Harvard Business Review

10 Mantras for Emerging Leaders in 2009

29 October 2008

Tomorrow became a little distant from today in 2008. With the challenges facing businesses today–versus even six months ago–emerging leaders find little solace in the best practices that have worked so far. So what can help us cope with the challenges ahead? I have put together 10 mantras that might guide us ahead:

  1. Listen to the Cry for Accountability

    Across the world of business, there is a blood cry for ‘accountability’. With the most revered role models run aground–and more being bailed out–it is high time we open our windows to let the feedback in, even though we know it will not be pretty.

    Leadership is accountable to customers, investors, shareholders, regulators – but most of all, to our own people. As navigators, we are accountable for keeping the ship on course – more so in stormy weather. So rather than blot out the questions, we need to put into place systems and processes that foster transparency and make leaders more accountable.

  2. Get into the trenches

    Emerging leaders are moving up to the top floors. To corner suites. Away from the shop floors and the real action. We need to roll up our sleeves and get back into the trenches. I cannot repeat myself often enough – we need to demolish the ‘CEO office’. We need to break down the walls of hierarchy, for our future role as leaders is not about leading from the top, but co-innovating at the front lines.

  3. Get emotional

    Have we perhaps forgotten the price of Marie Antoinette’s statement “If they don’t have bread, let them eat cake?” With the increasing commoditization of people as “resources selling time,” we risk not seeing people as individuals any more. And these individuals – employees and customers alike – are hurting and wary of the future. As leaders, we need to feel their pain and find the right solution. Its no longer about improving the top-line by simply reminding our sales force to upsell and say: “Will you have fries with that?” We need to understand the real pain points of our customers and help them find real solutions to their business problems.

  4. Chase the rainbow

    As everyone watches the thunder, emerging leaders are the ones who will look hard into the dark and spot the light at the end of the tunnel. There is a rainbow waiting to break out, and abundant opportunities beyond. The sooner you spot it the greater the advantage your organization can reap.

  5. From Me to We

    Collaboration is the need of the hour. In the US, President-Elect Barack Obama has proven just that by co-opting the strength of his former arch rival, Hillary Clinton. History has shown us that, be it the thawing of the Cold War or the formation of the European Union, dealing with cross border terrorism or cross border recession, the power of collaboration is our only answer. The world needs the collective strength of all countries, organizations and individuals to pull together today.

  6. Nimble feet

    The world will continue to flirt with unpredictability for a while ahead. As leaders, we need to stay agile, alert and nimble footed to change tactics mid-course with our eyes unwavering from the goal.

  7. Keep it Simple

    The sub-prime crisis has made the world wary of complex financial instruments and foggy conditions. Somewhere along the way, complexity has gained respect in the world of business. It is time to wipe the mist off the glass and master the art of converting complexity into simplicity.

  8. Ask the right questions

    Leadership today has changed from providing all the answers to asking the right questions. Keep an open mind and let fresh minds provide you with fresh ideas. The battle between grey hair and grey matter has never been more fierce, as Generation Y stakes its claim to leadership. Innovation is the passport to success and ‘Green’ might just be the colour that pulls businesses out of the red.

  9. Adapt to the new work order

    Business today works across geographical borders on the back of a cross-culture, cross-currency, cross-product, cross-time zones workforce. Markets too have transformed, with the West no longer the only or even predominant market. So in 2009, emerging leaders will have to adapt to the reality of time zones, to multiple cultures, multiple currencies, multiple pricing. We in India, and particularly in the IT services industry, have learned this lesson very quickly. In fact, insights into how to run a global corporation will come out of the Indian multinationals.

  10. Yes we can

    I think we have all realized by now that there are no question marks about this. Change comes to those who believe in it. As leaders, our greatest responsibility is to bring back confidence and the forward momentum and catalyze the positive energy of our people today to light the way to a brighter tomorrow.

Originally posted on Vineet Nayar’s Blog site on Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2008/12/10-mantras-for-emerging-leader