Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Leading in a new era

Lisa Jackson //February 23, 2010//

Leading in a new era

Lisa Jackson //February 23, 2010//

(Editor’s note: The first of two parts)

Ah, the 2000’s.

The era of hope built on a house of cards. The promise of unending growth and prosperity. Where optimism was a drunken elixir for modern risk-takers: Creative financiers. Serial entrepreneurs. Corporate refugees. Global markets.

Followed by a rude awakening in 2008 – and a long, cold shower since. All of which has led me to reflect on what endures and what doesn’t.

To examine basic premises of business in the face of a Richter 7 shift in our world. Premises such as: “A good business idea will always flourish.” “The smartest will always win.” “Steady wins the race.” A great strategy will beat the competition.” “Self-reliance is king.” “The past is the best predictor of our future success.”

The events of 2008-09 remind us of the fragile belief we can control our world. Influence – yes. Control – no. Cause-effect works perfectly on a far grander scale than we can imagine. Many of these premises are good business practices. However, they are no longer sufficient for running a profitable, successful, sustainable business.

What is secure, enduring, reliable? If change is the one constant, where is center? What is solid ground? What do rely on as our touchstone? What keeps hope alive when business success is crumbling?

There is no permanence to ideas, products, or business. What endures is the power of collective vision, imagination, hard work, and relationships. If you define success as having the right answer, the right strategy, or the right product, you are playing a shell game. Our systems and economies are increasingly built on the unknown – there is no history that can predict where we’re headed in an age of technology and global competition.

I believe we are at the dawn of a new era for true leaders. Now more than ever, people need leaders not just to manage the balance sheet, but to bring confidence, courage and unwavering clarity in the face of increasing uncertainty and change.

These leaders know how to stand their ground in the moment, do what is right, and create positive expectation in spite of pervasive negativity by our media and world. They learn from the past but don’t get stuck in it. They look beyond technology or balance sheets or politics by focusing on people – not just saying people are important but living that reality. They build great teams and educate their stakeholders of the invisible arm that turns that “soft stuff” into hard results.

The need to learn new ways of leading through increasing uncertainty doesn’t erase the need for sound business practices – it builds on it. This is a both/and paradox. No amount of morale or happiness among workers can substitute for a relevant business model and good management. But that is ticket-to-the-game territory. The winning secret sauce is how you help people navigate chaos and make sense of the complete overload of information and choice we face in our business world today.

To build a business that is focused, excited and energized in unknown territory is to truly lead. The laws of the natural world can provide some lessons for this era of leadership:

1) Seasons are constant. Within seasons we see both change and constancy. In a study of temperature data since 1850 there has been about a 2 degree variance in our overall global temperature – only 2 degrees in approximately 150 years. There’s a lot of sameness and certainty in that … but the day-to-day variance between summer and winter feels like a lot of change.

2) Everything seeks balance. Day is gradually replaced by night. A crowded forest burns to make room for new growth. Mix cold and hot and you get a “Goldilocks feeling” of just right. If we have learned anything in the past 2 years, hopefully it is that unending upward growth is not the nature of our world. What goes up must come down. Business is not an extreme sport. The art form is to ride the mid-line so it feels “just right.”

3) Nature cooperates. In nature, nothing exists nothing unto itself. As humans, we often forget our dependencies. We come in the world unable to survive on our own. Competition and territory battles exist, but symbiosis and partnerships are the norm. Becoming part of a larger system creates more strength and survival. Even hungry lions and elephants forge a temporary alliance at the watering hole by day, even if at night they are hunter and hunted. Alliances and partnerships that make sense creates a stronger system and business in almost every industry.

4) Gravity works. Gravity ensures things move in a flow – the weather, the oceans, the migration of birds. Are you swimming upstream or letting the boat carry you? Too many people work too hard at something they don’t love. When an entity is in natural alignment with its purpose and the environment it lives in, things happen more easily. And when someone else’s gravity bumps into yours from time to time, it’s just a friendly reminder that we are not alone. Get your business into the “flow zone” by being honest about what you’re really good at and pruning what doesn’t work.

 {pagebreak:Page 1}