In the fall of 2014, most of WSI’s marketing team attended HubSpot’s INBOUND conference in Boston. We put on a yearly Global Convention for our network, so I’m familiar with the benefits of hosting and attending conferences.
In particular, the team raved about a talk by renowned speaker and author Simon Sinek. His INBOUND keynote was based on his book, Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don't.
Intrigued by the boost of energy and passion my team received from Sinek’s session, I began looking into his thoughts on business and leadership to see if I could learn a thing or two as well.
I came across a fascinating quote from Sinek in which he asserts, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
Since finding Sinek’s quote, I’ve tried to incorporate inspiration into my role as a leader. I not only try to lead by example, both in thought and in action, but I strive to inspire by example too.
As Canada recently celebrated its 150th birthday, I’ve once again been thinking about leadership. Canada has had 23 Prime Ministers, each of them facing their own set of unique challenges. I also can’t help but think how much different the issues facing Justin Trudeau are from the ones navigated by John A. Macdonald – or even by his father almost 40 years ago.
These days, technology and the Internet are evolving our world and its markets at exponentially faster rates. Whether you’re the Prime Minister or a business leader – don’t worry, I know one is a lot harder than the other! – there are people looking to you for inspiration.
With these thoughts in mind, I came up with a few things that highlight the importance of leadership in a digital world.
We Need More Leaders
Keeping with Simon Sinek for a second, here’s another quote, this one from his Together Is Better: A Little Book of Inspiration:
“That’s why we get managers and not leaders inside companies. Because the person who got promoted really does know how to do our job better than we do...that’s what got them promoted in the first place. Of course they are going to tell us how we ‘should’ do things. They manage us because no one taught them how to lead us.”
Like me, many of you are thinking, this is exactly what happens. It makes perfect sense, is completely natural, and it’s nobody’s fault. But at the end of the day, a company full of mangers isn’t productive.
We need more leaders, and the only way that's going to happen is if current leaders show a willingness to teach and prepare the future of their company for leadership roles. This begins with, as Sinek says, "The hard work of training people, coaching people, believing in people and trusting people."
The key to training our young leaders is that last part: trusting them. Trusting them to do the job as good, or better, than we could, and resisting the urge to check-up on them.
Things Are Always Changing
In this digital world, trusting our young leaders is all the more important for one reason: nothing ever stays the same. As leaders, not only do we need to teach – and trust – the people we lead to do the jobs we used to do better than we did, but we also need to believe in their ability to adapt along with the Internet and technology.
For example, let's say you're currently a marketing manager. About five years ago, you used to manage your company's social media profiles, which included Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Now, the social media person you manage is responsible for those three platforms you taught them to use, plus ads on each of those networks, as well as profiles on Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest. When this person eventually moves to a manager position, who knows what new social profiles or ad networks the next social media person will have to learn on the fly.
From this example, you can see while "managing" instead of leading gets companies into unproductive habits, moving forward it probably won't even work. In today's digital world, newly appointed leaders are already behind the curve in terms of applying the required skills to the junior person who has moved into their previous position.
Leadership is no longer about trusting our people to do the jobs we used to do, it's trusting them to learn and apply themselves faster than even we did. It's about putting them in a position to, and believing they can, be better than we were at our jobs.
The biggest takeaway from my recent leadership thought experiment is this: the greatest leaders are those who make everybody around them better, and are encouraged and excited when those same people surpass even their skills and accomplishments.
The importance of leadership in an increasingly digital world must not go underrated or overlooked. The more highly skilled and adaptable leaders your organization fosters and develops, the brighter its future will be.