In John Mayer’s Grammy Award-winning song, “Daughters,” he describes his girlfriend with the lyrics, “She’s just like a maze, where all of the walls all continually change.” For those trying to navigate the rather perilous maze of a rapidly evolving business market, you probably have the same feeling. Just when you think you understand how things work, everything changes…again!
In many respects, the GPS guiding people and organizations through the tangled interchanges of the business world often reads: “Signal unavailable until the download is complete.” But in reality, the download is never complete.
Before, the leader’s individual abilities and talents were the True North of an organization. Now, the compass needle points to less tangible qualities: building trust, harnessing synergy, clarifying vision and more. Today’s leaders must develop an internal compass to guide their decision-making process and enable them to keep their teams moving forward in the desired direction. Still, their coordinates are based on factors unaffected by the constant state of hyper-change.
New Rules that Aren’t Really New
Research shows that today’s organizations need a new set of rules to effectively steer the changing workforce. Today’s rules veer away from an emphasis on IQ and point directly to EQ values. Leaders who can balance the values of humility and confidence are better able to establish a tone of calm, assertive energy. They must embrace creativity, remain nimble and become adaptive in order to drive growth, ensure sustainability and realize success.
In an era of accelerating change, the effective trailblazer must embrace the paradox of giving employees both roots and wings — roots to provide a sense of purpose and grounding in the all-important “why” of the organization, and wings of freedom to explore the “what” and “how.”
Leaders attempting to pilot their organizations into this uncharted territory will want to encompass these values driving today’s successful CEOs:
1. Build a foundation of trust.
Business is not just about innovative products and services. It’s about people and the relationships built between them. The glue holding these relationships together is trust, found at the intersection of character and competence. Conversely, when these attributes are in question, everything slows down and becomes mired in calculated caution.
2. Make relationships a priority.
Technology globally connects us in direct and wide-ranging ways. While technology can make transactional work easier and more efficient, it’s important to remember that technology is no substitute for human connection. High-tech needs to augment with high-touch — both internally with staff and externally with customers and clients. Without a company culture that values people, indifference will spread like a virus through the organization.
3. Embrace diverse perspectives.
The adage, “There’s no idea that’s so bad as when it’s the only idea you have,” has never been truer. No one has the capacity to succeed in the world we live in today, much less tomorrow, with the drawbridge raised, keeping out any contributions and perspectives of others. Successful leaders surround themselves with people who differ from and balance their makeup. Even if there’s disagreement, hearing the input of others helps in making better, more informed decisions.
4. Find what motivates others.
The essence of leadership is not motivating people to do what you want them to do, but aligning them to do what they are made to do. Great leaders, like great coaches, position players based on their skills to maximize the effectiveness and success of the player and the team. Savvy leaders, from CEOs to Starters, learn not only what motivates Millennials, GenXers or Baby Boomers in a general way, but also what incentivizes an individual to give 110 percent. Learning to recognize and deploy people where they’re fulfilled and effective is key to leadership success.
5. Clarify the vision.
In navigating the warp speed of the Information Age, visionary leadership has never been more critical. Vision makes an organization distinct and is the rudder keeping it on course. An effective vision is more about the “what” and “why,” and less about “how.” When the power of what can be done is realized, accompanied with a passion answering the “why,” it opens the world to possibilities leading to the “how.” When Walt Disney built Disney World, he had his crew build the iconic castle first, knowing it would represent the vision and serve as motivation throughout the project.
6. Harness the power of synergy.
If people share a common purpose and a unifying vision, they can enjoy the multiplying impact of synergy. But synergy doesn’t happen on its own — goals must be well defined and team members inspired by a purpose. Synergy takes hold when individuals willing to sacrifice some independence and most of the credit to raise the trophy that can only be won together as a team.
7. Design a process, not an event.
Doubt in any enterprise, whether a battle, an athletic event or a business venture, results from not designing a strategy or process. In life, we often encounter challenges similar to cliffs, too steep to scale. Doubt overtakes us unless we find the stairs. Then, step-by-step, a process carries us over the summit. Losers spend their lives looking for elevators that move toward success, instead of searching for the stairs.
8. Celebrate desire and ambition.
Within every person lies the desire to make a difference — not merely to buy faster cars or larger houses, but to fulfill a purpose and make a mark that lives on beyond us. The desire to succeed, build and create a life of significance is not something anyone should feel guilty about or apologize for; it is the genesis of all human progress. We should find balcony people who want to climb, not basement people stuck below ground.
9. Cultivate a values-based approach.
A common denominator found in successful entrepreneurs is that they’re motivated and guided by deep-rooted values. One of two principal motivations guide people — faith or fear. Faith is believing the something you can’t see will come to pass. Coincidentally, this is also the definition of fear. The difference is that one comes from a negative point of view, and the other comes from a positive one. While faith is more than just a positive attitude, authentic faith works through one.
10. Summon courage.
For the doers throughout history, courage isn’t one of the virtues; it’s the catalyst for every virtue. The ability to persevere through the inevitable obstacles and setbacks standing between a vision’s conception and its realization is the hallmark of a difference-making leader. The courageous will still experience fear, but their ability to manage and direct that fear is what alters their history and the trajectory of others.
Ethical Capitalism Creates Freedom
We discovered these fundamental leadership qualities through our entrepreneurial journey, which involved interviewing hundreds of entrepreneurial CEOs. Drilling deeper, we found an overarching passion emanating like a beacon from each leader — an ethics-based approach to business that allows freedom to permeate throughout the company’s ranks.
Freedom is the holy grail that each person inwardly seeks. It’s realized through having the time to pursue our interests, the money to fund our quest and the relationships that empower and enrich our journey. It’s recognizing our right to define our meaningful purpose.
History has taught us that freedom is best realized through a free-market economy. But, unless we pursue capitalism using the compass of an ethical foundation, it’s unsustainable and will bring freedom only to the few and tyranny to the many.
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