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Leading to Success

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“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other,” said John F. Kennedy in 1963. Those words are still true today, perhaps more than ever. Business leaders at companies of all sizes are now required to adapt to change quickly and effectively as a result of evolving technology, an increasingly global economy, and what some consider an overdue focus on ethical business practices.

To address just such leadership issues, four noted business authors recently participated in a unique virtual roundtable dedicated to highlighting how today’s leaders can help their organizations not only survive but thrive during uncertain and changing times. Here are some tips from that conversation, which was held live via videoconference and sponsored by Kinko’s, Sprint and HarperBusiness.

From Risks to Rewards As difficult as it may seem, leadership expert Geoffrey Moore, author of “Crossing the Chasm” believes businesses have to plan for uncertainty. “We’re going to live with this uncertainty for a very long time,” said Moore. He noted that companies have to allocate resources to risk and to take risks much more seriously than they have in the past. Part of this new thinking involves a shift in what companies value.

“We should value inertia, not just nimbleness,” he asserted. “So the fact that you are on a course that’s hard to change isn’t all bad if the alternative is to spin out of control.” Leadership Starts at the Top While the goal of every company is to make a profit, good leaders realize the need to focus beyond their own success to that of their organization and its employees.

“The essence . . . is the need for a shift from executives who see it as ultimately about ambition for themselves, really getting back to being ambitious for their companies,” noted Jim Collins, co-author of “Built to Last.” According to Collins’ co-author, Jerry Porras, leaders need to establish a new sense of ideology, a core set of values and a sense of purpose. “What are the values that are inviolate? What are the values that they will never contradict?” asked Porras.

Once senior executives are clear on their governing principles, these guidelines set the stage for future decisions. “When things come up that no one could predict, they can step back and say, ‘What would our values tell us about how to behave? How might we behave most effectively in achieving our purpose in the context of this new situation?’” said Porras. Porras also noted that corporate boards of directors must take a greater leadership role.

“Boards have to play a much more critical role. They have to make sure that when they are hiring CEOs they’re looking at issues such as integrity, as well as that individual’s track record as important points for them to make decisions on.” Empowering Employees Great leadership isn’t just about numbers and shareholders. “Employees are going to have to be brought back into the game, and that’s by building leaders at all levels of the organization.

That responsibility rests on the part of every leader being a teacher,” said Noel Tichy, author of “The Leadership Engine.” Tichy sees a renewed focus on training the next generation of leaders. “I think we’re going to see a tremendous focus on leadership and leadership development in most of our business institutions over the next few years,” he predicts. “This is especially important during times when the only certainty is uncertainty.”

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