Let’s take a moment to look at the energy markets: we have not yet found how to name accurately the level of disruption that affects them. Several disruptions are telescoping and overlapping: technological, topological, regulatory, societal. Facing and managing these ruptures without damage: that is the stake of the energy companies!
It is not within the reach of the super-technical experts of the production or distribution of energy, those who have dominated the energy world for years: they have to digest the digitization of the energy systems. It is not within the reach of the managers, specialists and internal process owners because the disruptions in progress make all processes unsuitable and inoperative. The world of energy needs leaders, builders of meaning, able to guide their organization through chaos.
How to define these new profiles that the world of energy needs? How to make them emerge? How to be one?
Several characteristics of the leaders are usually lacking in the teams at energy companies. There is not a day going by without me seeing it.
The ability to manage paradoxes. Our education teaches us simplicity: an assertion is true or false. It is hot or cold. The emerging reality in the energy world confirms what we already understood: everything is not so simple and the paradoxes are numerous. Utilities must take risks when they are every day more fragile and their skills are not always fully adapted, we must develop new production capacity while Europe suffers from overcapacity, we must develop solutions that are in competition before completing each other (Demand Response, Storage) etc … So we must move from a logic of disjunction (or) to a logic of conjunction (and) and lead simultaneously actions that may be, at first, antagonistic .
The ability to handle uncertainties. What are the winning technologies to invest in? Hybrid or all-electric vehicles? Batteries or fuel cells? Sigfox, LoRa or Wirepas? The solution is not in any ability to read in a crystal ball. Tools exist and must be deployed but above all, leaders must show coolness, courage, sometimes intuition. They must develop an empathy with the market, the environment and society as a whole and seek to nurture it by all possible means. It is a question of putting individuals at the center of energy systems more than technologies. It requires mourning a certain omnipotence.
The ability to dominate one’s fears and get out of one’s comfort zone: each energy transition is different because it depends on national parameters, all different: initial energy mix, stakeholders’ structure, locally available energy, etc … Duplicating in one country what is already achieved in another one is not suitable: everyone must create, certainly from shared bricks, his own solution and have the courage to give up an “ancestral” model to invent his future.
A great “inner security”, an unwavering confidence in his own competence and that of his teams. This characteristic is probably the most paradoxical: we must combine the strong determination to be guided by a conviction, by our values, by a vision and the permanent questioning that requires the development of empathy with society. It is necessary to involve more and more actors and skills but also to recognize, in the opinions given, those who are rooted in the fear of the unknown and those who participate in the construction of the future.
This new leadership, necessary for energy companies, is based on a real perception of complexity: it is therefore a question of guiding companies in the exploration of new markets, as Livingstone guided his team through unknown territories.
Nobody holds the truth; new decision-making methodologies, new strategic approaches, more shared, new management styles will have to emerge to allow these new leaders to practice.
And, as often, when we speak “leader”, we think “CEO”. However, the challenge is also, and above all, the evolution of the skills of all the “middle management”.
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Eric Morel is a worldwide recognised expert of energy transition and digitalisation. In the past, he has served as VP Corporate Business Strategy and VP Global Smart Grids and Energy Efficiency at Schneider Electric as well as CEO of Ilevo, a telecommunication start-up. He is a founding member and a former Board member of the Gridwise Alliance, the main professional private/public association dedicated to Smart Energy.