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The Need To Lead

About as frequently as we read new reports about downsizing and the consequent layoffs at companies, we receive news releases from other companies announcing the appointment of new managers and executives.

About as frequently as we read new reports about downsizing and the consequent layoffs at companies, we receive news releases from other companies announcing the appointment of new managers and executives. With an increasing frequency, these women or men are not promoted from within (although that still happens), but come from other organizations. (It is interesting to note how many people in important positions within non-traditional auto operations [a.k.a., the transplants] have come from the ranks of the traditional domestic builders.)

Certainly, the number of people who are affected by downsizing greatly exceeds that of those whose announcements we receive. But at an individual level, all that fundamentally matters to each of us is that we have a job. No matter what the "official" unemployment rate is, if we don't have a job, then the rate is realistically 100%.

What makes the difference between those people who get appointments and those who become statistics? Leadership ability.

Leadership, it must be noted, is not just a function of one or two people at the top. People throughout an organization are charged with the responsibilities to get things done, and there are few things that get done without the assistance of others. The ability to coordinate and influence the other people is a function of leadership.

Said simply: You are a leader whether you recognize it or not. How well you lead is what is important.

James B. Wood is director of Entrepreneurial Consulting Services for Ernst & Young in New England and the director of Inc. magazine's Business Resources Growth Strategy Consulting Group. He (along with Larry Rothstein) has produced a book titled The Next Level: Essential Strategies for Achieving Breakthrough Growth (Perseus Books; Reading, MA; $25.00). The title of the book refers to the three levels that a successful busi-ness goes through: start up; rapid growth; transformation.

According to Wood: "A company cannot grow while staying the same. It is literally impossible...Some business owners find this difficult to accept. They have developed a recipe for success, one that was discovered during those treacherous days of Stage 1 and then fine-tuned during Stage 2. This recipe has brought ever-escalating salaries and bonuses, and peer and even industry recognition. These experiences validate their recipe for success and reinforce how they think the world works. Then comes Stage 3."

If these people refuse to change, if they refuse to take into account that there have been modifications and changes in the real world—not the world they think they understand—then there is likely to be an announcement of downsizing and layoffs. Stage 3 will be the final curtain. It is virtually inevitable.

Although the book is written for CEOs of the types of small to midsize companies that are chronicled in the pages of Inc. magazine, there are lessons in the pages for those of us who work for CEOs or owners.

For example, in the chapter on Strategic Leadership, it states, "The CEO's job, in a nutshell, is to create the company's future by setting forth a clear and compelling direction that is communicated to all employees, then to motivate and lead everyone toward that destination."

Although the company's direction is clearly the purview of the top manager(s), there is really no difference in terms of what needs to be done on a more tactical level. That is, if you are charged with getting a project accomplished by a certain date, and if you are working with other people in order to accomplish this goal, then you must "set forth a clear and compelling direction that is communicated to all" project participants, then you must "lead everyone toward that destination."

Things get done better by those who are willing to set the direction, then help lead one's colleagues in getting there. Certainly, a CEO is going to be far less hands-on and participative than those of us at lower levels within a firm, but that doesn't excuse us from the necessity of having the same sort of understanding and communicative ability required by an executive.

"Past success is never a good predictor of future success, because the future is never simply an extension of the past. New variables are constantly introduced from the marketplace—from shifting customer demands and industry trends to innovations in technology, changing demographics, and globalization," Wood states. All of these factors relate to individuals as well as to organizations. Each person, regardless of how well she or he does something, must improve, and perhaps attain, a new skill set in a wholly new area, one that will allow her or him to take changed conditions in stride.

And most certainly, the ability to be a leader, to help other people accept, embrace, and even drive change, is one that is critically important to all of us. The alternative isn't worth considering.

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