Not all leaders are created equal.
Yes, there are certain things that every leader should strive to be: a strong communicator, a dedicated worker, and a revolutionary problem solver. However, the paradigm of leadership has changed. Leaders with years in their respective industries are now finding it difficult to separate their identities as people from the companies that they lead, possibly causing a perceived lack of authenticity in these individuals. It’s an odd concern, but with the modern emphasis on workplace culture, having a leader that is solely focused on business pursuits can be detrimental to those working under them.
For that matter, companies are also being perceived differently by their stakeholders. In the Internet age, consumers are more likely to research companies and compare different products and services before committing in any way. Terms like “competitive advantage” are thrown around without much regard for what they mean or how a company can innovate to truly stand out from the crowd.
For leaders, this means a fundamental shift in how they present themselves. It’s no longer about just selling a product, it’s about selling a company as a strong brand that can be trusted.
It’s telling that, when examining companies to determine which were the most trustworthy, MSCI ESG Research recently began placing greater emphasis on corporate governance, an indication of how leaders are being held increasingly accountable for the businesses they run. Furthermore, trustworthiness is no longer just applicable to consumers and stakeholders; it is necessary to gain the trust of employees as well.
No longer can executives plan in secret; transparency is the key to authenticity and redefining what leadership means.
For this to happen, leaders will need to innovate. Now, this is an inherently risky behavior, but making a change of any kind in a business involves some level of risk. Innovation can mean a variety of things, but in this case, we’re going to focus on ways leaders can change their personal brand while also stirring their companies from stagnation.
When it comes to changing from an existing mindset, leaders can take a cue from modern entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship is becoming increasingly in vogue, and in an often saturated marketplace, only the most well-informed, determined individuals survive. Even in an established company, there’s a lot to be learned from startups; being able to keep abreast of industry trends and continually adapt to match them is a valuable skill for a leader at any level.
Adaptation comes with the expectation that a leader will be prepared for the unexpected. It’s an old cliche, but the advancement of technology can alter the marketplace in moments. Leaders must be ready to tackle a crisis before it grows out of hand, and to address any potential problems before they become too large to ignore.
Beyond that, a drive to continue to learn is part of what defines a successful entrepreneur. For instance, Nick Benz, CEO of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, endeavors to always try to apply things that he has learned to his business. Even in news about different industries, Benz views everything he finds through the lens of Dogfish’s business needs and pursuits.
As leaders, it is our responsibility to see the opportunity in everything, similar to Benz. As the individuals responsible for guiding the futures of companies, leaders must be the first to build a foundation for a lasting legacy to be passed from one person to the next. Part of this entails establishing a purpose for your company besides the bottom line—how do you want your company to grow in the future?