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A business' competitive edge

Updated: Oct 24, 2021

Companies depend on leaders to be created and survive. Over time though, they tend to value expertise over vision, and results over experimentation, and this conservatism threatens their competitive edge. While they were built on creativity and agility, they had to compromise with procedures and expectations in order to scale. Effectiveness end up prevailing over entrepreneurship. But a business that isn’t agile will eventually die. For their survival, companies must hire and grow new leaders. Only leaders can save companies from managers.

The most resilient businesses focus on hiring teams of leaders, instead of promoting managers based on industry experience. In teams of leaders, each team member knows what he has to do and is ready to take over if needed. His or her own leadership acts as a recessive gene that can become dominant at any moment – he or she temporarily choses to defer the direction to someone they trust. Leadership is subcutaneous – it manifests itself when prompted.

In teams of leaders, there is a community of mindsets, a kindred spirit. All team members demonstrate a strong core coupled with a confident open mind. Leaders are easy to work with: they are eager to learn, to change and to grow but they’re clear about what’s not negotiable, so they are unambiguous communicators and consistent.

It is the very nature of leadership to be able to detect life and death matters in seemingly innocuous behaviors deviations or details. There is an aesthetic quality to a leader's behavior, a clairvoyance that borders on an artistic vision -what some would call a ‘style’.

Attracting talents requires defining strategies and tactics that leverage an organization's mission, ambitions, reputation, culture, salaries, and benefits. Because of the difficulty to hire talents, companies have focused on ways to retain them through financial means, personal development and recognition. Engagement has become a high priority, as it is associated with greater energy, elevated efficacy and dedication[i]. When employees are engaged, they experience a sense of control, vitality, and satisfaction. Studies[ii] describe engagement as culminating in a state of "psychological presence" where people can show at work all their facets and don't feel they need to compromise or hide their values, thoughts and feelings. It requires three factors: a sense of meaning in the work (the performed work participates to larger goals and values), psychological safety (problems are manageable) and psychological availability (employees have the necessary energy to tackle the tasks at hand)[iii]. To this effect, a large bulk of organizations have been promoting mission-based strategies, team building events, a well-defined culture and brand, professional coaching, mentoring programs, 360 feedback, and a wide variety of initiatives centered on inclusivity and empowerment. Unfortunately, in large companies, employees ripe for promotions aren't always spotted in time. And in small companies, they're easier to spot but evolution perspectives can be limited.

High turnover has become the new norm. The average stay in a company is 1 to 3 years. Millennials like to experiment and bounce around. The organizations that will best survive high turnovers are the ones who understand that with turnover comes a fantastic opportunity: extending their reach and gaining extensions in other companies and other industries. Strong connections to ex-employees ensure continued high spirit and motivation in the current team. This is where companies should develop new initiatiaves.

A company, whatever its size and industry, would be well inspired to celebrate past employees the way universities built their powerful alumni model. Large consulting firms and Fortune 500 have logically invested in this approach and use their network to sell their services and recruit "boomerang" ex-employees back. Mc Kinsey has built an alumni platform to federate and recognize past employees through newsletters, blogs, events, a directory, a message board, and even a job board open to outside recruiters. Small businesses and startups should create avenues for new and past employees to mingle informally but regularly.

The Constellation Enterprise is the new model –a model where circles of influence and communication are looser, where strategic and at times unusual partnerships may prevail over more traditional direct sales approaches, where solutions to problems are built quickly and collaboratively across functional silos and across companies . Co-creation platforms, open innovation days, collaborative technological demonstrations or hackathons may tap into distributed resources in a condensed timeframe, but more importantly, networks of like-minded individuals bonded by trust, a shared project and values survive any particular company's framework and extend well beyond any single job –like old warriors or schoolmates. That’s resonance at work. And that's what social networks, with their ongoing quest for more followers, friends or connections, bury under their bloated numbers: few and far between constellations of bright individuals with whom we would team up again in a heartbeat, if we could.

[i] Maslach and Leiter, 1997 on engagement at work – see and Schanfeli, Salanova, Gonzaacuteoez- Romaacute and Baker (2002) [ii] Kahn, 1990,1992 [iii] Kahn, 1900-1992 [iv] Mapping the Brain, Anne Trafton MIT News, January 28th, 2010.

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