With the complexity of today’s global organizations, the concept of strong leadership primarily at a central headquarters location is becoming outdated. Depth and breadth of leadership is critical to growth and success. There’s clearly a direct connection between individual employee involvement and overall corporate profitability. To achieve this, leadership must be re-defined.
Consider GE. When he took over as chief executive officer (CEO) in 1980, Jack Welch wrote in a letter to shareholders: “In the old culture, managers got their power from secret knowledge: profit margins, market share, and all that... In the new culture, the role of the leader is to express a vision, get buy-in, and implement it.” Under Jack Welch’s leadership, the company grew into one of the largest and most admired companies in the world. Market capitalization grew about 40 times ($12 billion to about $500 billion) during his 20 years tenure as CEO.
Yet when he took over as CEO in 2000, Jeff Immelt led a dramatic shift in thinking and started turning GE’s culture upside down. He worried that the obsession with bottom-line results would make managers shy about taking risks. So he developed a mission to transform the process-oriented company into a creative machine, driving growth through global innovation. New and different kinds of leadership were expected from all of GE’s far-flung worldwide facilities.
Technology and business knowledge have now spread beyond national boundaries. Many emerging countries are developing superb technical and business skills. Global competition has accelerated to where it’s important for companies to have winning strategies beyond narrow and diminishing tactical advantages. Broad leadership vision and global teamwork have primary importance.
In a global environment of constant change and complexity, leaders are required not only to survive with change, but to thrive with diversity. It used to be easy to impose rules and administer corporate procedures. But that’s no longer practical when business changes rapidly and the rules are different in different locations.
In the past, leaders used corporate mandated ground rules to get results. But today, that no longer works, especially with knowledge workers in multinational environments. Today, leaders find that a sensitive and sharing approach is much more effective. All employees become part of teams and share in setting mutual goals rather than being forced to achieve remotely imposed goals. The team shares in the feeling of success and the rewards. Local groups cannot be penalized for failures in other, remote locations. And yet, a spirit of company-wide teamwork is important.
Because of today’s diverse global cultural demands, leaders need to be intuitive and proactive, able to embrace experiences and backgrounds that are different from their own. A sensitive leader used to be regarded as a weak leader; but today’s greatest leaders show that sensitivity is the path to building a strong organization. Good leadership shifts from mere accommodation of differences to recognition and empowerment of local strengths.
The ability to embrace change with a sense of excitement and challenge is the one characteristic that must become an essential part of a leader’s personality. Complacency disappears when every day is different than the one before—there is no such thing as routine.
Companies can no longer merely look for good people to manage business assets, but must look for leaders who will maximize assets, and who will make the most out of the resources available. Simply meeting objectives is no longer good enough. Today’s leaders are called upon to exceed goals by maximizing diverse strengths and resources that tap into the growth and success of local markets in the global arena.