Good leadership is the key to success for every organisation. It makes for good morale, motivated staff (and as a result, fewer departing employees) and sustainable success in the long term. But not all leaders are equally effective. Wherein lies the difference? What makes one leader more successful than another? The answer to this question lies in seeing, daring and doing.
New leadership encompasses four leadership principles that create the basis for the success of future leaders and their business results. These leadership principles are the Reflective, Connected, Agile and Visionary Leadership, as explained in our first article about Learning Leaders ( ).
We’ve previously discussed the importance of a clear, stable vision in the article ‘No vision, no future: the need for visionary leadership' (). In this article will discuss how a vision can be brought to reality….
An effective leader inspires and motivates the people around them with a vision. But a vision will remain hollow unless it is given substance. This is where the leadership principle of Opportunities comes in. A vision often revolves around the question ‘Where do you want the organisation to go?’, but in Opportunities, it’s about the question ‘Where are our growth opportunities? What has to happen to ensure that the organisation survives?’ In other words: Opportunities are about giving substance to the vision, for making that vision concrete within the company strategy.
A leader who has mastered the leadership principle of Opportunities can and dares to translate vision into action. In practice, this seems to be very challenging for many leaders. These days, everyone can say that the world is changing and that everything is different, but there are but few who can actually turn these changes into opportunities for their company, and then be bold enough to seize those opportunities. Elon Musk is just such a leader. For him, electric cars were not only a chance to improve the world, but also, as seen through the lens of Opportunities: ‘that’s our opportunity to make more money and create a new business.’ He also shows how important it is to remain consistent, and to maintain a focus and press on - even in the face of plummeting stock prices.
A characteristic aspect of Opportunities is being able to act from a positive approach. Particularly in crisis situations, a sign of effective leadership is being able to see the glass as half-full. That does not mean reasoning from the defensive idea of ‘How can we get out of this miserable situation?’, but from ‘Where are the opportunities for the future?’
This is about having the mindset to turn negative situations into new opportunities.
‘In every difficulty lies an opportunity’ – Albert Einstein
A dramatic example of what can happen when leaders lack faith is Brexit. What started out as a great opportunity to make Britain Great again (at least for some), has now become an issue of ‘how to limit the damage’. No leader would be able to sell Brexit now, and especially not poor Theresa May, who didn’t think much of it to begin with.
At Tesla on the other hand, we see a leader who continues to believe in Opportunities. And after losing hundreds of millions of dollars each quarter and the threat of closures, Tesla suddenly turned a profit of 312 million dollars in the third quarter of 2018. The financial markets hadn’t considered the possibility of such a positive result, but Musk always remained confident. He saw opportunities where others no longer did. As a result of this, as well as his effort and tenacity, he was also able to keep his staff motivated to continue.
In the crisis of 2009-2010, the businesses with the motto ‘never waste a good crisis’ were the ones that survived. They did not give up; on the contrary, they put in extra effort. All based on the positive idea that when one door closes, a new door opens somewhere else. One that offers new opportunities and possibilities.
Positive leadership based on a strong vision inspires and keeps people motived in times of crisis as well. They trust that their leader will continue to see and take advantage of new opportunities, securing the future of the organisation, and therefore the employees.
So, the leadership principle of Opportunities is mainly about seeing opportunities and daring to decide to seize these opportunities. We can divide this into 3 pillars:
Judgement. A leader’s judgement requires a thorough knowledge of the market. They need to continually ‘read’ the market and have a finely tuned radar for what customers, consumers and clients really want. What market movements lie ahead for our company? What are our future needs? In short: what are our opportunities? However, judgement also means keeping your eyes peeled for possible threats. Rather than naively believing in your own abilities or having tunnel vision, it means listening in good time to the feedback and sage advice offered by others. As we read in ‘De Prooi’ (‘The Perfect Prey’, by Jeroen Smit), if Rijkman Groenink had listened to his secretary, ABN Amro wouldn’t have collapsed.
Drive. This is the passion, energy and eagerness to achieve, to really seize opportunities. It’s about daring to act, but also daring to let go. Taking action based on opportunities also means daring to farewell the products or services you’ve always offered, and which may still be bringing in a lot at the time. Dare to go off the beaten path, and to bring an early prototype onto the market. Obviously, this won’t always be an immediate success, but the trick then is to regroup and strike out in different directions.
An example of this is Pitpoint. This relatively young company is boldly aiming for ‘100% clean transport by 2030’. They are doing so by making clean fuel available and affordable, thus avoiding harmful emissions. To achieve this, the company is focusing on green gas and hydrogen. At Pitpoint, they believe that this is where the future lies, although there is no official proof as yet. By believing this, they are daring to go off the beaten track and to stand out in the market. It’s a vision based on an intelligent judgement of the market (judgement) and which is realised with passion and commitment at the top of the organisation (drive).
It is also testament to the ability of a leader to mobilise their organisation and people to follow them on their chosen path. This concerns the third pillar Influence, which is about the influence a leader can have on their environment. That can be internal or external. Sometimes the Opportunities are to be found in entering into the right partnerships and alliances, including with the less obvious parties or competitors. Anything to increase the chance of success and to ensure the survival of the organisation.
To us, good leadership means continuously striving for the survival of the organisation. That requires a clear idea of internal and external developments that can influence the future of the company, and seeing opportunities, in times of both prosperity and hardship. As Freddy Heineken once said, you need optimism in the bad times, and pessimism can be healthy during the good times. Balanced judgement, with drive as the fuel and influence as a lever, make for an effective leader.
This is the fourth article in a series of articles that the Leadership Academy Amsterdam will publish at the end of 2018 about the Leadership of the Future. If you are interested in the first three articles or if you would like a preview one of the articles to follow, please go to ■