Leadership that endures for the long term

Published in Philippine Daily Inquirer, August 26,2002

A COMPANY’S FAILURE is very often blamed on a competitive business environment, misguided marketing directions, absence of skilled staff, lack of resources and financial control, and inadequacy of technology.

Seldom is it blamed on the organization’s leadership.

Ironically, it is the company’s leadership that must carry much of the weight and accountability for an organization’s success or failure. Leadership may be the owners or the board of directors or administrators or the executive committee those who influence in charting the fate of the organization.

The mark of true leadership that has guided many successful organizations include the following:

Leadership with vision. Visionary leaders are forward thinkers. Their vision is never whimsical but is grounded on an understanding of their firm’s relevance to the market.

Forward thinking. Forward-thinking leaders recognize an evolving market and their changing customers’ needs and expectations. Guided by their vision, the authentic leader is never afraid to incur risks in the interest of serving his or her organization and customers more efficiently.

While visionary leaders recognize the need to deal with short-term pressures, which often relates to financial resources, they intuitively know how to prioritize and allocate enough time, resources, energy and commitment to the development of a longterm big picture view of the business.

Visionaries. These leaders carry the vision into the future. They recognize and understand the impact of present-day decisions and strategies on the organization’s future performance and their customers’ needs and wants. Microsoft’s Bill Gates and longtime friend Paul Allen believed that computers could perform wonders even before it became the mode and they ceaselessly worked on this vision despite personal and financial barriers. The two shared the vision nearly 30 years ago of a computer on every desk and in every home.

Leadership that recognizes change. Visionary leaders recognize the importance of change. While visionary leaders recognize the significance of track record and historical experience as significant and not irrelevant, they know that changes in the environment require this same historical experience to seek constant adjustment.

Visionary leaders do not claim to resolutely know everything, they recognize changes in the environment and its impact to the business, anticipate problems and seek opportunities, encourage fresh perspectives and innovative breakthrough ideas and refrain from stubborn refusal to adopt change.

Adopting change. Bill Gates’ close call with failure to adopt to change almost created a huge dent in his business when he realized too late in1993 how the speed of the Internet revolution was creating huge impact on the lives of many industries and consumer markets.

Recognizing trends. In 1994, Microsoft did a turnaround 45 days after recognizing this important trend. It introduced a new product and pricing strategy for the internet. His sentiment, Some people draw an analogy to IBM missing out on really benefiting from personal computers Microsoft’s miscue on the internet is not the same. It was a wonderful chance for me to go to the Company and remind them, Hey, we don’t have a guaranteed place. We’ve got to take this Internet initiative and really surprise the world with what we can do. In the same manner, Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric, has been refining GE’s vision for 15 years.

Leadership that empowers. Visionary companies are careful in the selection of their leadership teams. They dislike power seekers who strive hard to reach positions where they become largely motivated by control and autocratic rule over a huge number of staff from whom they demand unquestioning obedience.

Teams. Visionary companies seek an environment and culture of coaching and mentoring with leadership teams confident and exhibiting knowledge and skills. Visionary leaders systematically involve leadership teams in discussing the vision and contributing to its refinement. The leadership team is freely empowered to put the vision in place in day-to-day business operations.

Leadership that is transparent. Visions do not stay with one person. They are shared by everybody. Visions are communicated to the entire organization with sustained energy and strong conviction. Use the organization’s formal and informal communications network to get your organization’s vision and values accepted, understood and promoted by the entire organization employees.

Transparency. Key to transparency is to exert every effort to walk the talk. The organization must behave in a manner that is consistent with the organization’s vision and values. This means that an organization’s vision must be integrated and reflected in the company’s symbols, rituals, staff meetings, benefits and compensation, products and services, recognition and achievement awards, etc.

Leadership that motivates and energizes. A vision may not necessarily come from one person. The CEO or the owner, whoever is the greatest influence in the organization, may initiate and lead the process in the creation of the organization’s vision. What is critical is to get the entire organization to share in the vision. This can only happen when you involve the organization in the visioning process. Enthusiasm and energetic spirit for the vision can only be sustained if the vision is collectively shared and the leadership team is personally engaged and committed to the vision.

Leadership with great humility. Just like many heads of organizations, leaders are naturally ambitious. True leaders however, chart their ambition first and foremost to their organization, not to their own persons and self-interest. They channel their ego away from themselves and into the larger institution all captured into a long-term vision for the organization.