The Future Leader

This video covers the leadership challenges of the 21st century due to a multitude of macro changes. Because of the fast changing business environment, Barton proposes three general recommendations for leadership which are important and relevant. However, I feel that those alone are not enough, and there are additional ways future leaders can adapt to the multiple changes faced. As such, what exactly is needed of future leaders?

The first recommendation of needing a long term view is good in that the leadership ability to create an effective vision, and hold on to it through short term volatile changes, is vital for an organisation’s survival. Disruptive technologies are getting increasingly prevalent. As such, an effective leader needs to look to the future, and visualise how the business can value-add to society and its customers in a sustainable way. An exemplary leader with a strong future outlook and vision is Elon Musk of Tesla Motors, who has the vision for environmentally friendly electric cars for sustainable transportation.

However, is not this trait one that is important in the past as well? Besides, I believe that global thinking in leaders is as equally critical in today’s interconnected world as well; rarely does business not involve any global aspect to it. With the exception of really small businesses that are inappropriate for overseas activities, even leaders of SMEs are feeling the increasing pressure for overseas related activities, including nearby regional expansion. This is due to extensive e-commerce and increasing competition from foreign firms, especially in emerging economies for the latter. Not to mention that leaders of MNCs also need to better understand multi-country trade and formulate their role in the global supply chain management, in order to gain competitive advantages. These point to the need for a greater global perspective in future leaders.

Furthermore, the highly diverse marketplace also means that global leaders need strong cultural intelligence, to be able to effectively handle the company’s culturally diverse workforce, and various stakeholders of the value chain, including partners, suppliers, and customers. Being able to appreciate cultural diversity is important in leaders, who want to effectively understand and motivate employees of various cultures, as well as build closer ties with stakeholders for greater competitiveness.

Secondly, Barton’s advice that companies should develop a network of leaders to handle the various changes is commendable as no one person is able to handle the macro changes and business concerns plaguing an organisation. However, Barton’s advice of a network of leaders lies within the organisation itself, which I believe is insufficient in today’s quick-changing market. What would be a better extension of such an approach is for leaders to build partnerships and alliances with other organisation through establishing and growing an ecosystem. The benefits of this lie in preventing their offerings from becoming obsolete, achieving breakthrough innovations for partners through greater idea and technology synergies, as well as better risk management. Besides that, companies with various competencies will be able to tap on the other’s expertise, which leads to improved effectiveness. As discussed in class, the future role of leaders involve being the conductors in networks, bringing employees from different companies together to work collaboratively for the greater good of all partners involved. A relatively new term to describe this form of doing business is co-opetition, which leaders need to embrace to enable their organisations to reach their full potential.

Not only is openness to working with other companies important, a good future leader also needs to increasingly share leadership with employees. Empowering workers to be leaders in their own work is crucial for better organisation performance as the future employee is evolving as well – to become talented knowledge workers who are more skilled at what they do compared to their leaders. Similar to the above point, leaders need to adapt to being connectors – they are no longer telling their employees what and how to do something; instead they need to bring other skilled people together, to accomplish greater collaborative results. Trusting one’s employees with sharing leadership will enable employees to take work ownership, which propels them to feel a greater sense of motivation and engagement in their work.

Finally, leaders also need be technologically savvy to stay relevant in the future global market. Lots of new and upcoming technology hold the potential to revamp workplace productivity, including enterprise wearable technology. A leader being open to new innovations and enterprise solutions breakthroughs will better position the organisation to enjoy greater workflow efficiency, productivity and long-term profitability.

In all, roles and expectations of future leaders are different from that of the past. Only when future leaders step up to the plate and fulfil the new roles required out of them, will their organisations stay relevant and even thrive in the evolving world.

The 2 sides of the Strong Culture Coin; Can Culture be Changed if needed?

Culture is the hidden force behind organisations which influences the way they act. Through the Taj Mahal hotel case, we know that the culture of customer centricity over self was what led to the impressive handling of the attacks, as well as supported the long-term profitability of the hotel.

Since the strong culture of customer centricity has enabled the Taj staff to perform so remarkably under pressure, does that mean that having a strong good culture is definitely favourable, and better than having a weak but good culture? To take it further, if organisations do not have a good culture, could they possibly change their culture, especially if is deeply entrenched?

When we talk about a strong, good culture, it is obviously beneficial for an organisation’s success. I believe its main advantage is in producing greater employee harmony, and allowing them to share common values and goals. As employees feel part of something greater than themselves, it becomes a source of positive motivation and drives commitment and loyalty. For example, companies like Zappos, Apple and Nike have built a tribe-like culture where employees are proud to be part of the “tribe with a purpose”. Another advantage is outlined in the Taj Mahal Case, which lies is the organisation’s ability to withstand external shocks and effectively respond to a crisis. This is due to the source of coherence in how the employees acted swiftly together, putting their training to good use and living their culture by putting customers’ lives before their own.

However, strong good cultures can be risky too. Although I am sure employees are given encouragement to express differing views in such cultures, the danger lies in the inertia to change. The people might be unable to detect macro-environment changes and get stuck in the way of functioning that has been successful in the past. Since their culture is strong, it is difficult to change, even though it might not be serving the organisation well with environment changes. In fact, a weak culture holds strength in this regard, where it is easy to change the culture which is important if you are in a rapidly changing industry like ICT.

I guess a possible way to reconcile this, would be to have a strong culture of exploration, innovation and openness to change – which is a paradox in itself as a culture of openness celebrates diversity, pointing to a weak culture. Regardless of a strong or weak culture, possessing adaptability seems to be an increasingly vital point in today’s rapidly changing marketplace. Perhaps what is key – is that the organisation should strive towards being able to successfully shift back and forth between the two states of leveraging on their strong culture to push them in stable times even through crisis, and reinventing themselves when there are environment paradigm shifts.

This brings us to the question of whether cultures could be changed, and how. This is important because, as proclaimed by experts, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”; no matter how good your strategy is, if your culture does not support it, it will not succeed.

PeterDruckerCultureStrategyBreakfast1

I think that of all the changes to make in an organisation, culture would be the most difficult change. Besides its tangible components of symbols, stories and history, most of it is intangible and difficult to define – beliefs, emotions and social interactions. Furthermore, years of operation have moulded the organisation culture into what is now. However, even though change might seem extremely difficult, I believe it is possible – with strong leadership that can motivate and lead change in employees and collective employee effort.

A panel discussion at the NRB Convention explored “How to Change Organizational Culture“. The key points are:

  1. Become aware of the culture.
  2. Assess your current culture: What should stay? What should go? What is missing?
  3. Envision a new culture.
  4. Share the vision with everyone.
  5. Get alignment from your leadership team.
  6. Model the culture you want to create.

Tools-for-changing-minds

Looking at these steps and the “Tools for Changing Minds“, I believe that these sources lack an important perspective/role of the “people”. Not only is a powerful leader and management team important, an additional bottom-up approach would provide greater success. It is important for the management to seek to understand what employees believe to be the corporate culture, strive to work with the current culture if possible, and motivate them with purpose of change. Also, this bottom-up approach involves creating an influential focus group of employees who would embody and articulate the new values, as well as encourage change from ground level. This has greater impact as these people are part of the employees and interact with them more often. Overall, I believe that although culture is very difficult to change, with dedication, it is a possible and rewarding endeavour if required, and done right.