LEADERSHIP IN THE COMPETITIVE WORLD

Leadership is about responsibility, accountability, and achieving objectives. Leaders inspire their people, organize actions, develop strategies, and respond to market and competitive uncertainty with speed and effectiveness.

Above all, leaders act to win: to win customers, to win market share, to win a long-term profitable position in a marketplace, and to win a competitive encounter before a rival can do excessive harm. If they lose, their organizations and those they manage suffer.

A leader “seeks victory from the situation.” That means influencing employees by providing purpose, direction, and motivation, so that they do not “place the burden of accomplishment on their men alone.”

Consequently, anyone who influences and motivates people to action, or affects their thinking and decision making, is a leader. Leadership is not only a function of position; it is also a function of an individual’s role in the organization. Consider the following examples where leadership is a combination of position and role.

Verizon Wireless launched its version of a music download service to compete with Apple Computer’s highly successful iPod® and iTunes® combination. It took a solid dose of boldness to go against an extraordinarily famous product.

It also took the leadership of numerous individuals in varying organizational positions and roles to link vision, purpose, direction, and motivation to their respective staffs. So that, throughout the organization, Verizon’s product designers, engineers, manufacturing, marketing, finance, and an assortment of senior and mid-level managers displayed their allegiance and dedication to activate the corporate vision.

As this multilayered blend of leadership looked to the future, they also worked at the immediate demands of the job. Even with diverse managerial techniques, they demonstrated a common ability to make the objectives clear to those they supervised, which was followed by a vigorous execution of their business plans.

For Verizon to successfully introduce its new product required flexibility and a mix of leadership styles as different situations arose. Further, no one could be cast as the single leader; each also behaved as a subordinate. And all members of the organization worked as part of a team.

What lessons can you take away from the Verizon case? In a market-driven, highly competitive environment, work at developing a personalized, yet flexible managerial style. Anything else will come across to your personnel as artificial and insincere. This is especially important if you expect them to support the organization’s overall vision and goals.

Also, if you rely on only one leadership approach, you suffer the consequences of being rigid and will likely experience difficulty operating in situations where a single style simply does not work. Some projects are complex and require different management skills at each stage of development.

For instance, projects in the early stages of development, where creative insight and patient testing for performance dominate, require a far different leadership style from that of pumping up a sales force when launching a new product.

Similarly, products at various stages of their life cycles—introduction, growth, maturity, decline, and phase-out—involve different leadership methods that correspond to the varying market and competitive conditions at each stage.

For those reasons, there is no single leadership style for all occasions. Therefore, model your style to fit your organization’s overall objectives. Be certain, too, that it conforms to the individual tasks to be performed by role and function.

There is still another issue that affects leadership: how your personnel feel about the climate within your organization. Climate relates to your employees’ perceptions and attitudes about the day-to-day functioning of the organization and their respective units.

Climate, in turn, is allied with corporate culture. Therefore, if you are to develop realistic strategies and implement them successfully, it is in your best interest to define the environment in which you work.

Accordingly, answer the following questions to determine your organization’s climate and your role in it. Although you may not be in a position to make changes, at least you can point to the negatives and positives that exist in the everyday workings of the organization and thereby personalize your own leadership style.

Are priorities and objectives clearly stated and do your personnel generally accept them?

Is there a system of recognition, rewards, and reprimands? Does it work?

Do you seek input from subordinates? And do you act on the feedback provided? In particular, do you keep your people informed?

In the absence of instructions, do individuals reporting to you have authority to make decisions that are consistent with your objectives? Do they take the initiative and act in times of opportunity or emergency?

Are there signs of excessive tensions among employees or acts of competitive in-fighting in the organization? What are the causes?

Is your leadership style consistent with your company’s values? Is there a working climate of trust? Do other leaders make positive or negative role models?

The following examples illustrate these points.

Google creates a working climate in which its managers display the outstanding qualities of leadership by motivating their employees to innovate in all aspects of their jobs. Recognizing that inventiveness and innovation are the drivers of organizational success, leadership is dedicated to creating a working culture that encourages fresh ideas.

For instance, Google management gives all engineers one day a week to develop their own pet projects, no matter how far from the company’s central mission. If work deadlines get in the way of those free days for as much as a few weeks, they accumulate. Also, the system is so pervasive that anyone at Google can post thoughts about new technologies or businesses on an ideas mailing list, available company-wide for inspection and input.

What are the leadership traits that support such behavior? First, respect for the individual forms the basis of Google’s leadership. In practice it means recognizing and appreciating the inherent dignity and worth of people. And even where some individuals’ ideas will not succeed, their efforts are recognized and respected. This is especially relevant working with culturally diverse personnel with a wide range of ethnic and religious backgrounds.

Second, at each level, leaders stand aside and let subordinates do their jobs. They empower their people, give them tasks, delegate the necessary authority, and let them do the work.

The fundamental issue here is that the organization is not going to stop functioning because one leader steps aside. Therefore, central to the job of good leaders is helping subordinates grow and succeed by teaching, coaching, and counseling.

It is the business of a (leader) to be serene and inscrutable, impartial, and self-controlled.

If serene he is not vexed; if inscrutable, unfathomable; if upright, not improper; if self-controlled, not confused.

Sun Tzu

BorgWarner specializes in technologies related to fuel economy, vehicle emissions, and stability. It is also an organization that displays effective leadership and operates in tune with the best attributes of a successful twenty-first-century enterprise.

For management, the principal challenge for BorgWarner is to inspire employees to step up the pace of innovation. The challenge is not just hype. A fund of $10 million is set aside as seed money for ideas that are solicited at company innovation summits.

Those events usually result in three or four research projects going forward a year, out of hundreds of ideas submitted. In terms of outlay, the investment represents a mere fraction of what BorgWarner spends on research and development.

Recognizing that technology is a leader’s ongoing responsibility, management continually learns how to administer it. Therefore, a central role of leadership at BorgWarner takes the route of harnessing technology to maintain a competitive advantage. Associated with this duo of technology and leadership is the value of a disciplined, cohesive organization that is able to ride out tough times and emerge better than when it started.

Riding the waves of uncertainty also means battling the human tendency of procrastination and the temptation to wait for every scrap of information before making a decision to move forward. Your best approach is to act proactively by developing a business plan with the following general guidelines:

First, establish primary as well as secondary objectives, so that if your main objectives cannot be achieved, you have a fallback position.

Second, develop corresponding strategies and tactics for each of your objectives.

Third, set up monitoring systems to flag problems, which will permit you to manage unexpected situations with contingency plans.

Fourth, work out an exit plan to manage situations that could develop into untenable conditions.

A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan next week.

General George S. Patton, Jr.

By accepting Patton’s pragmatic wisdom that decisiveness beats indecision, you can more readily maneuver by indirect strategy (Chapter 1), act with speed (Chapter 2), and be able to move to the offensive (see ahead in Chapter 8). Taking prompt action, however, does not mean impetuous moves whereby you run off with incomplete plans or launch flawed products.

What lessons in leadership emerge from the above examples?

You can achieve excellence as a leader when your people are disciplined and committed to the organization’s cultural values. Excellence in leadership, however, does not mean perfection. On the contrary, an excellent leader allows subordinates room to learn from their mistakes as well as successes.

For instance, in the event you have to take over a troubled organization or business unit, you would probably sort through nebulous facts and try to make sense of questionable data. In the process, you are likely to lean heavily on trusting your knowledge, experience, and best judgment to size up the situation quickly, determine priorities, and above all, act. And notwithstanding those systematic and logical moves, you are ready to feed off your gut-level intuition to arrive at final decisions.

Another lesson emerges: As you consider alternative courses of action, you must take into consideration the consequences of each move. Those considerations most often include the ability to assess subordinates and peers for strengths, weaknesses, and a willingness to take action.

Embedded in all those lessons is the self-confidence that you will perform correctly in a tough situation. As discussed earlier, selfconfidence comes from the inner knowledge that you are competent in yourjob.

When using troops, one must take advantage of the situation exactly as if he were setting a ball in motion on a steep slope. The force applied is minute but the results are enormous.

Sun Tzu

 
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