Leadership and Corporate Responsibility Challenges in 2018
In our previous articles we explored the possibilities of and methods for co-existence of millennials and baby boomers, the value of an older workforce, the importance of corporate culture, and how the explosion of social media is affecting everything we do and everything we think. In 2018, the social media climate is showing no signs of a slowdown. However, there are signs that, perhaps, “leadership” is beginning to address the challenges “opened” by social media platforms.
The Role of Leadership and Corporate Responsibility
You can state it any way you choose to, but CEOs and the leadership teams they build are the ultimate gatekeepers of any corporate culture. A leader, by her/his own commitment or behavior, can mold a culture over time or break the business much more quickly. The availability of any number of unchecked social media channels only moves the process along more quickly for the positive or negative. Nothing is confidential and no information stays private for any length of time. As noted in a prior article, values need to be clearly stated and communicated, reinforced by multiple means. If positive and proactive, they need to become entrenched through all decisions and activities. If less positive, they need to be understood and the after effects mitigated quickly using these same channels.
It's not enough to place posters on the walls of a building that declare the company values and beliefs. Now, it's even more about living those same values and beliefs. The most powerful cultures continue to be those where people buy into the mission and operate cohesively as with “one head” or a single eye. Unmanaged dissent and quiet (or not so quiet) revolts have never been recipes for success, yet they've become far more common in our current state of culture and communication.
What's the role of social media in all this?
The faster it leaks, the faster it spreads and not just internally. “News” is now 24/7, and that means anything has become fair game, whether it be true and proven or not. Furthermore, everything is revealed at a far more rapid pace.
So, what's the responsibility of corporate leadership?
“You have to set a vision, build cultural guard-rails, foster a sense of teamwork and make tough calls. All of that requires balancing the endless paradoxes of leadership, and doing it in a way that inspires trust. (Adam Bryant, The New York Times, Oct. 29, 2017)
For 10 years, Adam Bryant wrote a column entitled "The Corner Office" for the Sunday Business section of The New York Times. He retired the column in October of last year, but shared many observations in his final column on Oct. 29. The column summarizes what Bryant heard and what he learned observing organizations and their rise and fall over the previous decade. He argued that there are too many variables, many beyond the control of any one person or any small group, that impact leadership both positively and negatively. Effective leaders must consciously and conscientiously focus on and manage these numerous variables in environments that change at lightning speed. Bryant went on to argue that effective leadership always contains a quotient of luck, timing and personal chemistry. He also offered three recurring themes that he believed are most important when building a culture and working to keep an organization focused and productive:
- Leaders share a “habit of mind” that's best described as “applied curiosity.” Effective leaders question everything. They want to know how things work, are curious about people, and find an interest in a variety of things while prioritizing the most important items.
- The most successful leaders love a challenge. “Discomfort is their comfort zone.” Building a team’s ability to manage discomfort keeps an organization consistently focused and constantly moving forward.
- The best leaders focus on “doing their current job well” while keeping an eye on where they need to move themselves and their organizations. They're less concerned about the job they want than the job they're doing. They focus on their track record of success and how to continue to achieve success in the future. Being successful now is important, but being successful at “next” must be kept top of mind (but not a distraction).
The most important quality of effective leadership is trustworthiness. If one wants to lead others, she/he must have their complete trust. And it follows that a close cousin of trustworthiness is how much you respect the people who work for you and how much you value their contributions.
Jeffrey Katzenberg states, “By definition there’s leadership; [however] it means there are followers and you’re only as good as the followers. I believe the quality of the followers is in direct correlation to the respect you hold in them.”
Employees will remain loyal to leaders they trust and believe have their respect, and both ends operate in an atmosphere of honesty and consistency. They will embrace the culture they're building and support and build upon it. They talk about it, blog about it, text about it and communicate what they feel from a purely personal perspective. They use social media to inform and reinforce, and are the greatest voice of the entity. However, this will not happen because leaders tell others to do something, but because leaders demonstrate their values consistently and employees “talk” about it. Any available social media channel is easily used to make sure discrepancies are made public quickly and to a wide circle of readers. It's a dangerous two-edged sword and needs to be considered and managed. We're sure we all have a story we can tell, but is that story more about what didn’t work than what did?
Another observation about effective leaders: they're able and willing to admit when they have been wrong or made a mistake. The trite but true axiom that “no one is perfect” applies to leaders as much as it does to anyone else. Those who can admit and learn from mistakes will gain the respect and trust of those they lead. And the message will be made public — of that you can be sure.
Back to Social Media
Being a leader is hard; being an effective leader is harder. The apt title of a famous business book, "The Penalty of Leadership," continues to describe the challenges of being a leader today as much as it did when written. That much hasn't changed, but has become more studied, more visible, more communicated. Add the dimension of the proliferation and immense availability of information, thoughts and opinions, and the challenges become even more complex.
Hence we argue that leaders have an even greater responsibility to their organizations and the public to be responsible, accountable, truthful and honest. Not a small task in the world we live in nor in a world with the examples we see on both ends of the spectrum.