Today’s preeminent leaders are beginning to look far beyond just their organization’s bottom line.
Such a narrow vision neglects a number of key issues that might differentiate a company from the rest of the pack.
“Because of the continually changing landscape in which organizations operate, the need for transformational leaders is more intense than it ever was,” says Timothy S. Mescon, Ph.D., dean of the Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University. “Leading-edge leadership is being embraced, and it describes an agenda in many organizations today.”
Smart Business spoke with Mescon about how a commitment to internal and external stakeholders and a drive for innovation and creativity is defining a new and necessary level of leadership in today’s organizations.
Is leadership getting a closer look in this changing business environment?
I think it continues to be interesting, provocative and one of the singular great challenges for the domestic and global corporate world. Leadership is a topic from an organizational perspective that will never go out of favor. Competitive global markets, changing demographics and the increasing complexities in the marketplace and in the corporate world are putting really unique challenges on C-level executives in organizations.
What are hallmarks of today’s finest leaders?
First, I think what is driving many great organizations today is a commitment both internally and externally to their key stake-holders. That starts with employees first, and then obviously with customers and the supply chain. If you’re not taking care of your own employees initially, then those issues will reflect externally, as well. I think great leaders are certain to take care of their own employees early on. Additionally, the best leaders today have recognized that communication must occur on a right-to-know basis versus what historically has been a need-to-know basis. Great executives hide little it’s all about collective decision-making and focus, and I think that characterizes great organizations today.
The intense focus on stories like Enron and WorldCom that impacted both employees and public stakeholders have raised new issues around integrity, candor and transparency, and these have become hallmarks of today’s great executives.
How can leaders break away from textbook skills and forge new initiatives?
There’s a lot of focus and excitement in the academic venues around coursework and programming in innovation and creativity. For a lot of organizations, a continuous commitment to innovate and create whether it’s with products, services or processes will differentiate the world class from the also-rans. Academic programming and executive education programs are acknowledging that the great leaders today have this obsessive commitment to innovation and creativity.
There’s another dimension that has become incredibly hot among leading organizations today, and that is around the creative use of data. Companies are collecting data and information and using that to differentiate their organization in a tough, competitive marketplace. All of a sudden, historically mundane areas like market research and customer demographic studies have risen in their value to organizations. Obviously, the Internet provides much greater access to real-time data. But is the leadership in the organization poised to use that data effectively to morph its strategy, and then to respond to the needs of the market?
What are the key factors for leading by example?
Leadership must make sure it’s absolutely clear that the tone is set at the highest levels of the organization. An outstanding illustration of this is the transformation that has taken place at Delta Airlines. Departing chairman and CEO Gerald Grinstein has transformed an organization that was on a corporate respirator. He turned it around, recrafted its strategy, built employee and stakeholder commitment in the organization in the face of incredibly challenging odds, and did it in nanoseconds on a corporate timetable. He recreated this airline from a historically domestically focused airline to one where 50 percent or more of its business will depart on international flights. In doing so, he demonstrated all of the attributes of today’s great leaders: commitment to the organization that starts with the people in the organization, belief in the stakeholders and the role of their customers and suppliers, and the need to be innovative and creative and to use data effectively.
How do great leaders measure their success?
Ultimately, the barometer for many organizations is still an ROI and providing appropriate returns to the shareholders. But, I think today many more organizations are looking at multiple impact points. One very hot topic among corporate leadership is the social impact. Another impact point for appropriate industries is the long-term commitment to the environment. That’s another dimension where organizations are looking to move the needle in terms of positive impact. Third, you can never forget that classical metrics like financial metrics and market share continue to be hugely important to great organizations.
TIMOTHY S. MESCON, Ph. D., is dean of the Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University. Reach him at (770) 423-6425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.