zoe routh and doug thorpe

Leadership in the Future: A Conversation with Zoe Routh

As a podcaster, I have the privilege of engaging with some of the most insightful minds in various fields. Recently, I had the pleasure of hosting Zoe Routh, a leadership futurist from Canberra, Australia, on my podcast. Our conversation was rich with insights about the future of leadership, the impact of technology, and the importance of purpose in business. Here’s a recap of our enlightening discussion.

Zoe Routh: A Leadership Futurist

Zoe’s journey into leadership began with her love for the outdoors, leading canoe trips, and working at summer camps. Her experience with Outward Bound and the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation gave her a diverse understanding of leadership in different contexts. In 2002, she launched her own business, offering executive coaching, leadership training, and culture and strategy facilitation for CEOs and boards.

The Current Leadership Mindset

Zoe highlighted the lingering effects of COVID-19 on leadership, such as overwork and the struggle to recruit and retain the right people. Rising costs and inflation rates are also putting pressure on businesses, particularly in the retail and hospitality sectors. However, Zoe noted that these are tactical pressures, and leaders are not necessarily focusing on the strategic issues on the horizon, such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and blockchain.

The Future of Leadership

As a leadership futurist, Zoe discussed some of the themes she sees on the horizon. One significant theme is the change in energy, with the rise of renewables expected to transform every sector. The cost of energy should decrease, leading to cheaper access and greater resources for people. Zoe also mentioned the potential of blockchain technology, not just for selling digital assets like NFTs but for recording transparent and immutable transactions. This can revolutionize business operations, such as tracking worker hours and monitoring the treatment of animals and the environment.

The Importance of Purpose and Vision in Business

Our conversation took a deeper turn when we discussed the importance of purpose and vision in business. We highlighted the idea of redistributing the purpose of a business to elevate the basic rights and fundamentals for people around the world, such as access to hygiene, water, food, safety, and security. We referred to this concept as the “doughnut model,” where the focus is on human well-being within the limits of natural resources.

The Shift in Employee Mindset

We also discussed the mindset shift among younger employees towards a post-pandemic mindset that values purpose and serving the greater good. We emphasized the need for leaders to articulate the end game or utopia that the organization is striving for, as well as the impact and value of the work being done. We believe that when employees understand the purpose and impact of their work, they are more motivated and engaged.

The Reverse Approach to Strategy

We criticized organizations and leaders who approach strategy in a reverse manner, starting with targets and projects before considering the purpose and impact. We advocated for starting with the end in mind and then determining the measures and actions needed to achieve the desired impact.

The Role of Purpose in Human Wellness

We discussed the importance of having goals and purpose for human wellness and well-being. Zoe shared a story about a client whose son struggles with addiction and lacks a sense of purpose, leading to a cycle of despair. We emphasized the need for organizations to provide a purpose that enriches employees’ lives and gives them a reason to get out of bed every day.

The Importance of Compassion and Understanding in the Workplace

We agreed that compassion and understanding are crucial in the workplace, and leaders should foster good relationships and open conversations to better understand their employees’ pressures and challenges. We emphasized the importance of seeing employees as whole individuals and recognizing their needs.

The Threats in the Workplace

Zoe introduced a map from her book, “People Stuff,” which looks at neuroscience and identifies the primary survival threats in the workplace: belonging, status, fairness, autonomy, and uncertainty. These threats can lead to unhelpful behaviors and a state of fight or flight or freeze.

The Complexity of Leadership

We acknowledged the complexity of leadership in today’s world, where leaders must navigate strategic decision-making, understanding trends, and managing messy human dynamics. Balancing strategy, culture, and the human element is a significant challenge for leaders.


Our conversation with Zoe Routh was a deep dive into the future of leadership, the importance of purpose, and the challenges leaders face in today’s complex world. For more insights from Zoe, you can visit her website, listen to her podcast, the Zoe Routh Leadership Podcast, or connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. As always, I’m here to offer my own coaching and advisory services for those seeking guidance in their leadership situations.

Guest Bio:

Zoë Routh is a leadership futurist, podcaster, and multiple award-winning author. She works with leaders and teams to explore what’s coming and what it means for leadership of the future.

She has worked with individuals and teams internationally and in Australia since 1987. From wild Canadian rivers to the Australian Outback, and the Boardroom jungles, Zoë is an adventurist! She facilitates strategy and culture for the future with audacious teams.

Zoë is an outdoor adventurist and enjoys telemark skiing, has run 6 marathons, is a one-time belly-dancer, has survived cancer, and loves hiking in the high country. She is married to a gorgeous Aussie and is a self-confessed dark chocolate addict.

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