Transformation is a powerful word, and I don't take it lightly.
For many entrepreneurs, leadership is still a skill that we learn on the go.
I wanted to learn transformative leadership from a leader who has transformed companies before, so I reached out to Todd Unger, Chief Experience Officer for American Medical Association to learn more about how leaders can transform companies.
Unger has led digital transformations at AOL, Time Inc. and the Daily Racing Form.
Here's what entrepreneurs can learn about leadership from Unger.
1. Build multiple skill sets.
The term, "Jack of all trades, master of none" is misleading. I think it's important to be great at one thing but to lead a transformation; you have to have strengths in multiple areas.
"The best tip I can give entrepreneurs is to master multiple skill-sets. Don't wait around for a company to teach you them, " says Unger. "I operate at the nexus of digital technology, content, product development, marketing and business development and that combination of skills is really what allows me to operate as a CXO today. Master multiple skill sets, and you'll see a big change in the way you lead."
For me, my writing became more powerful when I combined writing, marketing and my ten years experience leading IT projects for massive companies. Being a good writer wasn't good enough to get my content read. I needed to combine all three areas.
Unger is no different.
Don't underestimate the multiple skills you have. Combine all of them to create a super talent.
2. Transformation starts and ends with the customer.
When I started as an entrepreneur, I was so obsessed with the product, I often forgot about the customer. The one trend I've learned from interviewing Chief Digital Officers and marketing leaders is that our conversation tends to focus on creating an experience that customers love. It didn't matter what type of business it was either. B2B or B2C, the answer was always the same: focus on the customer experience.
"My approach to digital transformation is grounded in a decade of consumer product marketing and advertising, so I never forget that it's always, always about the customer, " says Unger
If Toys 'R' Us focused on the customer from day one, they might be in a different stage right now. If you're an entrepreneur growing a company, spend a majority of your energy on the customer. Once I focused on my customers and getting feedback about the products I built, that feedback was the foundation of building a product that they loved.
3. Don't be afraid, and keep a leg on the horse.
"Fix it forward" is a favorite quote from Unger's horseback riding instructor. "It sounds counter-intuitive, but when things get challenging or are heading in the wrong direction when jumping, you have to fix it while it is in motion, with even more speed," says Unger.
The same applies when it comes to transformation. Either you embrace the change, or the change will swallow you.
"When you see your horseback instructor literally raise the bar, it can be a little daunting, and your horse can sense the fear, " says Unger. "I've learned to set aside the fear, keep a leg on the horse (the rider's equivalent of a "gas pedal"), and also power through the challenge head-on. You and the horse are in this together."
The bar is always changing. And now, it's changing faster than ever before. My time as a consultant allowed me to embrace change faster. Through this experience, I learned how to adapt to a new client with a new manager in a new city often. I had no choice but to open myself up to new opportunities.
When it comes to leadership, Unger has helped me define not only how to become a better leader, but how to embrace change and the unknown.