By ANDREW LAU
It’s the end of the first quarter of 2014. If we look back, it wasn’t that long ago that we started 2013 or even 2012. In fact we can even remember some events that happened a few years ago just like it was yesterday. Welcome to the new millennium. Things are rapidly changing and moving at a dizzying pace. Life has become more complex and businesses are not spared this reality.
The world is changing but the all-important question is – Is leadership changing? Can the leadership models used years ago be used now? Are leadership principles that were relevant a long time ago, still relevant today? As change affects every part of our life, people change. When people change, leadership changes.
So now we have a new challenge to evolve leadership. It needs to be noted however that certain principles and values of leadership will remain, but the application and relevance have shifted. Here’s a quick look at the leadership constants and the leadership changes.
There is a crisis of leadership values in organisations today. As shareholders continue to put pressure on companies for more returns, the leadership of these companies is under pressure to deliver revenue by compromising on values.
Money is rapidly becoming the primary indicator of the performance of a company. Things like ethics, governance, community, environment are taking a backseat in pursuit of profits.
I am sure all of us are familiar with the BP Transocean disaster that created arguably the worse oil pollution ever known to mankind. While the initial angle of investigation centred on technical failure, it soon became apparent that something did not add up in terms of making key decisions.
The final report by the US Commission on the disaster concluded that leadership decisions made at multiple levels were made to intentionally forgo safety as the project was losing money and behind schedule. This was not an engineering failure but a failure of leadership values.
The demand on leaders today is staggering. The mantra is to juggle more responsibilities, with less resources, smaller budget and much tighter timelines. It’s no wonder that so many leaders find next to impossible to find time for their own learning and self growth.
While learning on the job seems to be a popular choice, it is also one born out of necessity rather than being the best option. One of the best ways is for leaders to learn is to read. The lack of reading while linked with the new generation can be equally associated with leaders. Reading is powerful as it can:
1. Inspire when a leader is out of ideas
2. Provide a different perspective outside of the organisational culture
3. Help leaders to connect with the best minds in the world
4. Set aside time for pondering and deeper thoughts
5. Provide the opportunity to learn from other people’s experiences, failures and successes
Learning can also happen when leaders take time off to reflect. Every leader should take a few days off every year alone to ponder some of these questions:
1. Is what I am doing with my life meaningful and making a difference?
2. What is the legacy would I want to leave behind?
3. Have I grown this year as a person and as a leader?
4. Am I surrounding myself with the right type of people?
5. What type of influence am I making to those around me?
Directing vs. influencing
As more Gen-Y enter the workforce, the way of relating with employees change. Leaders can no longer direct people around but need to influence them instead. Here a leader needs to gain respect and the credibility to influence.
The younger workforce does not take being ordered around too well. According to studies, this is one of the main reasons people leave the company. A better model would be for leaders to lead by example or walk the talk. Leaders that practise servant leadership by doing what they preach garner the loyalty of the young masses. They want to know that if you ask them to do something, you are equally capable of doing it.
Cause driven vs cost driven
When considering organisations for business engagement, more customers now take into account the cause of a company. While the price of a particular product/service is important, value is derived now from weighing the company’s vision and impact to the community around them. This has given rise to the trend of social enterprises, which are companies that are driven by a social mission and built on a profitable business model to further that social mission.
Potential employees also look beyond the compensation package. Companies that are cause driven and aligned with their personal values tend to get more consideration. It is not uncommon for small companies with a dynamic cause and culture to be filled with top talents that are easily high potential material in large multi-nationals.
The best talent in organisations rate empowerment as one of the key criteria even above pay as the reason why they join and remain in a company. Top talents look for growth in their own careers and are attracted to challenges that are thrown at them.
Their fuel is more responsibilities, projects, decision-making power, speed and visibility. Leaders that are able to offer such platforms will usually attract and retain the best talent.
In the older business models, there are typically three types of organisations in the market. They are customers, vendors or competitors. They function in the following way:
Customers – a place to get revenue in exchange of a product or service
Vendors – a place to get items for the organisation to complete the job for customer
Competitors – a place where people are reducing your market share and pitting your downfall
This model no longer work as business relationships are no longer single dimensional. Collaboration with these three entities is the best way forward. The best leaders should see customers as a place where they can achieve goals together and not a cash cow. Vendors should viewed as strategic partners that can help to deliver differentiation to the organisation and not someone which we can take advantage of.
A new leader should view competitors as potential associates in exploring the market where both organisations need each other to create value. Not every competitor needs to remain an enemy when you can work together to achieve bigger goals.
Connection through technology
Leaders today need to stay connected through technology. Technology is changing businesses interacts with their intra-network and inter-network. We are now in the age of motor-communications where more communication is done through short messages than it is face to face. What started out as free and leisure communication tools such as WhatsApp have become a staple in business communications.
Technology has enabled leaders to be more connected be it to hire people, to get direct customer feedback, to understand trends or to get teams to work in a more cohesive manner.
The first quarter of 2014 has come to a close. These are exciting times to be a leader as there are many changes that will both challenge you and provide an opportunity for growth. While the jury is still out on whether early adopters of change succeed, there is no doubt that leaders that do not change in the key areas listed above will find themselves quickly becoming ineffective and irrelevant.