Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Who Will Be Our Leaders in the Future?

In an increasingly complex world, the requirements of leadership will change. For decades, many CEOs rose from sales and marketing. They were great at knowing the product, customers, driving innovation and selling the organization on a vision. In the recent past, they rose from finance and law. They bought back their own shares, orchestrated financial reengineering, changed accounting practices and down sized the company. They have been the masters at making the organization profitable. While many of these talents will be relevant in the future, the most important will be
social reengineering.

As the US moved from an agricultural society into an industrial age, employees were objects whose sole purpose was to perform a task. They were expendable and poorly paid. As technology became more complex, people were hired for their technical expertise. These specialists were able to demand higher salaries because they possessed intricate knowledge within the workflow process.

During this technology age, leadership had to know how to leverage these specialists in order to develop new products and services for customers as well as non-customers. These great salesmen are the kind of leaders who would have sold John F. Kennedy on the idea of flying a man to the moon.

In the past 30 years, the proliferation of the Wall Street leader has become so pervasive that analyst will condemn a leader if they are not laying off people, buying back stocks and using other tactics to make the enterprise appear more profitable. In this age, leaders leverage the talent of investment bankers, accountants and other finance experts. They make money appear out of thin air. In other cases, they sell intangible products that are depreciating assets, like mortgage back securities. For the banks that participated in this strategy, they were in a race to the bottom. Yet, no one questioned it because everyone else did it.

While the past leaders from sales or finance leveraged knowledge workers, it still had the smell of the industrial age. Most employees focused on a task. However, as we move forward, corporations will come to the realization that a business without people is not a business at all. In several conversations with former CEOs of Fortune 500s, I have heard them repeat the following: “when I was younger, I worried about managing the money, metrics and processes of the company. As I became older, I realized the business was about people. Therefore, I learned to take care of the people first. When I did that, they did a great job of taking care of the money, metrics and processes. It made my job a lot easier. If only I would have figured that out when I was younger.” 

With that in mind, the leaders of tomorrow, instead of coming out of sales and finance, they will come out of sociology, philosophy and psychology. They will focus on people first. They will reengineer social structures that drive innovation. Except, the innovation will be done with the support of the customer.

Henry Ford is one of the first of these leaders. He made an unprecedented move by paying his people very high salaries. The employees were his customers. By doing so, the employee would ensure innovation and quality because they were building cars for themselves. Ford also reengineered society by making an unprecedented move, hiring blacks to work along side of whites on the assembly line. 

In a global society, new social constructs will have to be invented to ensure products and services transcend culture and language. This will require employees to be organized and leveraged in a way that new thinking is constantly infused and rewarded. The employee/customer will see themselves differently. With social networks, people are connected to one another in a way that makes former social constructs obsolete. Leadership will have to guide, direct and understand the full picture as well as the individual pieces of the puzzle. These will be the social engineers who cause business to be the family and learning ground for employees and customers. These leaders will be responsible for corporate America developing people and making society a better place to live.     

What do you think? I’m open to ideas. Or if you want to write me about a specific topic, let me know. 

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