There are a few themes that pop up time and time again on this blog, because these themes pop up time and time again in the business books and articles we read. You might call these the “big business issues.” And I am beginning to think that the mother of all themes/all business issues is leadership. People need to be led. Leadership is what points to the future, and helps people get there.
I think there are three great leadership tasks. Yes, these flow from all that I have read, including the most recent read, Fierce Leadership by Susan Scott. And these three flow from the three great problems, even failures, of leaders. Let’s describe these this way:
#1 We have too many uncaring leaders. (leaders who may care for the bottom line, but not for their people).
#2 We have too many unlearning leaders (leaders who do not keep learning)
#3 We have too many paralyzed leaders (leaders who are afraid to take risks, leaders who fail to see the changes needed).
So – if these are the problems, what are the three great tasks of leaders?
Task #1 Leaders are called to develop a good heart.
Susan Scott writes about smart+heart, and I would say as I read her book and thought about this that heart trumps smart. Smart enough with a developed heart is much, much better that really smart and no heart.
A good heart describes a leader who cares about his/her people. And these people include all people in the leader’s circle: family members, friends, colleagues, employees, and customers. In other words, heart is not reserved for a narrow few, but for the many. You either care about people or you don’t.
And a good leader finds ways to deepen the heart, to learn to care more deeply, and more consistently.
Robert Greenleaf coined the phrase “servant leader,” and he stated simply that the leader is servant first. ”Servant first” is all about caring for people.
Task #2 Leaders are called to nurture a keen and active, well-fed mind.
A leader needs to know what to think about, what to focus on, in terms of business innovation and business execution. A leader simply needs to keep learning.
Here is one simple test: does a leader keep reading? If a leader is not intentionally exposing herself/himself to the new and best thought available, then that leader is depriving the people of a great gift, even a great need. A leader has to keep learning. If you are a leader, your people need you to keep learning.
Task #3 Leaders have to be willing to decide.
Decide what? Everything.
With really good input from all of the people, with really good insight about the marketplace, the times, the trends, and always caring about the people — but ultimately, the leader has to make the decision. And not deciding is a terrible decision to make.
These are the three: develop a good heart; keep learning; make good decisions.
What would you add to the list of tasks for genuine and effective leadership?
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The other week, two of my colleagues were engaged in a fierce debate about whether a particular business was or not in fact “disruptive.” When they asked my opinion, I surprised them by answering, “I don’t really care.”
“But we’re all about disruptive innovation aren’t we?” one of them asked.
“Well yes,” I replied, “but we’re all even more about building successful, sustainable, scalable businesses.”
It’s natural to think that our sole raison d’être is disruption. Innosight’s co-founder Clayton Christensen coined the term “disruptive technology,” and we’ve built a business around putting Christensen’s and related academics’ work into practice.
But the academic research and our applied fieldwork really isn’t about disruptive innovation, business model innovation — or even innovation. Disruption is a means to an end. The goal is to build a sizable business with defensible competitive advantage that earns attractive returns. It just so happens that the disruptive innovation models and tools provide a great means to foster the creation of businesses that transform companies and markets, unlocking substantial value for shareholders, employees, and customers.
Adapting a disruptive mindset allows you to see opportunities that would otherwise be hidden. The suite of business model tools that my colleague Mark Johnson describes in his book, Seizing the White Space, allows you to blueprint and build a sustainable model to seize that opportunity.
These models and approaches don’t change the fundamentals of business. Remember:
• You have to find an itch that hasn’t been scratched.
• You have to create a unique and defensible way to seize the opportunity.
• You have to find a way to make money.
• You have to line up partners, suppliers, and distributors to support your business together.
• You have to fend off hungry competitors.
Don’t forget these fundamentals in the pursuit of disruptive innovation. After all, if it turns out your idea doesn’t meet the technical definition of disruption but it creates billions of dollars of new growth, no one will complain.
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Scott Anthony is the Managing Director of Innosight Ventures. Scott has written three books on innovation, the latest being The Silver Lining: An Innovation Playbook for Uncertain Times.
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