Technology, customer preferences, demographic shifts, and even geopolitical events are all conspiring to disrupt our ways of doing business. The speed of change is so dramatic and the external influences on business are so diverse that it has never been more challenging to be an effective business leader.
To thrive in this shifting environment, the way we think about leadership has to change as well. In recent years, we’ve moved from believing that all leaders are born to understanding that leadership is something that has to be developed and redeveloped, continually, in order to keep pace with the rate of change.
To be an effective leader and executive in a disrupted world, CEOs should focus on these 5 key ideas.
Have a strong Why.
If you’re a leader and you turn around and no one’s behind you, are you really leading?
Leadership is earned, and the way that it’s earned is to inspire followership. CEOs have to be able to articulate a vision that inspires employees and attracts more customers.
That starts by answering the question, “Why?” Why does your business exist? Why are you doing what you’re doing?
If your answer is, “To make money,” you’re thinking about the question in an antiquated way. Financial performance numbers are not the Why. They are the result of crafting a compelling answer to Why and executing it.
Things like sustainability and environmental and social consciousness have converged in the business world. Consumers and workers are now making holistic decisions about where they work and what they buy. Business has evolved beyond a pure bottom line focus to what we’re now calling a “triple bottom line”: people, planet, and profit.
Yes, making money is part of that equation. But it’s not the only part. And when it comes to attracting millennial talent and consumers, it’s often the least important part.
Today’s workers and consumers need to feel like what they’re doing is purposeful. Stoking that feeling of purpose – that Why – is how effective leaders drive performance.
CEOs need to ask themselves, “Is my business just a taker, or is it also a positive change maker?” Do your employees feel empowered to dream up the next big thing? Do you have a social or charitable agenda that attracts talent that shares your values and will add to your culture? Are you incentivizing your employees by promoting from within or providing paths to ownership?
No one can be you better than you. The best CEOs have figured out how to be their authentic selves and optimize that authenticity for what they want to achieve.
Authenticity starts by creating the so-called “category of one” within your industry. Ultimately, companies are looking to grow top line revenue through client acquisition, servicing, retention, and margin improvement. Those key drivers of business are really industry agnostic. Fine-tuning those drivers is what everyone is doing. But what are only YOU doing? What are the core competencies that make you stand out? Even if your product or service isn’t “exciting,” this kind of differentiation can add to your Why proposition and create committed customers and employees.
Authentic leaders are also authentically human. They celebrate progress and reward achievement, but more importantly, they own mistakes. Nothing is more powerful than a leader who has the candor and courage to stand up in front of their teams, admit to mistakes, and point towards a positive resolution.
A few years ago, business thinkers were saying, “Data is the new currency.” Now everyone has more data. The new currency is trust. That trust can be built between a company and a client literally anywhere, anytime, across product lines and across services. It can also be broken with one missed shipment, one bad tweet, one dismissive shrug at a subordinate’s pet idea. Customers who trust you to be you will keep coming back. Employees who trust you to be you will make your Why their own.
Invert the pyramid.
The days of command and control are over. The modern workforce is more global and more mobile. A mechanistic mindset where employees are told to keep their heads down in their cubicles will not attract or retain top talent. Workers have access to too much information and too many ways of training themselves up for a better job to stick with a company that wants them to stand in line churning out the next widget.
In the past, a company’s structure most likely resembled a pyramid, with the CEO at the top and the rest of the organization spread out below. Tasks and responsibilities trickled down through a rigid hierarchy to the cogs at the bottom.
Today, the best businesses are flipping that pyramid upside down. As tasks move up the inverted pyramid from the CEO to the wide range of human resources, employees become more empowered to make decisions and find creative, more effective ways to go about their work. Communication improves. Problems are addressed with more flexibility and less handholding from the C-suite team. Workers execute to their full capacity and capability, while the CEO focuses on the tasks that only the CEO can execute.
Cultivate a growth mindset.
Many education experts believe that the single most important skill a young person can develop is resilience: the ability to confront a challenge, fall down, get back up, and have the grit to move on. Resilience provides the foundation for a strong growth mindset that treats every experience, good or bad, as an opportunity to learn, grow, improve, and develop new skills.
Once these resilient young people enter the workforce, they’re looking for that growth mindset in a potential employer as well. So many companies struggle because they’re paralyzed by fear: fear of failure, fear of losing ground to the competition, fear of looking bad to the public, fear of the next major disruption. As a result, they never try anything new, and their worst fears come true.
CEOs who have developed their own growth mindset understand that growth isn’t a question of success or failure. It’s a matter of success in learning. When we are right about something, we learn nothing. We just affirm our current knowledge. Leading your company someplace new requires experimentation, honest assessment, and a commitment to continual self-improvement. If your employees see that you’re devoted to learning how to become a better leader, they’re going to be inspired to grow in their own roles as well.
Find your community.
No effective leader does it alone. You need your best people operating efficiently across the inverted pyramid. And at that lonely point where your office is, CEOs need a community to keep developing their learning so that it reinforces the growth mindset. Networking with other CEOs or working with an entrepreneur coach can lead you to think about things from different angles, creating new disruptions and new ways to lead in this era and beyond.
Dr. Jacquie Hart has three decades of experience in senior roles with US and global public and private companies and with boards of directors where she partnered across a range of industries and sectors including financial services, consumer products, education, entertainment, healthcare, retail, technology, and philanthropy. She’s also a YPO member and a coach at CEO Coaching International.
About CEO Coaching International
CEO Coaching International works with the world’s top entrepreneurs, CEOs, and companies to dramatically grow their business, develop their people, and elevate their overall performance. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 500 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 25 countries. Every coach at CEO Coaching International is a former CEO or President that has made big happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $1 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight and nine figure exits. CEOs and entrepreneurs working with CEO Coaching International for three years or more have experienced an average EBITDA CAGR of 66.4% during their time as a client, more than five times the national average. For more information, please visit: https://www.