Most leaders shouldn’t be in a position to lead. At a time when innovation and initiative are at a premium, we need a new enlightened form of leadership that sees opportunities others don’t – can do what others won’t – and will keep pushing when prudence says quit.
Leadership is about recognizing business opportunity gaps, identifying why they exist, the potential that lies within the gaps, and then knowing how to solve for them. Because the marketplace is changing so fast, it is becoming increasingly difficult to focus and prioritize on which opportunity gaps to solve for and how to go about solving for them. As a result, most leadership teams take short cuts to satisfy Wall Street’s quarterly earnings metrics rather than designing a robust strategy for change – one that focuses on evolution, not substitution. Perhaps this explains why Dell became the largest publicly-traded company to become privately-held, to cite one such effort to regain competitive advantage.
Leaders must take ownership for the business and people they lead and customers they serve. Unfortunately, too many leaders quickly grow complacent and allow the marketplace to pass them by. Leaders must frequently reinvent themselves and have the mindset of always having a strategy for change that is focused on constant evolution, with the end game in mind. For those who can see beyond the obvious and anticipate the unexpected, this becomes their most valuable asset against those who are slow to make decisions and take action.
We need more leaders that allow risk to become their best friend and who are willing to take personal accountability in how they wield the unique power and influence that comes with their role and responsibilities and the opportunity to transform the industry they serve. We need more leaders who think more courageously and take more ownership to act upon the burning platforms that are reinventing industries. But the reality is, 78% of leaders have difficulty understanding the consequences of and effectively articulating the requirements to thrive in the rapidly changing marketplace.
Leadership is not a popularity contest that is influenced by political and hidden agendas. It is a unique privilege and duty that requires one to stay on top of their game to assure that they are continuously investing in themselves; that they are always adding value and making those around them better. The hard work that is leadership should never be taken for granted.
Leadership has become more and more about managing a template, a predetermined approach where decisions are made based on past history – rather than being courageous enough to seize new types of opportunities, to redefine the future and become less dependent on the past. With a workplace and a marketplace that are becoming younger, more diverse, technologically savvy and globally connected – leaders must become more intent on seeing what lies around, beneath and beyond what they seek for their business. They must learn to deploy circular vision rather than the traditional linear approach that limits them to seeing only what is right in front of them. Linear thinking is why leaders have difficulty making the right decisions – let alone any decisions.
The 21st century workplace will be more mobile, transient, flexible, diverse and personally branded than ever before. Add to that the 85% of women, millennial and diverse employees that want too a more transparent workplace.
Too many leaders don’t see the opportunities that matter most to their business. Leaders don’t pace themselves enough to the rhythms of the marketplace or listen to their consumers/clients. Nor are they hearing and acting upon what the workplace is trying to tell them. Oftentimes leaders lack the required intellectual capital and know-how to know when and how to take action. When they move too slow and lack the entrepreneurial spirit to course correct quickly, they can’t maximize the resources and human capital that lie within their own organizations.
For example, it’s become apparent that leaders don’t value enough the unique perspectives of their own employees. They waste more time fighting their employees’ unique differences, rather than embracing diversity of thought and using it as a competitive advantage. As such, leaders risk losing their most innovative and talented minds as they lie dormant and grow increasingly frustrated. In the process, leaders are allowing the marketplace to pass them by, as they fail to recognize the unique differences in how people think, act and innovate — and that diversity of thought creates constructive disruption that can drive new ways to enable growth. When the template that leaders and their companies have followed to drive growth for years begins to change, sustaining any competitive advantage becomes difficult.
All too often, leadership quickly forgets that their responsibility is to maximize the full potential of people. Yet only 32% of leaders identify themselves as change agents. During a recent meeting with senior executives from a major investment banking firm, they told me: “Today, we are afraid for the future of our business because our employees don’t relate to our emerging global client base. We continue to lose key diverse members of our workforce to our competitors because we lack the cultural intelligence to keep them.” When brands don’t invest in the right intellectual capital, they lose marketplace opportunity.
The growing tensions between leaders and their employees are creating productivity challenges as uncertainty becomes the new normal in the workplace. Furthermore, leaders are beginning to lose control of their own identities and effectiveness as hidden agendas and political maneuvering cause their employees to lose trust in their intentions – casting clouds of doubt over their futures.
Employees just want the truth. They have learned that the old ways of doing things just don’t apply (as much) any more and more than ever they need their leaders to have their backs. Unfortunately, many leaders are operating in survival mode and don’t have the sphere of influence they once had; without leaders to sponsor and mentor them, high-potential employees must now figure out the changing terrain on their own.
It’s time for leaders to get out of crisis management mode and start taking ownership for closing the opportunity gaps that exist in the marketplace and in the workplace. It will require them to reawaken their entrepreneurial spirit, to embrace risk and their passionate pursuits of endless possibilities. At the same time, they must build strong ecosystems where collaboration and diversity of thought are embraced as opportunities to build a strong legacy. Leading and driving sustainable growth is the difference between an organization and its leaders that are innovative and courageous enough to invest in closing the growing business opportunity gaps – and those who continue to play it safe with no real growth opportunities in their sight.
By Glenn Llopis
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