The rules have changed. To succeed today, your leaders must stand out. Being expert and experienced is still necessary – but it’s no longer sufficient. Leaders at every level must develop their professional brand and influence to attract the people, customers and resources necessary for your business to prosper as we emerge into a post-pandemic marketplace of risk and opportunity.
Influence doesn’t just happen
Turning your leaders into Influencers creates benefits for both the individual and the business. But Influence doesn’t just happen. It’s not a new word for ‘expert’. Rather it’s about bringing the expertise inside your business to life in a way that is energetic, authentic, and inspiring. And it’s always commercial.
For most people this is a new capability. Developing it can be challenging. It requires new skills to be mastered, new mindsets to be developed and new relationships to be built.
Your Leaders must inspire others and show them the way
If all your ‘leaders’ do is simply manage what already exists in the business, they’re falling short. Ongoing disruption means effective leaders must be curious, future-focused and agile. They must challenge the pre-COVID status quo and develop their thinking to create solutions and build confidence in those they lead. Crucially, they must become master communicators, enablers and motivators.
It starts with the big picture
I believe too many businesses allow their leaders to focus on the wrong things. They get pulled into (and find comfort in) day-to-day detail. They become ‘lost’ in management. Successful leaders must be focused on the bigger-picture, obsessed with answering two questions.
Where are we going?
How will we get there?
My model explains:
The vertical axis of the model is about focus and ranges from ‘detail’ to the ‘big picture’. The horizontal axis indicates 3 continua. ‘past’ to ‘future’, ‘slow’ to ‘fast’ and ‘manage’ to ‘lead’. We can add ‘Before Corona’ and ‘After Corona’ too. This creates 4 quadrants.
Where should your leaders be playing?
The bottom left quadrant. Detail-heavy tasks, based on current and past activity, are best performed by computers. Software, technology and artificial intelligence are now supremely capable at analyzing and extrapolating information for improving efficiencies. Your leaders should be spending minimal time here.
Of course your people need to keep an eye on current business performance – but at a big picture, strategic level. They must be in the ‘Now’. They are custodians of the business and the brand who must employ their expertise and wisdom to maintain the status quo in a predictable, conservative manner. Shareholders and the market don’t like surprises. The problem is that, for many, leadership stops here. Successful leaders must look, think and act beyond this present.
Influence is a new source of personal and organizational power. Your leaders must build their professional brand to create influence. As the rate of change accelerates beyond our ability to keep up, we are looking for answers. Customers, staff and stakeholders seek out the thought leaders who can make sense of what is happening and help them to position themselves to succeed. Leadership here is future-focused – fascinated with discerning and then creating the ‘Next’.
Your key people must cast off the shackles of conservatism and rebel. The future is likely to come from unexpected directions, so they need to challenge the status quo and push their thinking into new areas. They must also communicate their vision – to the business, to customers and the broader market – typically by generating and connecting great content. In doing so, they inspire confidence and attract new partners. This is where Influencers create commercial advantage as the money follows the ideas.
As exciting as the ‘Influencer’ role is, it’s not the complete story. The best leaders must also Activate. That’s about building the plan and resources to create the future they see. Making decisions. Switching from risk-management to risk-taking. Disrupting what already exists in the business and motivating and engaging the staff to want to go on the journey.
It’s not enough to be a futurist with a helicopter view. Today’s leaders must play in both the ‘Influencer’ and ‘Activator’ space – shifting between the big picture vision and the ‘boots-on-the-ground detail needed to bring it about.
Where are your leaders playing?
Are they focused on the past? Stuck in the slow lane? Merely managing people and processes?
That’s not enough. They are not creating enough value to win the battle for the post-2020 future. They must speed up, become more agile, look to what may be and stick their neck out in the process of creating it.
There’s risk of course, but leaders – and businesses – are in the risk-taking business. Better to fail-forward today than fail-completely tomorrow.
The events of 2020 have imposed the single largest business disruption in our lifetimes. In response, our leaders must play a bigger and braver game.