Significant changes in the world mean that leaders can't sit still. They have a choice: pretend that those changes are not happening or change their tack so that the winds of change are at their back -- propelling them rapidly into the future.
As a new decade dawns, you must adapt the way you lead so that big political, cultural, and technological changes help your company grow instead of threatening its survival. Here are a few skills you should focus on in the new year:
Being flexible amidst changes to global markets.
Since the financial crisis, revenue, profits and company valuations have increased steadily over the decade, according to the Wall Street Journal. But as it reported, growth has come from globalization. And in the last few years, a backlash against globalization has raised nationalist hackles, spurred trade wars, and intensified passions about immigration.
If your business depends on easy access to global markets, the absence of tariffs imposed on your products or raw materials you import, or the ability to hire talented workers from outside your home country, you can't ignore these changes and expect to survive.
In short, you may need to change your globalization strategy. That means rethinking where you purchase your raw materials, hire your people, and manufacture, sell and service your products.
To make the right changes to your globalization strategy, do the following:
- Talk with experts in global economics, politics and supply chains
- Create scenarios of how the globalization backlash might play out over the next three years
- Estimate which scenario is most likely to occur
- Under the most likely scenario, calculate whether the benefits of a change to your globalization strategy outweigh the costs
- Implement the new globalization strategy in stages so you can work out the problems in one location before expanding
Knowing how to take a stand on hot-button political topics in the age of social media.
Many business leaders rose to their positions at a time when talk of politics and religion was a corporate faux pas and it was far easier to keep embarrassing corporate secrets
That has all changed. As the Journal reported, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg has gone from an admired entrepreneur to the target of lawmakers and others who criticize his company's privacy policies and refusal to monitor the veracity of the political advertising the helps pay its bills.
Indeed in order to recruit and motivate talented millennial workers, business leaders must take a stand on topics that matter to them. As the Journal noted, if you give the wrong answer to a question about your corporate policy on biodiversity, an otherwise promising job candidate will work elsewhere.
And if a company takes what its workers see as the wrong stand on an issue -- its leader will be bombarded with unpleasant media coverage -- social and more traditional. A case in point is Boston furniture etailer, Wayfair, whose workers walked out this June to protest its decision to furnish immigrant detention centers..
On the other hand, leaders can do the right thing where politicians fear to tread. For example, as the Journal wrote, Dick's Sporting Goods decided to stop selling high-powered automatic rifles that have been used in mass shootings and WalMart followed suit.
To survive in a world that needs business leaders to take a stand on political issues, start by looking inwards. Ask what is most important to you, your employees, and your customers. Articulate clear values and communicate them with your people. When you have to take a political stand, think carefully about these values and make the right choice.
Knowing how to prepare for the threats and opportunities of changing technology.
Two things never stop changing: technology and the low priority that most leaders place on being at its cutting edge. To be fair, many CEOs hire as needed experts in fields such as cybersecurity, big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, Internet of Things and social media marketing.
Yet delegating technology to someone several levels below the CEO can be dangerous. From hackers breaking into corporate email accounts at Sony in 2014 to a massive theft of customer data at Target in 2013, it's clear that failing at cybersecurity can be fatal for a CEO's career.
To make technology work for your company, study how the recently departed CEO of Best Buy harnessed technology to benefit customers. One key was to rejigger its systems and operations so customers could order online and pick up the same day at its stores -- which for 70 percent of Americans are a 15 minute drive away.
You should study and adapt the lessons learned from CEOs who failed to protect against technology's threats and the successes of leaders who turned tech to their company's advantage.
The world is changing and leaders ought to tack their companies so the wind of these three changes is at their back.