Fear of failure is a restraining element that runs counter to any change process and improved competitiveness in business and life. Pekka Viljakainen and Mark Mueller-Eberstein, authors of the book No Fear: Business Leadership in the Age of Digital Cowboys, write that fear is a controlling emotion, and that it is an inevitable part of human persona. To go against this sense of dreadfulness, you must have a “no fear” mindset where the emotion is dealt with, recognized, and conquered. Fear equals failure, and the leader who succumbs to that fear performs a serious disservice to the company organization, its employees, and its clients. Changes all over the world mandate leaders to be equipped to adapt to the transitions that are happening in the global community, or go down the tubes. And with the altered global landscape comes new entrants with diverse aspirations as well. They are young, pioneering, and at home with using technology and social media. They are referred to as the “Digital Cowboys” — the first adopters of new technology and innovations.
In Western movies, cowboys — the likes of Roy Rogers, The Ringo Kid and The Lone Ranger — were men who rode fast horses to scenes of trouble. They meted out justice when someone got shot at, killed, robbed, cheated or was a victim of a wrongdoing. Armed with as many weapons as possible, cowboys independently executed their judgment and action. People looked up to them for their sense of fairness and viewed them as real leaders. Digital cowboys possess the same qualities and characteristically go on a mission of solving corporate problems. “They grow up with PlayStation and other electronic toys. They have various access to communications that are interconnected with many networks and blogs on the world wide web, and with others who have laptops, iPhones, iPods, iPads and all sorts of gadgets,” Viljakainen points out. But, unlike the movie and TV cowboys who execute verdicts by their lonesome, digital cowboys make decentralized pronouncements, gathering inputs from others, and generating huge quantities of information that eventually become their “currencies.”
Expectations and rules have transformed, and as a leader of today you have to deal with edgy youngsters as employees or clients. The challenge is how to lead them within a contemporary and “adjusted for the future” organization. Readers of No Fear can discover and take away these chunks of opinion, advice, and wisdom:
1. Digital cowboys thrive and are more valuable to their employers. With the huge mass of information easily accessible through the Internet and the proliferation of networks of people who have the relevant expertise, it makes sense for today’s business leaders to work together with them and pick up precious inputs that are helpful to important decision-making processes. Digital cowboys are changing the way companies are run. They have networks, both local and international. They grasp problems and discover solutions. They’re continually interconnected with value providers, and know how to gather loads of functional information fast. They crave state-of-the-art electronic toys to help them conveniently interact with corporate people and data anytime. They bloom in what they do, but their work-life balance has become blurrier than ever.
2. Executives must lead socially instead of top-down. There has been a lot of fuss about social media changing business processes. But the key thing for top executives — all the way up to the CEO — is to find a way to mingle with people at the frontline where most innovations happen, and where people come face to face with clients. As such, it is imperative for executives to equip themselves with sensing tools in order to have a feel of what is realistically going on.
3. Embrace the fact that companies have to hire top talents from overseas instead of using local talents. It is a byproduct of globalization. “It’s idiotic to ask the question, ‘Why should there be a need for foreigners to work in my country?’ in a global economy. The fact is that you cannot learn to be international without dealing with different people. If a Singapore company, for example, wants to operate in Asia, it simply has to live in the Philippines, Malaysia, China, and Taiwan and see how said Singapore company can add value to the consumers of the countries mentioned. The cheapest way to get that knowledge is to hire those people into your company,” the authors explain.
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Take the case of Nokia: it is a great Finnish company, but when there were speculations as to who could become the new chief executive of the company, there was no chance of picking a Finn. “It would be nice to find someone who can understand the sauna culture, the language, all the right jokes and the strengths and weaknesses of Finns. But having Stephen Elop, an American-Canadian equipped with many questions, lead Nokia is a welcome thing,” the authors said. He’s most likely to be the most hated person in Nokia; playing devil’s advocate is right for the organization. The point is that any company anywhere in the world must have authentic diversity in its management. And if there is reposition, there is something wrong with society and not with the individual joining the company. “Finland, where I come from, is really bad at this. We have one of the best telecommunications networks, and are extremely well connected, but it can be very difficult to integrate people into our culture. I see it as the single biggest issue for Finland’s competitiveness moving forward,” Viljakainen shared.
4. There are six “planets of change” in the global economy that a “no fear” leader must recognize and practice. Getting familiar with them will allow you to gain the support of “digital cowboys.” These include: maintaining productivity when it gets stalled; understanding the impact of globalization on competitiveness and leadership; capital travels in many directions coupled with stiff competition for access; consumers are constantly changing in tastes, attitudes, and behaviors; online and networked economies have turned mainstream and are accessible everywhere; and innovation is moving at a faster rate than ever before.
5. New and aspiring entrepreneurs must recognize that cultural diversity in organizations is a welcome change. There should be multiplicity even if you are just 10 people in the company, an international presence, a good gender and racial mix, and people of different ages, which as an ensemble can help shape and change thinking in the company. As Viljakainen shared, “When I was a young manager, I simply recruited talent, gave them tasks and hoped for the best. But I had to put a lot of effort into developing them further to get the best out of them. Too many entrepreneurs get sidetracked and ignore this aspect of leadership and people development. The quality of a leader is always measured by the quality of his or her direct reports. If your direct report sucks, you can’t be a great leader.”
6. Think and act like a TV producer. A leader’s most important task, as Alexander the Great exemplified, “is to be where the battle rages — in the middle of the multitude, where the troops, the customers and the competitions are. “CEOs can no longer be administrative, supervisory and recruiting figureheads. As Viljakainen elucidated, “Leaders, like TV producers, are responsible for ensuring that a team of virtuosos actually completes the production. As producers may be juggling several productions simultaneously, they have to hire associate producers without blindly delegating responsibilities. Furthermore, the producer has to understand the production from all levels.” Producers hardly ever produce shows identical to their previous work. They are forced to rely on others and they cannot simply stick to a script. “As a producer you have to start training your own network and its central players. You have to get to know each other, communicate shared goals to everyone and learn about how the people in your network function,” Viljakainen added.
7. Pick the brightest pearls. Talent management has never been more important to business success. In new talent hiring you must always choose the right fit, in the same way that a maestro brings together a group of prodigies to work as a cohesive, productive orchestra. The shiniest pearl is surely the leader’s own vision of the direction in which a product, service or innovation is heading.
8. Earn the right and the respect to lead. Model the way. It is essentially leading by direct individual involvement and action. People first follow the person, then the plan. Titles are granted but it is behavior that wins respect.
9. Inspire shared vision. Leaders have visions and dreams of what could be. They have absolute and total personal belief in those dreams, and they are confident in their abilities to make extraordinary things happen. Every organization, every social movement, begins with a dream. The dream or vision is the force that invents the future.
10. Challenge the process. Leaders are not the only creators or originators of new products, services, or processes. In fact, it is more likely that innovation comes from customers, clients, vendors, people in labs, and people on the frontlines. The leader’s primary contribution is in the recognition of good ideas, the support of these ideas, and the willingness to challenge the system to get new ideas adopted.
11. Be an enabler. Grand dreams do not become significant realities through the actions of a single person. Exemplary leaders enable others to act. They foster collaboration and build trust. This sense of teamwork goes far beyond a few direct reports or close confidants. They engage all those who must make the project work — and in some way, all who must live with the results.
12. Encourage the heart. It is part of a leader’s job to show appreciation for people’s contributions and to create a culture of celebration. Exemplary leaders encourage the hearts of their constituents to carry on with genuine acts of caring. Encouragement is curiously serious business. It is how leaders visibly and behaviorally link rewards with performance.
Leaders must be inspiring, accountable, responsive and open. Traditional leadership methods should evolve to utilize the younger generations’ methods and equipment. This requires an alteration in attitude and approach —removing the worry of failure — to create a successful working culture. Have no fear. The only thing to be afraid of in this world is your mother.
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