Leaders of companies of any size, at any stage of development spend a lot of time focused on growing the business. We develop our game plan and ensure that we are optimally executing on our objectives. We concentrate on looking forward.
However, we should always keep one eye looking over our shoulders. Whether you lead an early stage startup or a well-established company, it is critical to challenge yourself and your team to prepare for the next disruptive force -- be it a shift in the market, a new consumer trend or a competing innovation. Leaders have to be intensely aware and be bold and flexible enough to adjust course ahead of impending changes.
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To put this challenge into action, I have been striving to instill within my organization the right balance of confidence and paranoia.
To most people, paranoia carries a negative connotation. I believe it is one of the most valuable attributes a leader can have. It is about self-reflection and having the courage, humility and discipline to constantly ask uncomfortable questions that can potentially poke holes in your strategy and challenge your conventional thinking.
With great momentum and growth, some people might be inclined to take a breath and relax. It might be tempting to ride the wave of success, or wait for a crisis to make difficult decisions, but we cannot lead by crisis -- we have to stay engaged and constantly look for ways to be smarter and more efficient.
Falling victim to complacency is one of the few yet pivotal pitfalls of success. History is littered with stories of companies who didn’t see it coming -- or chose not to respond.
Recall the swift demise of Blockbuster after Netflix came on the scene. The company made an effort to get on the boat with DVD-by-mail and streaming services, but its efforts were too little, too late. Today, Marissa Mayer is leading a bold effort to turn Yahoo around after complacency crept into its culture. Yahoo’s struggle exemplifies the need for the entire organization to be aligned in its effort to stay alert and nimble.
Yet, this is no easy task. A 2013 Gallup study tells us that 70 percent of U.S. workers are not engaged or are “actively disengaged” at work. It is our job as leaders to inspire and instill a culture that drives engagement at all levels.
Most recently, more than one market expert was left perplexed when Apple announced its plan to acquire Beats Music. As a long-time technology and product partner to Apple but a competitor to Beats, we at HARMAN are assessing how this unexpected marriage might affect our own business.
In today’s increasingly converging technology environment, traditional roles are blurred and competitors and partners are often one and the same. Fortunately, we have prepared our business for competition and change by continuously evaluating the market environment and adding strength and resources strategically so that when new developments arise, we aren’t asleep at the wheel.
This brings us to the “confidence” side of the equation. Anyone who has launched or led an enterprise has to have the confidence -- along with the team, resources and intelligence -- to make bold moves. This might be a significant investment in proprietary technology, abandoning a big idea that you realize is flawed or acquiring a company to diversify your business. Of course, such bold moves must be made thoughtfully and strategically.
The next disruptive innovations can come from anyone, anywhere -- from Silicon Valley, Bangalore, Sao Paulo or Shanghai. They may come from large conglomerates or startups, a direct competitor or a new entrant.
Anticipating the future is an impossible task, but the best leaders maintain an active awareness of their environment and make a point to step back from the day to day to ask tough questions. They look within and look around.
While our parents may have admonished us not to worry about what our peers were doing, in business, don’t worry about them, but don’t ignore them either.