The Meaning of Leadership in Today’s Environment

Today’s Competitive Environment

Today’s business environment is what I call a fast environment. In a fast environment, things happen very quickly. In particular, your organization might find itself encountering threats and opportunities. To be a successful organization, you have to react quickly and effectively to those threats and opportunities. That’s what it means to be fast. Technology is really changing the extent to which being an effective organization is about being a fast organization. Technology has effectively shrunk the world, which means your competitors can come from anywhere.

Let’s take the example of the American automotive industry. For a long time, the American automotive industry thought they had a monopoly. They thought they were the only people who would ever sell cars in the United States. Well, in the late 60’s and early 70’s a few Japanese companies, particularly Toyota and Honda, started to make inroads into the American automotive market. Unfortunately, the industry did not react very quickly.

If you want to be a successful organization, if you want to be a successful industry, you have to be able to react quickly in a fast business environment. Technology is not only changing the breadth of competition; it’s also changing the speed of competition. Because technology has made it faster to connect to people anywhere in the world, that can bring customers but also competitors from almost anywhere into your backyard very, very quickly.

So that means to be a successful organization you have to be an agile organization.

That means you have to be quick to respond to those threats and opportunities.

Agility is a Social Process

Agility is, at the end of the day, a social process. That means agility comes from managing the work force more effectively. Taking advantage of the resource represented by the people around you. The best managers achieve agility by influence that gets people working together effectively. We can think of that as a very basic definition for the idea of leadership.

Leadership is about getting people to work together more effectively.

Here are some leaders that you’re probably familiar with in today’s worlds. Oprah Winfrey, Joan of Arc, Steven Jobs, Martin Luther King, General George Patton. All of these are individuals who have displayed exceptional leadership, and they come from a variety of different industries, a variety of different walks of life. More importantly, some have exhibited exceptional leadership in the context of a very strong authority position.

Management versus. Leadership

George Patton was very important in the US army. Steven Jobs was one of the heads of one of the most important computer companies in the United States. But some of these other leaders have experienced and have exhibited leadership without having authority to go with it. That really brings up a very important distinction, the distinction between leaders and managers.

Managers rely on their authority to implement, to get things done. In effect, they can implicitly coerce the people around them. When authority figures ask you to do things, you often do them because if you don’t, you may lose your position. Leaders on the other hand, rely on persuasion implement. They try to convince you that what they want you to do is something that will make you better off, is something that you should want to do anyway. We can think of a couple of different ways in which leaders accomplish this.

Transformational leaders achieve this by making the goal the reward. So whatever goal they are trying to achieve, they make you feel that, that’s in your best interest for you to achieve it as well.

Transactional leaders, on the other hand, reward you in exchange for achieving the goal that they are intending.

But at the end of the day, what this means is that leaders get followers to want to do what the leader needs them to do. That’s really the essence of good leadership. You don’t have to rely on authority, you get people to want to do the things that you need them to do.


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