What are the attributes of today’s ideal leader? Marshall Goldsmith, one of our the country’s premier management coaches, put this question to 200 high-potential leaders. The results were clear. The ideal leader is a person who builds internal and external partnerships.
Leaders must also partner with customers, suppliers, and competitors.
1. Partnering with customers. As companies have become larger and more global, there has been a shift from buying stand-alone products to buying integrated solutions. One reason for this shift is economy of scale. Huge retail corporations, like Home Depot or Wal-Mart, do not want to deal with thousands of vendors. They would prefer to work with fewer vendors who can deliver not only products, but systems for delivery that are customized to meet their needs. Also, many customers now want “network solutions,” not just hardware and software.
As the supplier’s relationship with their customers continues to change, leaders from supply organizations will need to become more like partners and less like salespeople. This trend toward building long-term customer relationships, not just achieving short-term sales, means that suppliers need to develop a much deeper understanding of the customer’s total business. They will need to make many small sacrifices to achieve a large gain. In short, they will need to act like partners.
2. Partnering with suppliers. As the shift toward integrated solutions advances, leaders will have to change their relationship with suppliers. For example, more of IBM’s business now involves customized solutions incorporating non-IBM products and services. While the idea of IBM selling non-IBM products was almost unheard of in the past, it is now common—to the benefit of customers and, to IBM itself. The same trend is occurring in pharmaceuticals and telecommunications.
In a world where a company sold stand-alone products, partnering with suppliers was not only seen as unnecessary, but unethical! The company’s job was to “get the supplier down” to the lowest possible price to increase margins and profitability. Today many leaders realize that their success is directly related to their supplier’s success. In fact, some include commitment to suppliers as one of their core values. They seek to transcend differences and focus on a common good—serving the end user of the product or service.
3. Partnering with competitors. The most radical change in the role of leader as partner has come in partnering with competitors. Most high-potential leaders see competitors as potential customers, suppliers, and partners. Most organizations that rely on knowledge workers have varied and complex relationships with competitors. When today’s competitors may become tomorrow’s customers, the definition of “winning” changes. People have memories. Unfairly “bashing” competitors to ruin their business could have harsh consequences. While competitors should not expect collusion or unfair practices, they should expect integrity and fair dealing.
The leader of the future will need to be skilled at managing these relationships. In many ways, telling direct reports (who know less than we do) what to do is a lot simpler than developing relationships with partners (who know more than we do). Working in a “silo” is simpler than having to build partnerships with peers. “Taking orders” from managers is simpler than having to challenge ideas that don’t meet customer needs. Selling a product to customers is simpler than providing an integrated solution. Getting the lowest price from suppliers is simpler than understanding their complex business needs. Competing with competitors is simpler than having to develop a complex customer-supplier-competitor relationship.
The challenge of leadership is growing. Many traditional qualities like integrity, vision, and self-confidence are still needed. But, building partnerships is becoming a requirement, not an option, for future leaders.
Marshall Goldsmith is the founding director of the Alliance for Strategic Leadership, and authority on helping leaders achieve positive change. firstname.lastname@example.org. www.marshallgoldsmith.com.
Read Full Post »