M+E Connections

Company Leadership Takes a Lot of Work, Listening

People have been spending too much time pontificating on how AI is going to take over, make things all better and clean up all the messes we made.

Back in 2019, we think IBM CEO Ginni Rommety was secretly delighted when Harish Natarajan beat the company’s Miss Debater in a live showdown at the firm’s Think Conference in San Francisco. It reinforced what she had been saying all along … it isn’t artificial intelligence.

Call it what it is: augmented/assisted intelligence.

Ms. Rommety’s replacement — Shantanu Narayen — and other CEOs have to guide, build, reshape, grow their companies in a way that is similar to the Think Conference faceoff debate.

Tools/technology like AI can help your business, but it takes good bosses to make good companies.

As Natarajan explained following his win, debaters need to:

• Process vast amounts of information
• Consider/construct relevant arguments
• Make the points/arguments matter to the audience
• Use language, emotions, rhetoric and examples that resonate with the audience

Most companies, management and teams are under unprecedented pressure today, so using something that will give them assistance and perhaps even an edge seems logical. Of course, it also gives them a scapegoat, something besides themselves, to blame when things go to hell in a handbasket!

Management have always been under pressure to call the right shots, make the right moves but it just keeps getting more complicated because life keeps getting more and more complicated.

Strategic leaders today must focus on long-term goals with new ways of thinking about the world, the businesses around them, the people around them and themselves. They plan ahead, keep their attention focused on goal-oriented plans and don’t let short-term distractions sway their focus.

Well-founded managers/leaders find ways to move the team past its threshold and past its own limitations to achieve what they couldn’t do before. Along the way, they solve problems; get things done; meet deadlines; make deals; move toward the organization’s long-term goals and please team members and customers. After all, if managers/leaders aren’t pleasing team members and customers, they don’t have a business!

It’s becoming a two-pronged problem as organizations shift from a structured hierarchy to networks of teams.

As we have seen, a growing number of workforces have become outspoken against management decisions. Positional leadership by virtue of title/position is being aggressively challenged.

Because organizations are becoming flatter and more diverse, CEOs and senior management now have the challenge of inspiring team loyalty because of their expertise, vision, judgement.

The CEO should focus his/her attention on developing an understanding internally/externally on the foundation/history of the firm and its focus/direction as well as its mission and its long-range goals.

But as organizations grow flatter and more diverse, they require team leaders who are strong and focused enough to lead at all levels of the company. First-line managers who set the pace aren’t supervisors who simply make their numbers and quarterly/annual goals. Instead, they must be skilled coaches who can use the CEO’s vision, direction as a launching pad to attract, inspire and retain great people.

As the rigid chain of command management style becomes a distant memory, the new breed of self-motivated managers will set direction, inspire leadership, and achieve collaboration across generations, geographies, functions and teams.

The big problem that will arise for management is that they will have to deal with a workforce that is always connected but only occasionally physically together.

Executives must consider the impact and how to cope with this new environment and breed of employee because it is suddenly more difficult to create a common identity and purpose with a workforce that seldom comes together.

This shift in attitude from a common focus and goal(s) to simply making a living has been the underlying reason employees have been vocal (and critical) of corporate plans, programs, and activities.

The challenge of focusing and managing the new organizations in the face of employee campus-style political activism is tougher than herding cats.

The more technical the company’s mission, the more likely its focus and bromide-filled mission statement can be wielded as tools to organize employees against leadership–as we have seen in recent years.

Like individuals, companies have lives and firms need to assess, reassess what it is doing, why it is doing it and how it fits into today’s/tomorrow’s environment.

The only way CEOs can buoy firms through the inevitable sales valleys is by focusing on tomorrow and enabling team manager guidance today, which means senior management must continually provide:

• Complete awareness among managers of the firm’s long-range goals
• Clearly defined corporate objectives and direction
• Enhanced insights into competitive positions and market conditions
• Consistent internal and external communications emphasizing fair, equitable treatment of all its stakeholders
• A positive accounting to customers of the firm’s activities, efforts, position in the industry and the marketplace
• Improved understanding of the organization within the business, market, financial communities
• Open communications on the company, its objectives, its direction, its business/relationship commitment to employees, suppliers, directors, the media, early adopters.

Regis McKenna once noted that the average company loses half of its customers every five years, half of its employees every four years and half of its investors every year. Today those figures have again been cut in half.

Senior management must stay ahead of these changes to ensure the company deals with everyone — internally/externally — in a positive, pro-active manner.

And they must be able to openly listen even when it is uncomfortable because you never know where the next great idea might come from.

With things constantly changing, remember what Private Jackson said, “Sir. I have an opinion on this matter.”

Then realize you don’t know all the answers so you can objectively listen and make things work as Captain Miller did when he responded, “Well, by all means, share it with the squad.”

Andy Marken [email protected] is an author of more than 800 articles on management, marketing, communications, industry trends in media and entertainment, consumer electronics, software and applications.