Leadership Re-Imagined: The traditional barriers to entry in nearly every industry have fallen. Even brilliantly innovative ideas, products, and services – no longer secure a company’s competitive advantage. This is the reality of information diffusion and global commoditization. The new competitive edge is neither a product nor a service; it is the people who make them. While innovations can be replicated …innovators cannot.
The new barrier to entry is a cadre of leaders in an organization who inspire innovation as a way of life at every level and who can develop more leaders like them. To develop such a cadre of leaders, companies need to adopt three specific leadership tenets:
- The ratio of leaders to employees has inverted
- Old skills and competencies are insufficient for leadership effectiveness
- Traditional programs for leadership development have become irrelevant
The ratio of leaders to employees has inverted
Let’s assume the following:
- You define a leader in an organization as: any individual who can further that organization’s objectives by influencing the behavior of others.
- Many, if not most, activities that do not involve the influencing of human behavior can be performed by technology.
Those being true, then most of the people in your organization are capable, in some way or another, of furthering the organization’s objectives by influencing the behavior of others. The majority of your employees then, should be developed and managed as if they were leaders.
No longer are your leaders restricted to the C-suite or even the top 200 or 500. The majority of employees are probably leaders and can further your company’s objectives by influencing others whether internally or externally. Apple gets this, many other companies do as well – but not all.
Microsoft’s attempt to emulate Apple’s wildly successful retail stores didn’t seem to be working all that well when I took a walk through the Century City Shopping Mall in Los Angeles last week. The Apple store was teaming with excited shoppers; Microsoft’s attractive, large new store was empty except for its team of assistants standing by, waiting. Microsoft staffs its stores with competent salespeople, I am sure. But Apple staffs its stores with inspired leaders who know they are expected to further Apple’s objectives by influencing the behavior of others. These objectives go beyond “the next sale;” they are more about growing the Apple brand and co-opting new Apple fans. Appreciating the ratio of leaders to employees in your company is key to its growth.
Professor Bill George of Harvard Business School writes in his insightful February 17th article, A New Era For Global Leadership Development, that: “Rather than concentrating on the top 50 leaders, global companies need to develop hundreds, even thousands, of leaders comfortable operating in a variety of cultures…. IBM’s former chief learning officer recently estimated that IBM will need 50,000 leaders in the future.”
Skills and competencies are insufficient for leadership effectiveness
Traditional leadership competencies do not equip leaders for a global environment of accelerated change. Today’s leaders manage in paradox and for this they need agility, tenacity and unwavering values. They need the stature to connect with and challenge people simultaneously, inspire trust; and ignite innovation.
Great leaders won’t cut it any more. We need great human beings in leadership positions.
Some of the leadership paradoxes to optimizing existing operations while preparing for a future even they cannot imagine are:
- A business-unit focus …with an enterprise vision.
- Authentic self-insight …with the cultural intelligence to adapt to different cultures and generations.
- Inspiring innovation …while driving efficiencies.
- Manage traditional lines of accountability …while embracing complex multinational, multi-functional and multi-cultural matrices.
Traditional methods of leadership development have become irrelevant
We need new thinking about leadership development. We need to grow people’s characters not just their competencies and help them achieve results by using their personal stature more than their positional status. Above all, if most of our employees are to be developed and managed as leaders, our training must produce leaders who know how to develop and manage other leaders – many of them – leaders of different generations and of different cultures.
Hours of classroom training yield limited returns. Exposing leaders to best practice and current thought leadership at best makes them as good as others. Business simulations sharpen leaders’ minds but do nothing for their stature and character. Your leadership development architecture should be as innovative as your product development and indigenous to your own culture. It should focus on character not on competencies; it is only through growing leadership character that you build leadership prowess.
Audit your current thinking on leadership development by asking yourself and your team 5 questions:
- How do we define a leader in our organization?
- What ratio of leaders to employees do we consider our company to have?
- Is the way we develop our leaders as innovative as the way we develop our products and services?
- Is our leadership development now, radically different from our older paradigms of thought? How different is it from the programs of our competitors and peers?
- Can our leadership development architecture become our competitive advantage going forward, and how easy would it be for others to copy us?
You might have a unique opportunity now to re-imagine your philosophy of leadership, re-engineer your leadership development, and forever set your company apart from its competitors.
Lets keep the conversation flowing. What do think about these new paradigms of leadership and the importance of innovation in leadership? Please leave a comment below.