Kodak died but Fuji survived. Both were threatened by the digital photography! What happened? Fuji reinvented their company during the digital photography crisis, while Kodak got comfortable with their core businesses of photography. Fuji diversified into pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Fuji realized their core business were chemicals and not photography (it turned out that the 200,000 chemicals used for photography and film business, 4,000 were antioxidants).
Apple computers transformed itself from near bankruptcy to becoming one of the most valued companies ($1 Trillion plus) in the world by reinventing itself. Yahoo struggles to reinvent itself, while Google keeps up the start up spirit by continuously extending its tentacles to new fields of market dominance.
2. Thou shalt Accelerate Change
Slow change is no change. The velocity of change has increased. Product life cycles are shortened. The life span of Fortune 500 companies is less than 15 years. The challenges are big for the leaders if the change outside their organization is faster than the changes they make within your organization. There are waves of Digital Darwinism, Big Bang Disruption and Exponential Organizations rising globally threatening monolithic enterprises. Amidst the faster rate of change, speed is the only modern day currency that can sustain your competitive advantage. Agility and sense of urgency (faster execution) are epitome of successes today. The rate at which you can execute an idea (overcoming all analysis paralysis) and how fast you can reiterate your offerings with a right feed back mechanism really counts for your ultimate success today.
3. Thou Shalt Continuously Innovate
Steve Jobs said ‘Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower”. Today innovation just doesn’t mean only making product innovations. There are also process innovation, organizational innovation, management innovation, business model innovation, etc. Every time you try to do something in a new way: mostly improved, different, better, faster, cheaper, simpler and friendlier; you are innovating.
Leaders always think about doing things differently. They know that new growth requires new way of thinking. Leaders of today focus on innovation and they facilitate an environment within (nurture a culture for innovation) and outside (open innovation) their organization to collaborate across teams (start ups, think tanks etc.) to innovate and create value for their present and future customers.
4. Thou shalt Disrupt thyself Before Someone Else Does
As a leader, it’s your job to know where your business is headed and what disruptive forces might actually challenge its own very existence. After successfully innovating iPod Steve Jobs asked his people; ‘what can disrupt iPod’? The answer was smart phones, which can play music as well. Before somebody else could cannibalize Apple’s iPod; Apple decided to disrupt it with the launch of iPhones.
Leaders must overcome the Innovators Dilemma (as Clayton Christenson says) and must have the courage to take bold decisions even to disrupt your businesses and business models. For example, Dell Computers built a unique business model of going direct to its consumer (Direct from Dell-old model) has now transformed the business and expanded its network across India through its massive dealer/channel network.
5. Thou shalt Lead with Purpose
Great companies are purpose driven. Great leadership always start with a ‘why’ (in Simon Sinek’s language). Big companies think big and if you have to move people to achieving something big; you need Massive Transformative Purpose (or MTP in the language of Salim Ismail). MTP is a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goals: in the language of Collins and Porras) with a purpose. When everyone in the organization is purpose driven (knowing the impact they can make in this world), they become a cult force in creating and delivering exceptional value. When purpose is lost, the very soul of leadership is lost. If there is no why (Motive/Motivation), there is no action (Execution).
6. Thou shalt Get Everyone on the Same Page
Leadership is mostly about vision and influence. Leaders define vision and use their influence to get everyone on the same page. Getting a team to row in the same direction is critical to organizational success. In this context, the leader’s role includes gaining agreements (strategic direction) from a bunch of disagreements (diversity of perspectives) from their team. To deal with the rising complexity and ambiguity from continuous organizational growth and expansion; leaders must learn to simplify and execute their tasks with ease and comfort gaining the confidence of the team through mutual trust and commitment.
7. Thou shalt Listen to thy People’s Ideas
Great leaders listen well. They are no more the answering machines (people with all the answers) but they are the questioning machines (people who can lead with questions and get answers from their followers). Today’s knowledge workers are capable of lots of good ideas. Leaders of successful organizations know how to into the ideas of its people.
Late C.K Prahalad once said: “Some leaders are like banyan tree. Nothing grows under them.” Great leaders are committed to people development. They are committed to developing the next generation leaders. They influence their followers to aspire, act and achieve greater heights. But on the other hand the banyan tree approach to leadership will not permit the follower’s opinions and ideas to be heard or validated.
Listening to people also means saying YES to your team member. Amazon has a cultural practice of ‘The Institutional Yes’. It’s a default YES response to an idea, whenever a subordinate talk about a great idea with a manager at Amazon. As a manager, to say NO is quite difficult in this context, unless you are prepared to write a two-page thesis on why you rejected the subordinate’s idea and explaining why you consider it as a bad idea. For example the mistake of not listening to an employee (John Lasseter) by a manager (Richard Coyle, senior animator) costed a company (Walt Disney) 7.4 billion dollars (aquiring Pixar Animation) just to re-hire an employee with new ideas.
Listening is a skill of empathy. Today’s leaders must possess great interpersonal skill (EQ over IQ) to understand and absorb their follower’s dreams and nightmares. Great leaders listen to their people without judgment and assumptions. They build rapport, develop strong bond and act as a chief team player to their group rather than a leader with a title.
8. Thou shalt not be the Master
To be a leader is to be a servant and not a master (except self-mastery). Real inspirational leaders serve and move their followers to the people’s advantage. Manipulative leaders act like masters and move people to their personal advantage.
Leadership is an act of serving people. Obviously the leader is not the center of attention or gravity but the team they are committed to serve and sustain. Leadership is an act of exercising power with humility. Great leaders are humble and they lift others up. They give the due credit to their team members while winning and take the blame for losing. The heart of leadership lies is inspiring and empowering people to embrace a bold vision in order to achieve goals and dreams together.
9. Thou shalt Find Time to Think and Process Information
In a busy world, while running from one meeting to another, juggling with multiple tasks and dead lines, today’s leaders seldom find time to think or reflect. The role of a leader demands personal reflection time to digest and ingest information. Since leaders work on manufacturing decisions, they need sufficient time to reflect on what is said or shared during a presentation or meeting. To make better decisions leaders must find enough time to process all the input, debate decisions with the team without resorting to any hasty impulsive decisions.
10. Thou shalt be a Learner for Life
A true leader is a reader who is committed to learning and personal development. To stay competitive and relevant in an ever-changing business landscape, one must continuously learn, unlearn and relearn knowledge to acquire wisdom. Leaders must cultivate the child like curiosity and must possess the thirst for knowledge and insights. Remember when you stop learning, you stop growing. If you stay green you grow. If you stay ripe, you will rot.
Learning is a great way to continuously revise ones own perspectives and to avoid the ‘experience fixation’ (a term coined by Paul Robinson: fundamentally getting fixated on to something and interpreting the same as the only thing a person likes while the person chooses to dislike new things because they not in accordance with their previous liking)
Senior Leaders, due to a larger term of experience behind them in their fat resume, they tend to be ‘experience fixated’ especially favoring one particular type of music (what kind of music you guys listen to? Golden era of music were in the 70s & 80s), film (what crappy movies they make these days, I miss the 80s), food or ideology and paying no attention to anything new and unfamiliar. As we age we become less and less open to new things. So at the top of an organization, sometimes we end up having a bunch of experience fixated experts than learners who can lead an organization to the future.
In order to keep up in my field, for example, we need to be learners and explorers for new experiences: new music, new television shows, new actors, and new trends.