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As a business leader, do you have a deep sense of purpose? Is your organisation as human as the people who work in it? Are you creating an authentic culture of innovation?
One of the greatest benefits about working for IBM is (peerless) access to global thought leadership. Not just thought leaders within our own company, but an opportunity to tap into some of the brightest and most provocative brains of our generation. I was fortunate enough recently to attend the IBM THINK forum in New York, where selected world-renowned leaders, and respected commentators, joined a fascinated group of IBMers and clients on the topic of Leadership in the 21st century.
In this post, I want to share with you some of the ideas on leadership put forward during the THINK forum that gave me considerable food for thought on the long flight home. Whether you are a business leader of a listed global enterprise, or manage its ICT budget; whether you operate within a government department, or head up a financial institution; whether you manage a team of 20 or 20,000 – strong leadership is at the heart of success, progress and change.
Andrew Liveris, a Greek-Australian, is the Chairman, CEO and President of The Dow Chemical Company, based in the United States. He expounded the need for leaders to employ short-term decision-making capability within a longer view. In his opinion, a leader needs to have one vision with multi-business models, one voice with multi-accents, and one enterprise with multi-networks (such as IBM’s Globally Integrated Enterprise model). The importance of short term decision making within a longer strategic planning horizon was a frequent highlight of many notable speakers.
This idea of networks and, by inference, connectivity, was further elaborated by New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Tom Friedman. In his book, The World is Flat, Friedman describes the unplanned cascade of technological and social shifts that effectively levelled the economic world, and “accidentally made Beijing, Bangalore and Bethesda next-door neighbours.” Today, “individuals and small groups of every colour of the rainbow will be able to plug and play.” Friedman’s list of “flatteners” includes the fall of the Berlin Wall; the rise of Netscape and the dotcom boom that led to a trillion dollar investment in fibre optic cable; the emergence of common software platforms and open source code enabling global collaboration; and the rise of outsourcing, offshoring, supply chaining and insourcing.
Friedman explained that these flatteners converged around the year 2000, and “created a flat world: a global, web-enabled platform for multiple forms of sharing knowledge and work, irrespective of time, distance, geography and – increasingly – language.” At the very moment this platform emerged, three huge economies materialized -- those of India, China and the former Soviet Union --“and three billion people who were out of the game, walked onto the playing field.” These new players (and he says Africa will soon join the team) are not about cheap labor “but cheap genius”. In this new flat world, Friedman says, being average just isn’t acceptable: “what is it that you do on which you can carve your initials?” he posed.
The previous Director of Intelligence of the CIA, Carmen Medina, further developed on this notion, believing that leaders need to allow the heretics in the business to have a voice, that these are the voices that bring about fundamental change and value. Much of what she talked about resonated as her views echoed the brilliance that our teams demonstrate to solve the challenges clients throw our way. “Try to make change from the belly of the beast” she said.
By the end of this inspiring forum, business leaders we were charged to be outrageous, strategically short term, and to strive to solve the unsolvable. I am fortunate to be part of an organisation – Global Business Services – in which tackling the unsolvable is what it does best.
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