Must A Leader be Brave?

We have an image of leaders – whether it is John Wayne leading a charge in combat, or JFK declaring to the world the USA will put a man on the moon by the end of that decade, or Steve Jobs radically changing established market segments like music, telecom, and computers with new technology.

Traditionally, when the leader spoke, we listened; when the leader gave a command, we followed. Leadership relied on this command & control model, harkening back to the Roman Legion. Leaders issue orders and the tribe executes them. Collaboration, dissent, or suggestions were not rewarded.

Management theory has evolved, workers have become more educated, global markets have developed, and the pace of change has accelerated dramatically – the traditional has been replaced with rapidly changing and expanding norms, globalization, and new devices to advance technology. This is the New Normal and it dramatically affects how leaders lead.

Leadership is moving to a collaborative model – the leader articulates vision and goals then seeks input on how to get there. Success requires developing an environment of trust and for stakeholders to offer honest input. Collaboration and willingness to adopt offered changes – an open source approach – is a fundamental difference between traditional command & control and New Normal collaborative leadership models, but effective two-way communication is the critical factor.

To illustrate the shift to a new model, here’s a brief case study on an organization changing from traditional to New Normal leadership:

Background: A specialty product/service firm using a traditional leadership and sales approach – the sales person armed with brochures, catalogs, and a price list visits each prospect for a show & tell session to make the sale (or not).

Situation: The down economy causes sales volume to tank! With reduced sales, the company is suffering financially.

Options: The leader (company owner) could:

  • Try to sell the company (no prospects identified) [quit option]

  • Try to ride out the recession until market (and sales) return [dream option]

  • Make changes to meet the new challenges by: [evolve option]

1. Add web-sale portal (social business channel); 2. Qualifying customers and guiding lower probability customers to the social business channel; 3. Reserve personal visits only for high probability customers; 4. Enroll employees, tell the truth about the situation, plans, vision, and commitment of the leader to create a sustainable new model company.

Outcome: No magic – it took plenty of hard work and caused lots of angst. Everyone was kept current with the progress – good or bad. With the checkbook down to less than a couple of months of operating funds, sales volume increased from both the traditional channel and the social business channel. Sales volume grew at a steady pace and in the fourth year after starting this transition the company is profitable and stable.

The leader bet the ranch on creating a viable organization and came within a few months of losing everything. However, with the commitment of all stakeholders, hard work, honesty in assessing the situation for what it is, a good and flexible plan, and some luck – a leading-edge company emerged.

Is the leader brave? Or bold?

You decide.

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