Organizational leadership can be a complex topic. Let’s consider there are three ways executives lead their organizations. They lead like a:

  1. Train – hard to stop. Once on a track they stay on course regardless of the environment changing… until they are derailed… and then it is too late.
  2. Bird – flittering about going after every little opportunity (bug). Being pushed off course by the slightest gust of wind and change in pressure.
  3. Chess Master – creatively considers the next few steps. Respectful of the board, their opponent, and lets each chess piece do what they do best – working as a team.

These leadership styles are not exclusive to people; organizations also have personalities. The question for any person or organization is; “Are our personalities, objectives (goals), and values guiding our decisions so that the products / services we create are in-line with the values and needs (or wants), of our customers and employees?”

If the personalities, objectives, and values are not in line with the current social values and economy, you can bet the products / services are also out of alignment (or will be soon). At this point, society values and customer pressures will ensure the products / services are not purchased – even at a reduced price. As my old economic professors would say in this situation, "Supply will be greater than demand… at any price."

So, how does a person or organization develop their leadership style so that they stay top-of-their-game?

Answer: Know your individual or organizational strengths and weaknesses and develop leadership skills and values that speak to business development, profit generation, and well-being of your customers and employees.

And, how does a person or organization decide to lead like a Chess Master vs. a Train?

Answer: Use your experience and all the information you have access to (like objectives, vision, organizational values and communication style), when making organizational decisions - from marketing decisions to hiring to research and development... and beyond.

Lead by Including Feedback from Internal and External Influencers

It's suggested that only organizations with a knack for invention and fast paced re-invention will thrive in today’s global economy. I argue that they can't just invent; organizations and leaders must be in tune with their internal and external influencers.

Only when they focus on their external and internal influencers can leaders use their experience and all the information they have to consistently deliver upon the changing needs and values of their market.

Which situation have you seen more of?

  1. Leaders working like a train until they launch a product / service or upgrade… and hope it's perfect (and if it is, wait for the competition to copy and therefore liquidate their market and profit margins).
  2. Leaders making their employees, customers and even their supplier’s part of the innovation process. When they do this they know that they have the opportunity to constantly receive valuable information – and then use that information to create an out-of-the-park successes.

Example I: Look for Something Different

Consider the relatively quick move some dry-cleaners made to use environmentally safe processes and to become thriving experts in an industry that was mature. For a long time there was little to differentiate the players in this market. Environmentally safe dry-cleaning happened because social values changed. Leaders who forecasted this trend (their customers' needs/wants), and moved early to switch their dry-cleaning processes had a short lived competitive advantage. Even better, they had the opportunity to become industry experts and receive tones of free press. They were also able to deepen existing customer loyalty (because customers would have seen their personal values matched with their service provider); hence their past and present buying decision justified and reinforced. These dry-cleaners would also have developed new loyalties with new customers. Dry-cleaners that did not adopt have experienced declining sales which have – or will drive them out of the business.

It's likely that the leaders of the dry-cleaners who were first to transform their operations were chess masters who were used to focusing on their internal and external influencers - like their core competencies, employees, customers and suppliers.

Example II: Supplier Value

Years ago I was part of a team that launched debit for Scotiabank. When we began enabling our retail merchants in Ottawa to accept debit (to be turned on to the public within months), many merchants were reluctant. They had never been asked for debit – so why change? The merchants who saw Scotiabank as a supplier who was also a partner took our advice and made the small change. When debit was launched the merchants who did not upgrade started calling – most in a panic to catch up.

But what qualities does the individual leader have to demonstrate to be successful?

Great Leaders / In Normal Circumstances

The Executive Leader

Vision, intelligence, confidence and communication skills are key qualities in leaders. I was recently watching a TV show and the character who was the president of the USA (who was faced with a tough decision between Option A or Option B), said something like “What is the right decision”; her advisor responded “Whatever decision you make will be the right decision. The people trust you.” This is important – no one can always choose the absolute right decision every time. The important thing is that the leader chooses the right decision for their organization that is based in knowledge, values, mission and vision of their organization or department… consistently. Do that and it will be the right decision.

Effective executive leaders have to be visionaries looking for future trends and preparing the organization by making small navigational adjustments. Their goal is to reach its short term goals and to stay true to mission (mission statement), and the vision (vision statement) of the organization. Let me explain. To achieve short term goals, executive leaders will have to make tough decisions which might include downsizing or selling a whole product line or product category. Also, leaders at all levels have to empower people throughout the organization with the direction, power, flexibility and support to deal with routine events and day-to-day crisis. By empowering people and maximizing their strengths organizations will improve performance, customer satisfaction and of course profitability.  Leaders do this by:

  • Continuously sharing their vision, inspiration and decisions with employees
  • Use the organizational vision and values to hire the right people (best resources)
  • Provide optimum training
  • Keep a watchful eye on both the organization, the market and the competition


Often great leaders may not create lots of stellar wins or waves, but instead demonstrate a quiet and reserved posture - calling their resources into action in a subtle way. Balanced leaders (as opposed to dictators… or trains), bring commitment, integrity, and a sense of values to their work.

The Employee Leader

As the pace of change accelerates, there is naturally a greater need for effective leadership.

Why We Trusted
the Popular Kid

Two things were happening:

  1. They usually kept the message really simple.
  2. They led by example. They walked their walk – and talked their talk.

To summarize they:

  • Communicated really well
  • Made it easy for us to look up to them
  • Made it easy to understand what we needed to do next.

In times of rapid change, organizations require not just more leadership but more leaders. This means that organizations have to take advantage of all of their resources. People throughout the organization and at every level who are seen as leaders must be empowered to share leadership responsibilities – whether these people are appointed through their job / position – or appointed by their peers.

Consider the popular kids at school who everyone followed. Most offices have the same peer appointed leaders who may or may not be the organizationally appointed leaders. Almost everyone has leadership ability in them… when and where we see them just depends on the situation or need that arises. It's up to the organization to help the individual bring out the best in themselves – for mutual benefit.

Some of the most successful leaders are those who can inspire leadership qualities and creativity in others, notes David Thomas. “Leaders have the ability to learn from other people’s creativity and to foster an atmosphere in their organizations that welcomes innovation.”

Their reward is that the employees will be happy and fulfilled producing intelligently, optimizing resources. Happy employees almost always means the customers will be satisfied and the organization will run at optimum efficiency… and in unity toward the common short term goals (at a profit), despite changing circumstances, economic fluctuation and other socioeconomic obstacles.

Managers are the microeconomics of business – they are a critical element in any organizational success story. Managers are often the grease and knowledge that keep people, processes and technology running smoothly.

Our Conclusion

Great leadership, at both the individual and corporate level is the key to long-term organizational results in our ever-changing business landscape.

If you want to learn more about how you and your organization can benefit from our services, call us at 416.617.0462.

We work to build long-term, collaborative relationships that maximize your overall success and earnings.


Copyright © 2015 by Bruce Mayhew.


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