Campaign Special: 2020 – The Year of the Unicorn (and the Rat)

This will be the year of unicorn leaders and their rare qualities but don’t overlook the tenacity and invention of the rat.

With 2020 now fully under way, CES thankfully out of the way and our inherent confirmation bias heat-seeking any sign of a “Boris bounce”, we are now unswervingly focused on making those hastily written annual strategy and budget plans a reality (and, for some, a waking anxiety).

The view from The Lighthouse, as this new decade descends, seems to point the beam towards the question of how we reinvent, reincarnate and reinvest in ourselves and our businesses to ensure we can bring bespoke magic to the automating machines. Transformational times that started in the past decade have now become an accepted reality – but, as we forge new pathways, models and means, our awareness of the changing needs of talent and leaders becomes all the more apparent.

Ushering in the unicorns
Here at The Lighthouse, we have the great privilege of interviewing more than 5,000 leaders a year and undertaking hundreds of C-suite searches right across the globe. As headhunters and psychotherapists within the industry, we have the great fortune to witness the changing shape of the desired executives being sought.

Gone are the days of tolerating chaotic charisma or tyrants within leadership. Instead, it’s strongly evident that, this year, the unicorn is now in the frame and firmly on the rise. Not the financial unicorn that venture capitalist Aileen Lee defined when she described Airbnb or SoFi, nor the Goldilocks unicorn definition from a talent perspective (where no-one is what the client wants because the brief is so compromised). No, this unicorn is a true unicorn – an individual who holds the wisdom of experience, yet the youthful curiosity of the unimaginable; the practical knowledge of what has gone before with the brilliance and imagination of what’s yet to come, married to the audaciousness of offering visionary leadership with the humility of individual human connection. A unicorn – no longer a fantasy – just a rarity.

Examples of these rare beauties would include Philippe Krakowsky at IPG, Wendy Clark at DDB, Steve Hatch at Facebook, Jacqui Canney at WPP, Ete Davies at Engine and Rob Horler at Whalar – their collective experiences and immersions in differing environments mean they bring remarkable but impactful perspective and leadership optics to their respective businesses. It is clear we need more of these.

In fact, 2020 is also the Chinese Year of the Rat. The first (and some say the best) sign within the zodiac, given the rat’s ability to survive a nuclear fallout, multiply with minimal effort, be brave and curious about all things and have resilience at almighty levels. While our human response to such animals often tends towards repulsion or phobia, actually there is much to admire about rats’ approach to change. Those of you who have seen 1917 at the cinema this year would have been reminded of rats’ ability to survive and thrive in some of the most tumultuous conditions.

The rise of the rat
This potentially less evolved but resilient talent continues to adapt and thrive within every changing environment – with the smarts and speed to read the terrain and seek out what is required to survive and thrive. Rats learn very quickly and are always curious. They have a creative and flexible mind; they make the best of the conditions in which they find themselves; and seek to make gains in situations others may reject. We all need these types within an infrastructure. To handle the difficult clients, to seek to create commercial success from a longtail of products, to journey the culture changes and high winds of the economy and to remain a constant resource while the unicorns are dreaming up the future.

So, if you identify as or aspire to be a unicorn or, indeed, you’re a fellow rat (born in 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984 or 1996), you may be especially interested to know what the next year holds, which is why The Lighthouse has invited a plethora of speakers – from politicians and medics to astrologers and even a monk – to offer us their perspective at the 2020 Shipping Forecast event on 12 February.

Unicorn or rat, rare or resilient, we hope to see you there.