Challenge #1 — A company has to have the right product and service. The one that is right for this particular time; the one that people want, and will pay for, now. Not yesterday; not tomorrow; but now.
And the life span of that particular product or service may be shorter than ever. In other words, what may be the right product or service now may not still be the right one tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow.
Challenge #2 – A company has to hire the right people, and keep those people happy, and keep those people doing their very best work, over the long haul.
So, let me try to describe this challenge. You need one set of leaders to be brutal and nimble about the changes in the product or service. They cannot fall behind. They cannot miss the changes coming in society. If they jump too soon, it might not work. If they adapt too late, they might go out of business. (Think Kodak; and think about the difficulties of BlackBerry).
So, the number one challenge of the top leaders really may be this: making the right call. Kind of: “this is the product/service needed right now; let’s make it, quickly enough, very well, to be the right product.” Get this wrong, and there is no business for very long.
But, imagine the pressure at that level of leadership. My guess is that that is why there are a fair number of “jerks” in top leadership. They are perpetually paranoid. (“Only the paranoid survive,” to quote Andy Grove).
But, if those are the same people who are in charge of the workers as well, nurturing team spirit, building morale, well… it can be a problem. Not many people want to hang around with paranoid people.
So, the really smart top level leaders hire very good folks to set up management and supervision (call this the day-to-day leadership) in such a way that the folks want to come to work, and feel valued and useful (and cared for, financially, and in all other ways), thus, energized to do their best work day in and day out.
Ripple effects flowing from a group of unhappy workers are bad for the workers, and ultimately, bad for the quality for the product or service.
So, the two levels of leadership are these:
Making the right call on product or service
Building a secure, productive, energized, loyal work force.
Of course, there is more. But, ultimately, these two give shape and direction to all else.
And I think that is the leadership challenge of this era…
What do you think – have I got it right?