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What an absolutely remarkable growth, an exponential coverage of technology that started as a mere experimental project by two young students Sergey Brin and Larry Page in Stanford! The customers, employees, investorsâ€¦ All stakeholders simply adore being associated with Google.
Now consider the fact that whileÂ 80% of the people claim that they would work even if they had enough money to never have to worry, the majority of them can hardly wait to leave their jobs and get home. Consider that the dramatic fall of major corporations such as Enron WorldCom and Satyam left employees, investors and public at large distrustful of business in general. Also consider that most people feel that their jobs have no clear goals that they seldom receive adequate feedback, that their skills are rarely matched to available opportunities and that they have lost any sense of control over what they do. Yet our workplaces do not have to be the source of drudgery and dissatisfaction.
So what is the differentiating factor? What was the competitive edge that Google had that these organizations failed to have? The answer may lie in many peripheral domains but the core that stands clear and transparent is - Better Business Leadership. Under the Guidance of visionary business leaders many companies have succeeded in running businesses that are both successful and humane.
This essay is not about pestering readers to model their behaviours on the cynical wisdom of Machiavelli, the relentless drive of Ghenghis Khan or the ruthlessness of Attila the hun as a way to achieve absolute power and plunder. Good business has a more modest ambition. It explores how leaders who have impressed their peers for both their business success and their commitment to broader social goals go about their jobs- what are their motivations and how they go about developing organizations that are better than a plethora of others that "Also Ran" but got "Extinct".
The necessity for considering such issues is simple. Today business leaders are among the most influential members of society. While they are all trained to generate profits many of them are oblivious to the other responsibilities that their new societal leadership entrusts upon them.
As the first step we should consider the evolution of leaders in the context of business and what made some of them better than the contemporaries. For untold thousands of years these leaders were typically the best hunters of the tribe who offered good spoils to their tribe and narrated inspiring stories about the art of hunting and hunting grounds that lay ahead ( i.e they possessed the skill set and ability to relate to the people and motivate them). As technologies of food production and warfare became advanced groups of warlords surrounded by courtiers and priests rose as the better lot assumed leadership (Had the spontaneity to adapt to change and understand the need of the masses) Thereafter merchants and manufacturers rose to the top of the social pyramid. At present the society identifies two categories of people who can provide for their needs - The first is scientists who promise hope through a longer and healthier life, buoyancy to our ambitions in the solar system... The second and the larger group consists of men and women engaged in business who promise to make our lives more affluent , comfortable and exciting by allowing market forces to direct production and consumption in the most efficient manner.
In order to understand further the concept of better business leadership we need to discuss some viewpoints on business leadership that have emerged through the course of time. Not only do we discuss them, we will also analyse them in order to gain a wholesome perspective.
Hypothesis 1: It is the traits that make one a better business leader.
So can we say that there is a set of characteristics that makes someone a better business leader than the rest? Sayâ€¦
Dominance and personal presence
Ability to formulate a clear vision?
Examples: 1. Gender based: Men are better business leaders than women;
2. Community Based: Leadership in business is the domain of the Marwaris.
Implication: Leaders are born not bred.
Hypothesis 2: Sound all round training is the key to developing better business leaders:
The training has to be
Structure based - Institutions and Task oriented
Relation Based - With focus on the development and maintenance of relationships i.e Process orientated
Implication: Business leaders can be groomed.
Hypothesis 3: Better Business Leadership is being more flexible - different leadership styles may be used at different times depending on the circumstance.
The context may depend on:
Type of staff
History of the business
Culture of the business
Quality of the relationships
Nature of the changes needed
Accepted norms within the institution
Long term strategic planning
Leading by example - walk the talk
Efficiency of systems and processes
Implication: The ability to be better business leaders is contigent and not a fixed series of characteristics that can be transposed into different contexts.
Now that we have seen the 3 major hypothesis laid and the implications we can say that there is no magical formula that explains what makes someone a better business leader. Famous business leaders come in all shapes and sizes; some are trained like management students whist others may have acquired through generations of family wisdom.
Some are gregarious like Richard Branson. Some are shy like Michael Dell. They can be wildly creative like Steve Jobs or plain boring like Warren Buffett. However, they ALL have a few things in common. They ALL set themselves apart from others in the business with their ability to think ahead, work hard, and overcome many failures backed by sheer grit and oodles of self confidence.
Now that we have been talking of business leaders let us see some examples of better business leaders who excelled in their fields :
Thomas Alva Edison: His claim to fame? Light! His Menlo Park research lab turned out some of the first incandescent electric bulbs. Unlike the previous two famous business leaders, Edison had a tough childhood, being handicapped by partial deafness. His first forays into inventing were laden with failure, but he survived it all to become one among the most admired entrepreneurs of all times. Like Bill Gates, his path to fortune was through innovation.
Richard Branson: Also called 'Brand'son. Started as a teenager with his own student's magazine and expanded his company 'Virgin' into music and then airlines. There are now more than a hundred companies which share the brand name 'Virgin'. Sir Richard creates wealth by identifying underserved market niches, finding a partner to run the business, investing his brand and money in the project. He is truly the 'King of Branding'
Sergey Mihailovich Brin: is the cofounder of Google, and is now the President of Technology at Google and has a net worth estimated at greater than 50 billion US dollars.Â Sergey's natural talent for mathematics and computing was soon apparent, surprising a teacher by submitting a project printed from the computer, at a time before computers were commonplace. After meeting Larry Page the duo published "The Anatomy of a Large-scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine". The paper has since become the tenth most accessed scientific paper at Stanford University and after founding Google Inc. the duo never looked back. He paved his way through chosing to work with right kind of people and continuously improving business processes at workplace and concentrating on employee health and happiness.
Donald Trump:Â No prizes for guessing what he does for a living! Mr. Trump also called "The Donald", assumed responsibility of his father's business, the Trump Organization, in the 1970s, which focused on middle classÂ rental housing. By 1994, he was almost $9 Billion in debt. But he fought back and built an empire, parts of which can be seen bearing his name in Manhattan. He made his wealth by identifying undervalued real estate, developing it and selling for a huge profit.
Laxmi Mittal: The London-based, Rajasthan born steel baron is the Chairman and CEO of Mittal Steel Company and the third richest man in the world. Mittal founded the company Mittal Steel (formerly the LNM Group) in 1976 and has been responsible for the development of its businesses ever since. Mittal Steel is a global steel producer with operations in 14 countries. Mittal was awarded Fortune magazines "European Businessman of the Year 2004" and also "Steelmaker of the Year" in 1996 by New Steel, and the "Willy Korf Steel Vision Award" in 1998, for outstanding vision, entrepreneurship, leadership and success in global steel development from American Metal Market and PaineWeber's World Steel Dynamics.
So does Better Business leadership have a lot in common with better Management Skills? Since we have been discussing concepts and examples and deriving interpretations in the last segments we can now have a closer look at this with the aid of an anecdote.
A group of workers and their leaders are set a task of clearing a road through a dense jungle on a remote island to get to the coast where an estuary provides a perfect site for a port.
The leaders organise the labour into efficient units and monitor the distribution and use of capital assets - progress is excellent. The leaders continue to monitor and evaluate progress, making adjustments along the way to ensure the progress is maintained and efficiency increased wherever possible.
Then, one day amidst all the hustle and bustle and activity, one person climbs up a nearby tree. The person surveys the scene from the top of the tree.
And shouts down to the assembled group belowâ€¦
Management is doing things right, but to be a better business leader you need to do the right things.
The increasing rate of change in the business environment is a major factor in this new emphasis on evolving better business leadership. Whereas in the past, managers were expected to maintain the status quo in order to move ahead, new forces in the marketplace have made it necessary to expand this narrow focus. The new leaders of tomorrow are visionary. They are both learners and teachers. Not only do they foresee paradigm changes in society, but they also have a strong sense of ethics and work to build integrity in their organizations.
(Story adapted from Stephen Covey (2004) "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" Simon & Schuster).
So we have identified what sets better business leaders apart .Psychologist Csikszentmihalyi in his book named "The Psychology of Optimal Experience", challenges business leaders to do something more than improving processes: Make People Happy.
The advice book offers predictable but sound guidance to business leaders: know one, set clear goals for employees and consider the consequences of business decisions. Insightful quotes from figures like Aristotle, Dante Alighieri and John Locke provide some historical grounding, but mostly the author focuses on how modern businesses motivate employees and contribute to the common good. By conducting extensive interviews, the author collects the secrets of successful business leaders, including the Body Shop CEO Anita Roddick; McDonald's chairman and CEO Jack Greenberg; and AOL Time Warner's Ted Turner. Roddick, for example, says that looking at company's lavatories and cafeteria can reveal a lot about a firm's corporate culture and the happiness of its employees. If a firm fails to create a clean, healthy environment for its workers, it probably isn't doing much good. Csikszentmihalyi shows how moral responsibility, respect for the environment and clean bathrooms can make a business good and the whole world better.
That leads us to the emerging concept of Mindful Business Leadership.
Harvard Business School professor William George fused Western understanding about leadership with Eastern wisdom about the mind to develop business leaders who are self-aware and self-compassionate
What is Mindfulness? Mindfulness is a state of being fully present, aware of oneself and other people, and sensitive to one's reactions to stressful situations. Business Leaders who are mindful tend to be more effective in understanding and relating to others, and motivating them toward shared goals. Hence, they become more effective in leadership roles.
According to him leaders with low emotional intelligence (EQ) often lack self-awareness and self-compassion, which can lead to a lack of self-regulation. This also makes it very difficult for them to feel compassion and empathy for others. Thus, they struggle to establish sustainable, authentic relationships.
Leaders who do not take time for introspection and reflection may be vulnerable to being seduced by external rewards, such as power, money, and recognition. Or they may feel a need to appear so perfect to others that they cannot admit vulnerabilities and acknowledge mistakes. Some of the recent difficulties of Hewlett-Packard, British Petroleum, CEOs of failed Wall Street firms, and dozens of leaders who failed in the post-Enron era are examples of this.
An essential aspect of effective business leaders is authenticity; that is, being genuine and true to one's beliefs, values, and principles that make up what we call someone's True North.
Authenticity is developed by becoming more self-aware and having compassion for oneself, without which it is very difficult to feel genuine compassion for others. Self-awareness starts with understanding one's life story and the impact of one's crucibles, and reflecting on how these contribute to motivations and behaviors. As people come to accept the less-favored parts of themselves that they do not like or have rejected, as well as learning from failures and negative experiences, they gain compassion for themselves and authenticity in relating to the world around them.
Thus there is a huge difference between being a good business leader who is capable of getting the job done most of the time, and really standing out as a great leader who has the skills to accomplish all leadership goals no matter what the circumstances may be.
The Better Business leaders will also be actively involved with customers, suppliers, and members of the local community, trade associations and all other stakeholders in the business. The purpose behind such action will be to:
enhance the reputation of the business
grow the business through greater exposure
work with others to reach agreement on difficult issues
be the role model for the organization
be seen as a company others wish to do business with
We can now come up with some certain points that make certain business leaders better than the rest.
Clarity in Communication:
Having great communication skills is an obvious requirement for leading others to business success, but when you have versatile communication skills you are able to adjust your tone of voice, body language, and other aspects of your demeanor to the situation at hand. A good leader is able to communicate with others when they are in cooperation, but a really better business leader can adjust those skills to successfully communicate with literally anyone.
Don't get too stuck on doing things the way they have always been done, or your own way. A good leader listens to new ideas, but a truly better business leader knows how to take the right innovative ideas and apply them to create the most effective ways to solve problems and create a strong business.
Open Door Policy
This is a combination of having an open mind and establishing great communication skills. It doesn't matter how open minded you are or how great your communication skills are if everyone you are leading is scared off from coming to talk to you. Good business leaders say they are always open while great leaders make sure everyone knows they can talk to them whenever necessary and then they follow through with that.
All good leaders are able to manage and keep things under control in the moment, but a really great business leader always has an eye to the future. They are able to tailor what they do today and what they instruct others to do in order to improve the company or make their team stronger in the future.
Empathy and respect for others:
Without the people on your team, you would have no team. Good business leaders care for others while great leaders know the difference between showing care and being manipulated. You should be able to both show care and concern for others and uphold your rules and stick to the mission of your company as a whole.
Many leadership positions require you to make things happen on a very short time limit. This means you need to manage more than just what tasks are handed out to what person. A good leader makes sure all bases are covered and all tasks have been assigned but a great business leader will continually check up on each member of the team to ensure time is being handled effectively and the project is moving along at a nice pace.
Self Confidence & Belief
Great leaders display an air of unshakeable confidence while good leaders try to fake it.
One can now argue on the utmost essential and not so important ingredients in the making of better business leaders but the truth is that being a business leader is not easyâ€¦ It brings a lot of challenges that the better business leaders face with:
Submission; only a leader who has followed well, knows how to lead others well
Self-discipline. To make consistently good decisions requires character and self-discipline.
Patience. They look ahead, think ahead, and want to move ahead.
That's what makes them better business leaders.