Connecting The Dots

It’s striking that, with all the attention given by business and higher education to developing tomorrow’s leaders, there are still obvious holes in the development pipeline.

Well, Steve Jobs didn’t talk about holes.” He spoke about “dots”, and viewed his role as a leader as “connecting the dots” for people. 

With the holes we have in the leadership development pipeline, we don’t seem to be doing a great job helping leaders connect all those dots. 

Justin Menkes wrote about this in his book Better Under Pressure:  How Great Leaders Bring Out the Best in Themselves and Others. He reports that CEO’s of major corporations around the world agree that it’s time to connect the dots regarding the challenges facing business, and the skills CEO successors will need to make sure that their firms will survive and thrive in the future.

Menkes notes that “no matter how successful, thriving, or seemingly secure any business appears there are no longer periods of calm seas for leaders in any industry.”  He goes on to say that “leaders today must be at home navigating a ship through forty-foot waves – oceans that will never again be serene – and still be able to guide their crew safely from port to port. In other words, they must continue to be highly effective, particularly in an environment of extraordinary, ongoing stress. They must be better under pressure.” He cites as evidence that the current operating environment is one in which mainstay businesses continue to disappear from the radar screen. More than half the companies that were industry leaders in the mid-1950s were still industry leaders in 1990. Fast-forward a bit: more than two-thirds of the 1990’s market leaders no longer exist.

In his book, the author asks “What kind of leader does it take to help companies survive – and thrive – in the midst of such a fundamental shift in the operating environment? What qualities make leaders able to sail through the rolling ocean that is the new normal, and bring their people with them? And how can leaders develop those attributes?”

For Menkes, connecting today’s dots means that leaders need to express a new brand of authenticity defined by these catalytic traits – traits that can be learned:

Realistic Optimism – confidence without self-delusion or irrationality

Subservience to Purpose – seeing that pursuing a professional goal gives purpose to their lives

Finding Order in Chaos – being invigorated by taking on and bringing clarity to a multidimensional problem

In the end, the success of an enterprise is only partly the result of the quality of its leadership. Engaged, committed and productive employees make for a successful business. Authentic leadership spawns authentic and committed followership. A culture of authenticity defines and differentiates an organization, leading to organizational sustainability even through the most chaotic of circumstances.

By Tim Fidler

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