The 21st century leader: Rebels with a cause #usblogs #usguys

Hell I screamed! This week’s  #usguys Monday blog post subject is:

The 21st century leader,
Not a light subject and one to treat with care: after the crisis we just went through it would be easy to dream. For this crisis has shown us that the 20th century leader has been more a a vulture, a financial god that is better at making money than at building for the long term.

Now that this criticism (and it’s easy…) is done, how to look for what 21st century leaders would need to be. To do so let’s first look at the challenges he is going to face:

Speed: if you walk you stand still, so you’ll need to run pretty fast to advance jsut a little
People: recent events in the middle east just prove what we’ve seen on social media for a little while: people are back, and need to be accounted for.
Exposed: from marketing blunders, to private life stories, there is not much that escapes the public eye today
Tomorrow: for the first time ever we’re aware that what we do influences tomorrow, and that resources are scarce.

Mix all of these and you get a world where you need to face people and do something they want to get involved in fast, again and again and again.

So what kind of leader are we going to be in need of. In nutshell, I’ll call them:

  Rebels with causes.
Sorry James, but things have changed…

Rebels first, because leaders are first and foremost about creating the change no one thought, no one dare to think, or no one dared to do. And as such they’ll need to create an environment where people are stimulated constantly to upset. An environment where failure is encouraged. For if you haven’t failed you haven’t tried. But where success is celebrated.
See this great video from JK Rowling talking at harvard graduation for an example:

Rebels again because once something is established is when it needs to be challenged. The web has brought one major change: your product, your service is never finished. On the contrary it demonstrates it’s alive by changing. The google home page changes everyday, the Facebook status updates every few months, the new ipad is rumoured six months after the launch of the first one.

And that’s because the 21st century leader needs to be surrounded by rebels. People who actively look, listen and bring about change. And lucky them, their own public is in that game now: talking openly about products, using web sites while accepting to be tracked (often without knowledge…).

Rebel finally because a rebel talks, inspires, he does so in straight talk with one thing in mind: what in it for people who are listening. Knowing that he can be liquidated or forgotten if that’s not delivered…

It’s not that one is not enough it’s just that a company now has so many different publics it naturally has different causes. Think of it as the communities to manage. All with their own selfish needs. Where the 20th century saw the emergence of masses, the 21st has become the massification of egos: what’s in it for me everyone is screaming.

And causes are here to help: they give a focal point for people to regroup around. Because it is unlikely companies hold that role anymore, not when they can dispose of you in a nanosecond. Causes are enemies, and enemies are fun to beat, they are important to beat. Here are the few enemies that will be faced:

Not keeping up: with the speed at which technologies evolve, the leader will not only need to learn they will need to keep up. And ensuring people keep up so that they are good, and so that they are not out of a job quickly has become absolutely key. Radically new behaviours emerge in less than 5 years (Facebook is 6 years old), so this will require constant learning.

Not destroying: reputation can go up in flames at the speed of light, and companies are regularly caught with their pants down for bad behaviour. Best encouragement for ensuring that they do good: respect the environment, social policies.

Not listening: with everyone with a voice, not responding is not acceptable anymore. More importantly, listening gives you what anyone one sane would dream of: constant market research, and a bottomless bucket of ideas. And one thing is for sure: they’ll now need to listen to someone else that the shareholder. Listen to something more than today’s stock price

Not matter’ing: how many companies have managed to survive thinking they could fool people in buying something with no value for a lot more money. With the rise of digital comparison, the explosion of offers, you either matter or you’ll be out.

Not dreaming: Again given the choice of rationally equally good products, people seem to go the the product that have the largest emotional benefit. Products that have greater meaning than on the surface. And interestingly to deliver such products companies need to create an environment that stimulate this. Why is it that the most innovative companies have often the most innovative employment policies, and take creative charging seriously? I could quote Steve Jobs, or Sir Richard Branson or Google and its space, but have a look at this video as a good example as well:

One thing for last. Want to be a rebel, want to do that with causes? Well It’s a life long enterprise. So maybe a little like the Russian fund manager who invested millions in Facebook, the one thing that people who fund start ups will stop being obsessed with is the exit strategy. Because leaders who really matter, often stay in their enterprise. The leader of the 21st century won’t  be playing bonus speed dating.


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