks.’ It’s rare to get the perfect cocktail of skills at any one time – but ‘when you do experience this, it’s marvellous.’
Having said that, hiring is yet another area where it pays to be flexible as a leader. Sometimes, what you’re looking for might change during the process. Lance likens it to moving house: you might have an idea of the perfect place in mind yet end up somewhere ‘that isn’t quite what you expected, but actually still fits the bill.’ This is where having a strong longlist becomes essential; allowing yourself to explore alternatives ‘hones and shapes the specification of the individual that you really need as opposed to what you think you need.’
What advice does Lance have for aspiring CEOs?
Lance likes Richard Branson’s quote: ‘If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!’ In Lance’s view, real progress only comes because ‘you’re hungry to take an opportunity, to stretch your own comfort zone and explore new avenues’. Nonetheless, you must be aware that many decisions will incur risks, so operating ‘within your current skillset’ is important.
Above all, ‘do not be afraid to seek advice and take counsel from people,’ Lance says. This is the key recommendation that he would offer to aspiring CEOs. ‘The secret is learning what advice to heed and follow.’ He also stresses the need to build ‘your personal brand’ – specifically, how to build trust in that brand. It’s all about credibility and authenticity, and it’s crucial to be aware of this at the early stages of your career, as ‘you will be known for certain attributes, and you want to foster and hone and develop those.’ If in doubt, just keep it simple, Lance says. ‘The hallmark of success is being succinct and effective in leadership.’
What’s on the horizon in the sustainable packaging space?
Whisper it, but Lance is feeling upbeat about the next few months. Amid the turbulence brought about by Brexit, the cost of living crisis, the war in Ukraine, and the tail end of the pandemic – as well as the political and economic turmoil of having three different prime ministers in one calendar year in the UK – he thinks that the worst must be behind us. ‘Organisations and businesses that have successfully navigated that whole list of challenges, by definition, will be more resilient. And they’ve learned to adapt, and hopefully that’s becoming part of their organisational DNA.
Lance thinks that things are looking up for businesses who’ve navigated this tricky period successfully, and he’s excited to see what emerges. One example of this is ‘shouting about the environment’, which ‘demands innovative and sustainable solutions.’ For Lance, business is a genuine force for good in society, and will be ‘central to solutions that will help us regarding the environment.’ Commerce, and educational institutions, represent great centres of innovation. ‘If you focus on those kernels, it’s an exciting future ahead.’