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Extraordinary leaders wanted!

November 29, 2016

Every day there are new examples of commercial innovation. Just yesterday, for example, I read about Electrolux and the ‘uberification’ of washing machines (and potentially other domestic appliances) and the link-up between ABB and Microsoft to transform interactions between suppliers and offer dynamic services to ABB customers.

Many of these initiatives may not succeed; all of them require commercial evaluation and careful structuring of the right contract relationships. Ideas like these also emerge from many places – innovation is not the preserve of executive management and increasingly they are seeking more diversity in commercial leadership.

What are the characteristics of an effective commercial leader? And are these innate, or are they learned? “The Extraordinary Leader”, a book by John Zenger and Joseph Folkman, takes the position that leadership skills can be acquired. Here are five critical areas for focus:

  1. Integrity. Leaders must be seen as honest (an interesting item to reflect on when it comes to the electoral process);
  2. Results. Leaders need to show focus and clarity on the right things.
  3. Change agents. Leaders embrace change, they do not fear or deny it. They visibly focus externally and connect their organization to the outside world.
  4. Inspire and motivate. While demanding, leaders also collaborate and are clear and effective in their communication.
  5. Passion for self-development. Leaders who are innovators want to connect with the best and employ the best.

In our connected world, structured around social media, Zenger and Folkman find that top-down leadership is being replaced and that globally matrixed organizations are pushing leaders out from the center and into the business. So if you want to be a leader, or further your current progress, here are some things you should be doing.

  1. Demonstrate honesty and integrity by speaking up when you think something is wrong – even if sometimes that may be a career-limiting decision
  2. Focus on results. Most people focus on process or perceptions, rather than on what needs to be achieved, what outcome will represent success
  3. Be a change agent. Keep up to date, ask leading questions, look for areas of disruption, technology or services that will change your business or what you do.
  4. Inspire and motivate. A visionary tells stories of how the future might be; they build relationships across the business and beyond, to ensure they understand how to get things done. They collaborate rather than compete and they do not seek to ‘protect their turf’
  5. Never stop learning. There is always something new to discover – and by focusing on the new, you are not afraid to share credit with others and you will always be someone they want to work with.

Of course, not everyone wants to be a leader and not everyone is ready to take the steps needed to become one. But for those who do, the steps are relatively clear. Indeed, they represent key elements of the IACCM professional certification program at Expert level – as we seek to support our members and executive management through the supply of commercial leaders.


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