There’s a particular brand of humor conjured by “Mad Men” and other retro workplace dramas. The outdated office culture — from the way women are treated to the nonstop drinking on the job — provides a throwback reason to snicker and commiserate about the “old days.”
Add in the prototypical business leader of generations past (rigid, fierce, gruff and intimidating), and you’ll see a picture that’s completely different from the modern corporate climate.
Today’s successful business leader is an emotionally intelligent, collaborative visionary. Explain that to your grandpa, and he’ll likely have a good laugh. But if you want the bottom line on what it takes to be a business leader today, read on.
Empathy is the ability to feel what someone else is feeling — to put yourself in his or her proverbial shoes. When your middle manager, Caroline, tells you her son is sick, you know she needs to pick him up from school because she’s a single mother. An empathetic person immediately understands the stress and frustration Caroline must be feeling, and validates it. The empathic leader approves her request to leave early. In addition, the empathic executive empowers Caroline with the option to work from home during the next few days so she can tend to her son.
Business leaders of the past would have been indifferent toward Caroline’s situation, feelings or options. Today’s successful leaders recognize the critical nature (and bottom-line business impact) of taking care of their employees. They know that when employees are happy, they’re more likely to be engaged — and engaged employees are more productive.
Gary Vaynerchuk described it this way during a recent episode of his “DailyVee” program: “You work for your team — they don’t work for you. How many times have you sat down with [them] one by one for three hours and asked them what they care about in life and how can you help them? That’s the answer, bro. How do you get your team to care? Care for them first.”
Data-driven decision-making means relying on analytics to guide every business decision. Data-based evidence leads to insights, and executives then can turn those insights into actions that position the business for success.
Back in the day, technology limited the amount of available data. It made sense to make decisions based on a combination of gut feelings and past experience. Today, however, the truth is out there, and 60 percent of companies regularly analyze four or more internal data sources before making decisions.
“Every company has its problems, and often data-driven methodologies can help solve these problems,” explains Eran Tzur of the business-intelligence (BI) platform Sisense. “Whether it’s high customer churn rates or ballooning operational costs, data analysis can help you understand where your business is stumbling as well as suggest possible causes and solutions.”
To succeed in business in the past, you had to succeed on your own. Success, power, raises, promotions and market share resulted from what you could do better, faster or cheaper than the next guy. Building, inspiring and motivating a team didn’t make sense.
Today, we value the power of accomplishment in groups. We know we can get more done if we work together. The Larry Tates of the world never would have asked direct reports for ideas or direction. He was the boss, and he dictated thusly. In his mind, lower-level employees were supposed to work their way up and respect their elders.
Today, however, successful executives are not only comfortable relying on their teams for new strategies, they actively foster a culture of collaboration.
Corporate transparency is a commitment to informing employees about what’s going on in the company, whether it’s positive or negative.
In the past, business leaders kept this information to themselves. Only those in positions of power needed to know the score. Today’s leaders understand that being transparent about company goals and earnings makes employees feel more valued.
Corporate-culture consultant Glenn Llopis reinforces the idea that transparency helps cultivate trust. “If you are transparent, especially during the worst of times, you actually strengthen your leadership as people begin to trust you as person and thus will respect you more as a leader.”
Be today’s leader.
Although business leaders of the past did help us get to where we are today, let’s stop relying on them for inspiration. It’s time to turn over a new leaf and embrace the modern executive.