In a recent Harvard Business Review article posted April 23, writers Paul Leinwand, Mahadeva Matt Mani and Blair Sheppard discuss six leadership paradoxes for the post- pandemic era. I would like to offer a few insights.
The writers allude to the fact that the businesses are quickly trending to a digital and complex competitive world. Decision making now needs to focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) in today’s evolving climate. Making a profit isn’t enough; businesses should commit to contributing positively to the environment and to social causes. Lastly, companies should conduct themselves responsibly.
I found it interesting that the writers state that in a digital world, leaders need to have clarity about how the new world will look and their company’s place in that world. They state that leaders will be required to be highly strategic and visionaries. While I agree with their comments, my experience has taught me leaders of organizations have had to always be visionaries and strategic in their decision-making process. This is nothing new, regardless of the economic, digital, or fast-paced environment.
What is new is the fact that leaders must be more nimble, flexible, and adaptable to the rapid global changes. Thus, there is much more pressure for leaders to get it right the first time; otherwise, their companies will lose market share, margins, or simply miss new opportunities to pioneer “blue ocean ideas” – markets that didn’t exist and are created by the disrupter.
Leaders will have to flatten and streamline the decision-making process within their organizations if they truly want to be nimble and adaptable. Based on experience as a CEO, this is the newest and one of the most important traits one must have to compete on a global level. Therefore, leaders must be able to empower their teams so that they can also inherit these traits. It won’t be good enough just for the CEO to embrace change and be proactive to future trends; the leader’s team must also encompass the same positive behaviors.
The writers hit a home run with their comment regarding leaders needing to be humble yet willing to make bold decisions. They also mention leaders should be engaging with others and lead with empathy and authenticity. In my book The Recipe for Empowered Leadership I mention five principles that maximize a leader’s abilities. One is being authentic. In today’s social media environment, a leader says what they mean, means what they say, and does what is promised. Authentic leaders hold themselves to a higher standard than their teams, yet they expect the standard to be embraced and absorbed by the team. I have a “Dougism”: “Before you lead others, lead yourself, then lead by example, eventually others will follow.” This is an example of being an authentic leader.
Another paradox the writers mention is a leader now must be a tech-savvy humanist. They state in the past leaders delegated the company’s technology challenges to the chief information officer or the digital officer. They claim the leader now needs to understand what technology can do for the company and how. I must push back on this premise. While I certainly agree a CEO must have an awareness of how technology impacts the present and future of the company, I dare say thinking a CEO should be the torch bearer of technology is similar to saying the CEO must now be a micromanager of digital informational technology. I don’t buy the premise. Perhaps there are more, but I can think of a handful of global CEOs who have that type of bandwidth.
Nonetheless, a CEO must delegate and empower that role to people who know more than he or she. Yes, the CEO must be keenly aware of how the new technology will influence their strategy. However, it is important for leaders to play to their strengths, not their weaknesses. Great leaders hire better, more skilled, and talented people than themselves. They will empower their people to be problem-solvers and provide the CEO with feedback regarding their reasoning.
The writers state that a company’s purpose and values have probably never been as important as they are in today’s world of constant change and disruptions. Yes, they are correct! I call this vision and mission. The vision is the company’s what, where, and how. The mission is the passion, purpose, or the cause of the organization. Simply stated, it is the “why” the company exists. I have another Dougism: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there. If a company doesn’t have a clear vision, then any road will get you there.” If you don’t articulate the mission, your passion, purpose and cause, it will be difficult for your employees and customers to believe in you.
Everyone wants to back a person or company who has similar passion as themselves. What about the company’s core culture values? I am a firm believer that a company has two intellectual properties that can’t be duplicated. They are your brand and your core values. I submit that perhaps the greatest responsibility of a CEO is to be the torch bearer of the company’s core culture values. Otherwise, if you don’t intentionally create a core culture, others will do it for you, and rarely will it be what you want it to be or think it is. If a CEO hasn’t repeatedly articulated the company’s vision, mission and core culture values, how do you create alignment? By being intentional with the message, a CEO can align the employees and create a unique synergy which ultimately gives your organization a unique competitive advantage.
The writers comment that leaders should be high-integrity politicians. I think that is an oxymoron, isn’t it? Furthermore, they say leaders need to make compromises, be flexible in tweaking their approach and go one step back to move two steps forward. Leaders definitely should not be politicians. After all, rarely are politicians leaders. They are different animals.
Yes, leaders need to be flexible, be open to compromise in specific circumstances, and be able to collaborate within the ecosystem they operate. But leaders cannot compromise the company’s integrity, its vision, mission, core culture values, or its brand. We can make tweaks and adjustments, but once leaders commit, their commitment must be 100%. Once employees see leaders start compromising the value system, they will mimic the leader and do the same.
Doug Meyer-Cuno is an entrepreneur, mentor, and ForbesBooks author of “The Recipe For Empowered Leadership: 25 Ingredients For Creating Value & Empowering Others“. He is founder Empowered Leadership, which helps entrepreneurs, business owners and CEOs scale their companies by empowering their teams.