The Long Tail of a New Leadership

There is rare agreement among leadership gurus such as John Kotter, Seth Godin and Tom Peters. Leadership is going through dramatic change. We don’t need to look far to see why. Change is happening faster and faster, more and more. Author of Leading Change John Kotter explains in Accelerate (HBR November 2012): Perhaps the greatest challenge business leaders face today is how to stay competitive amid constant turbulence and disruption.

Competitive pressures and the need to reinvent almost everything every eighteen months is creating a new leadership. This post discusses the difference between management and leadership and provides characteristics of The New Leadership built to process constant change.

Management vs. Leadership Managers use existing processes to plan, budget, problem solve and break down complex business process to measurable constituent parts. Managers often lead, but their time is focused on executing inside of the “Known” circle (graph).

Great managers are like great sailors. Great managers know their boat like the back of their hand. They can feel intuitively when something isn’t right. They watch Key Performance Indicators and live by and for the incremental improvement.

The best managers also venture into the intersection of KNOWN and UNKNOWN. They want to know how to trim their sails for the most immediate future, the future lurking right around the corner.












New Leaders Leadership is about the “vision thing”. Forming a company’s vision requires leaders to spend more mental cycles thinking about a world that doesn’t exist. Great leaders pick up small clues the future always drops, those tiny almost imperceptible crumbs pointing to a different world.

Once a leader sees pointers to a new future it is her responsibility to create an understandable idea and share her idea with trusted sources for refinement. Her NEXT vision isn’t ready for the management team yet. The NEXT Company takes shape out there, out in the world. Once the idea is roughly formed great leaders begin checking their vision with trusted external sources.

Since managers work largely in the known presentation of the unknown must be carefully done. Great leaders know how to do the “Made To Stick” thing. In the Heath brothers’ great book they explain how to present THE NEW with metaphors and analogies from The Known. Presenting the most radicle new vision with elements of The Known assures managers relate, support and advocate.

The New Leadership Another point of consensus among management gurus is the world is moving too fast for top down dictatorial leadership. Even if you could impose rule today’s worker wouldn’t stand for it for long. Every company must compete for brains. If you want the best brains, and you do, team members must feel included, involved and valued or turnover and “brain drain” will doom your company.

Increasing speed and complexity demand a new leadership characterized by:

  • Democratization of leadership (more leaders across all business departments).
  • Authenticity.
  • Ability to create and inspire Trust.
  • Listening.
  • Selling the NEXT NEW THING – great storytelling.
  • Consistency.

I typically write and think about Internet marketing and web development.  My Internet marketing work discusses these characteristics too. Website design and leadership are responses to an evolving world. They are Darwinian. Best practices make their way to the next generation while practices such as manipulation, insincerity, bullying and dictatorial top down management are sure to die.

Taking Action Today I agree with John Kotter’s recommendation to create a second operating process, a skunk works team dedicated to understanding the unknown NEXT Company forming the idea and then selling the vision. If you run a small enterprise you may think this idea of a skunk works team is for bigger companies. You are too busy fighting today’s fires to worry about tomorrow.

Worry about tomorrow.

Tomorrow comes faster. Today’s pace will seem slow in two years. The fact your boat is sailing beautifully now means it can, with the right trims, run into an unknown future with storms, rogue waves and unexpected events.

As captain the Presidents and CEOs of small to medium sized business must recognize they are in the change business at least as much as they are in whatever business makes their money.  Another way of saying this is not creating a “second operating system” to quote Kotter is ignoring at least half of your job. Get caught in the day to day and your company suffers.

I can hear the, “It is different for ME and HERE at the Widget Factory,” as I write. One advantage of BIG Company and startup experience is I can see across islands and oceans. Thirty years of experience with M&M/Mars, P&G, starting 4 companies and my current position as Director Marketing for the Raleigh web and software development company Atlantic BT teaches one sure thing:

Change is the only constant.

Change happens to everyone all the time. The biggest winners understand they are in the widget producing business 50% and the change business at least 50%. The best companies I’ve worked for or created and hired two kinds of people:

  • Experience hardened sailors capable of squeezing more speed from tiny trims.
  • Visionaries throughout the organization who formed a “club” to support one another.

I tend to fall into the later “visionary” camp. One of my favorite stories of “club” formation happened at M&M/Mars. After purchasing a PC with personal funds and creating a territory management system, possibly the first in Consumer Packaged Goods, I was asked to move into the M&M/Mars national office in Hackettstown, New Jersey to help build similar systems the 1,200 strong M&M/Mars sales force.  Seen as a “disruptive force” it was decided “training” was needed (lol).  To quote Cool Hand Luke, “What we have here is a FAILURE to communicate”.

I was sent to T Group training in Snowmass for a week. T Group training is a weeklong immersion in self and process. What was the unintended consequence of training me and other company “rebels”?  The rebels bonded. We formed a support system, a club. The T Group experience was intense. Anyone who made it through had stories to share, stories understood best by fellow T Groupers.

How you treat your rebels, the people in your organization who see the world differently, is a secret test of your company’s ability to change and grow. This is why I strongly recommend Kotter’s “second operating process” via a skunk works team. The best thing any company can do with rebels is provide a unifying experience, a clubhouse and a job. What is the job?

Find, articulate and help sell THE NEXT BIG THING.


Martin "Marty" Smith is Atlantic BT's Marketing Director. Marty is a frequent blogger and social media presence via his ScenTtrail Marketing and @ScentTrail blogs. He is a former Ecommerce Director and Consumer Products Goods Manager for P&G and M&M/Mars. He can be reached via email here.