Leveraging Diversity and Inclusion Through Transformational Leadership

Leveraging Diversity

Kim Jordan’s appreciation of craft beer was likely a welcome distraction after long days on the job as a social worker. When Jordan and her former husband launched New Belgium Brewing in the early 90s, the Colorado-based entrepreneur envisioned an equitable, sustainable, inclusive, and community-focused business, intent on unleashing great talent to produce great beer. I am not a beer fan at all; however, I have huge respect and admiration for Kim who has championed transparency and diversity among other touchstones in her business plan. Jordan understood that empowering employees from a variety of contexts would lead to New Belgium’s success. Jordan’s job was to channel all that talent into organizational goals and objectives. Fueled by strong leadership, diversity, and an inclusive work environment, the business thrived. In 2012, New Belgium Brewing became 100% employee-owned; in 2013 New Belgium became a B Corp. and was sold for an undisclosed large cash sum in late 2019.

There is no disputing the positive impact of diversity within an organization. From the mailroom to the C-suite, diversity leads to enhanced creativity and innovation. A 2015 study conducted by McKinsey found that diversity in the boardroom is often the catalyst of deeper profits too. Indeed, the study found that businesses in the top quartile of gender, racial, or ethnic diversity tend to have financial returns above industry medians. Alternatively, businesses in the bottom quartile of diversity are far more likely to have subpar financial performance. When a variety of perspectives and life experiences are tapped to inform future opportunities and challenges, good things are bound to happen. But diversity can stoke conflict in settings attempting to move beyond homogenous histories. Often, conflict perpetuates in “diverse” settings because otherwise effective leaders fail to honor the distinction between diversity and inclusion. You can recruit a diverse team all day; however, if your business isn’t built for inclusivity, conflict may ensue. Transformational leaders can replace exclusive structures with inclusive ones.

Transformational leadership is essential if diversity is to propel an organization forward. While definitions of transformational leadership can vary greatly, I believe that transformational leaders tend to be those who inspire their teams, set clear goals and objectives, and effectively keep all accountable to the goals and objectives. Transformational leaders excel at harnessing diversity through conversation, team building, and conflict resolution. A transformational leader constantly articulates the goals and objectives in a personal and persuasive manner, helping individuals with diverse experiences and perspectives see how everyone contributes to the mission of the whole. Instead of shaming those who are not yet on board with inclusive practices, the transformational leader teaches and models the attitudes and interactions she desires from her team. Transformational leaders embody the change they seek in the organizational culture.

New Belgium’s Kim Jordan says her brewery’s success was built upon a shared “we’re in this together” sentiment – a statement of inclusion. She knows far more than great recipes for hoppy beers. Every great organization is successful when the gifts, energies, and experiences of a diverse team share an aspirational direction or outcome. Diversity, in the midst of an inclusive setting, is a tremendous organizational asset. That said, diversity means nothing if the conditions within the organization are toxic to new ideas and faces. Transformative leaders understand that movement toward inclusivity is not a laissez-faire initiative. Instead, leaders must lead by creating the conditions that will truly harness the energy and outcomes diversity affords the organization.

Incentives in the Infinite Business

Incentives

It’s the time of year when many companies are reviewing employee performance and bonuses for their teams and it has me thinking about how incentives play such a huge part in the actions and behaviours of colleagues and the culture that becomes an outcome of such. Interestingly, a story broke recently about a Maryland real estate firm that spread a $10 Million incentive bonus among its 198 employees for achieving a major organizational goal. The bonuses were determined by the length of an employee’s tenure with the firm, the bonuses averaged $50K with some bonuses reaching over the $250K mark. Distributed at the firm’s December 7 holiday party, the bonuses arrived in red envelopes that also held additional checks for each employee’s Christmas bonus. Here’s the amazing thing… EVERYONE from the sales department to the custodial staff got cheques from their employer. The President said “we are so proud of our employees. They are the foundation and the reason behind the success of our company”. Is there any more compelling way to tell all the employees how valued they are?

Incentives work, there is no doubt. When a company exceeds expectations, employees may go home with a little more change in their pockets. By incentivizing strong outcomes, business leaders tap into human capital, those individuals who may work hard toward reaching the next goal because the next goal has cash, or some other incentive attached to it. Who doesn’t like the recognition and the spending money? All of us are motivated by both. In fact, a great incentive program can help a company recruit a competitor’s employers and keep them around for a while. This makes a strong organization even stronger.
But what about those business who’ve made the shift toward the infinite game, like the Maryland real estate company? Many people, tracing the movement of business toward the infinite game, wonder what incentives look like in an infinite business. It’s a good question to ponder given the philosophical divide between finite businesses (in it to win it) and infinite businesses (in it for the long term). Do incentives have a place in an infinite business? The answer, in my opinion, is absolutely, yes.

In a finite business, mission and vision point to an aspirational end state or goal, a desired and measurable outcome. To be the biggest car dealership in Quebec, for example, describes a finite business’ determination to sale more cars than its competitors. If you operate with “being the biggest” as your mission – your end state – then sales incentives offered to the sales team help the business strive toward the desired end. On the other hand, in an infinite business model, the mission may sound something more like We strive to provide great vehicles to a great community. There’s no way to measure “great” in this statement. Instead, the company seems more inclined to enhance the overall well-being of the community. Again, this is an outcome with no measurables and no easily defined end date. So, who gets incentives in this setting? Well, perhaps everyone.

In an infinite business, incentives are necessary, but they are broadcast beyond the sales team and for more than a sales target. In an infinite business, like the real estate firm in Maryland, fidelity to the business is rewarded, not just how much an individual is contributing to annual revenue. In other words, the hourly worker who’s dutifully mopped the floor for two decades deserves recognition because they’ve embodied the idea that the business’ sustainability is a worthy pursuit.

Are you incentivizing the work of your sales team? Of course, you are. But are you also recognizing those who offer their best every day in helping the organization achieve its goals and objectives? If you’re in it for the infinite game –honour those who share your fidelity to the business’ sustainable mission and vision. Sometimes the employee pushing the mop understands where you’re heading better than the one who just beat the all-time sales record.

Infinite game…That’s where we all need to be. The real incentive is being part of something significant, long term.

Business Trends to Watch for in 2020

5 Business Trends to Watch for in 2020

5 Business Trends to Watch for in 2020

It’s been said, “you can trust a crystal ball about as far as you can throw it.” I think a lot of New Year’s predictions are nothing more than a toss of the crystal ball; clickbait opinions with no substance. Follow the clickbait at your own risk. That said, some opinion is informed opinion and I have come to this based upon my experiences and lessons learned in the past year in my role as a leader and helping to tackle the challenges facing clients and industries, as well as collaborating with other industry leaders. So, here’s what I see for 2020:

1. Any Serious Business Will Have Psychologists on Staff
I’ve alluded to this eventuality in several of my previous blog posts, and the time has come! Given the rise of AI, some jobs are evaporating while other job descriptions are changing. As businesses continue to shift toward AI-powered automation, workforces are contracting, and the prevalence of independent work is rising. Simply put, the workplace is becoming a lonelier place and the coworker support network is not what it used to be.

Industrial psychologists, equipped to handle everything from worker motivation to crisis counseling, are a must- have in the modern business. As the shift toward automation deepens, having experts in place to ensure that employee morale, productivity, and job satisfaction remain high is essential to a healthy, engaged workforce. For those working remotely, there is a need for “helping professionals” who are skilled at keeping remote workers connected with the business’ mission & vision and engaged with their co-workers and leaders so they feel they are an important, contributing part of the team. For leaders who want to get the edge on 2020, hire some great psychologists, and invest in experiences and learning opportunities that hone your interpersonal skills to build connections with employees, regardless of where their desk is located.

2. Rise of New Generations in the Workforce
Ready or not, Millennials continue their quick ascent toward leadership roles in our organizations. As the last wave of Boomers approach retirement, Millennials and Gen Z’s will reshape everything from office design to the contours of the typical workweek. For the Boomers that remain in leadership roles, it is essential to recognize that the new generation leaders will be in the C-Suite within a few years. As such, it’s time for the older generation to invest more in their rising talent in strategic planning, administration, and all the other facets of leadership. The older leaders must relinquish control of their businesses to remain relevant and successful for the long term.
What about GenXers? This smaller, sandwiched generation has the unenviable task of ensuring the transfer of power is timely and healthy. While GenXers may be tapped to lead many businesses right now, part of their leadership role is to serve as interpreters between the older and younger generations in the corporate world. They play a critical role in transitioning organizations to new leadership and have the characteristics – such as being technically savvy, loyal, and collaborative – to bridge the generational gaps. GenXers can provide great leadership, but it’s interim leadership.

3. Be Nimble or Die
Nimble is the name of the game in 2020. Nimble businesses have the ability to respond to consumer changes with real-time tweaks to products and services. Consider this, E-Bay and Amazon were rivals 15 years ago. Are you still buying on E-Bay?

Because consumers have a million options to choose from, organizations must keep a close eye on the pulse of their customers and be ready to respond, with the appropriate resources already lined up, when there are shifts in behaviours, wants, and needs. Pay attention to real-time feedback through social media, digital marketing, and analytics to stay aligned with your customers. Investment in Research and Development will continue to rise in the years to come. Make sure your investment in innovation and R&D is keeping up with your competitors.

One important trait of nimble businesses is robust market research. If you do not currently have significant investment in market research, make it happen. Nothing is more predictive of your product/services success than the reviews gleaned from your focus groups and what you extract daily/hourly from online marketing and social media.

4. Embracing Outsourcing
Outsourcing, especially cognitive process outsourcing, will continue to expand in 2020. Where can you leverage the benefits of outsourcing to strengthen your business’ core competencies?

Good businesses become great businesses by constantly enhancing what they do well. Outsourcing the non-core or high value functions to specialized organizations gives your business the opportunity to focus on what’s most important instead of trying to do it all. Outsourced customer service, technical support, accounting, payroll, and recruitment are examples of essential business tasks that others can provide for your organization at lower costs and with stronger outcomes.

On the digital side, AI-enhanced websites and contact centers can help your customers find the information and servicing they need without the need for a live customer service interaction. Cognitive outsourcing is an efficient option that satisfies the queries of customers who do not have the time to wait for a live person to research an issue and provide a response. These AI options will continue to improve service response for the foreseeable future. Are you investing in AI technologies currently? Assume that your competitors are already doing so.

5. The Twilight of Brick and Mortar
2019 saw the disintegration of numerous businesses that were over-invested in brick and mortar. The heyday of malls, shopping centers, and big box stores are behind us as consumers chose to make more purchases with the convenience of online shopping. Further, new efficiencies in shipping make the delivery of durable goods a satisfyingly fast experience.

Why is Walmart posting big expectations for the holiday season and the first quarter of 2020? Because they’ve learned from their competitors and are now heavily investing in their digital retail space. The mightiest of the brick and mortar businesses understand the future is digital sales and not big box retail. Are you over-invested in storefronts? If so, now is the time to beef-up your online presence and e-commerce offerings.

Be Informed in 2020 – Act on the Information
As long as capitalism is the key player in the economy, those who see the trend lines before everyone else will have a clear, competitive advantage. What do I see? A rapidly changing workplace, but the good news is you can take steps to remain competitive. Hire psychologists, invest in all things digital, embrace and invest in a unified workforce that acknowledges the unique value each generation brings to the table, double down on what you do best, and do whatever you must do to stay nimble. In 2020 and beyond, status quo is not an option.

D&I Strategy Essentials

Two weeks ago, an important facet of my work was recognized with the Digital Finance Institute’s HSBC 2019 Diversity and Inclusion in Innovation Award. While I certainly appreciate the honor, I am far more appreciative of organizations like HSBC for their corporate leadership in Diversity and Inclusion. Founded in the mid-19th Century as a financier for businesses investing in international trade, HSBC understands that D&I not only strengthens businesses, but also builds resilient, connected, and innovative communities. In my own organization, the corporate D&I strategy is both aspirational and inspirational. We believe that employees thrive in an inclusive community that encourages every stakeholder to bring “their full self” to the workplace.

If your organization is in the game for the long term, a robust and measurable D&I strategy is essential – your future and current employees demand it. A recent Glassdoor survey of new hires in US businesses found that 67% of new hires viewed a company’s commitment to D&I as a significant factor in their interest in a position with the company. Of those already working in US businesses, most respondents believed that their company needed to be more diverse and inclusive. For those on the outside looking in, a company’s commitment to D&I raises favorable impressions of the brand. If you do not have a D&I strategy in place, you are announcing to all your stakeholders, “We’re not committed to diversity and inclusion in this space.”

So how do you go about creating a D&I strategy? For starters – and I cannot emphasize this enough – don’t try to craft a strategy on your own. While you may be passionate about D&I, however you may not be an expert. Assuming you have experts or are willing to hire experts, the next task is to understand your company’s D&I ethos. While outside evaluations always create anxiety with businesses, outside evaluations remove bias. In other words, we all think we’re more in-tune with D&I than we actually are.

With an outside evaluation in place, it’s time to shift toward an aspirational statement. When it comes to Diversity and Inclusion what do we aspire to become/achieve/etc? Make sure your D&I vision is a memorable and repeatable statement. We strive to welcome and value all is far more effective than two paragraphs of text that reads like an operator’s manual for a surgical device. If your team can easily articulate your D&I statement, you’ve done your job. A good statement leads to measurable goals and objectives. The key here is to set realistic and achievable targets to ensure your company is set up for success.

At the end of the day we all benefit from diverse and inclusive workplaces. We don’t need awards to remind us that innovation, employee satisfaction, and business sustainability are nourished by the beautiful varieties of stories and faces in our organizations. That said, the recognitions remind us that we’re on the right track. When it comes to D&I, I always want to be on the right track.

Tomorrowland: Retooling the Workplace for the Future

Back in the 1990’s, the Disney Corporation re-branded their Florida resort’s Tomorrowland to depict the future as envisioned by the Sci-Fi writers of the 1920’s and 1930’s. It was intended to be more than a paint job and a few new attractions. People movers, robots, and chromed flying cars fill the nooks and crannies of the re-branded Tomorrowland, giving Disney guests glimpses of a world dominated by prosperity, computing power, and automation. The late Walt Disney’s vision is also sewn into every attraction in Tomorrowland, a vision rooted in the idea that technology enhanced life and shouldn’t be feared.

Tomorrowland is today in many of the places we serve. In our ongoing quest to build businesses structured for the long-term, me must embrace the arrival of computer-driven automation. While we may be years away from the practical deployment of massive people movers and reliable flying cars, automation in factories, retail spaces, warehouses, and back-end settings is here to stay. In many ways, life is enhanced because of the arrival of automation. Today, there is more time for leisure, self-care, and education because so many smart machines do the hard jobs of the past with a few keystrokes or a flip of the switch. AI-powered machines can even command the keystrokes and switches without human interface. Indeed, automation is welcomed in our daily routines, allowing us to claim more time for the tasks and relationships that matter the most to us. But how is automation impacting the workforce in industry, services businesses, and retail venues? Will there be jobs in the digital future that’s unfolding before us right now? Yes, but jobs will look different. The arrival of automation means the current and emerging workforce will need different skill-sets than past workers.

The jobs of the early industrial period required manual labour and basic cognitive skills. If you could learn a valuable skill like typesetting, tool & die making, or machine assembly – even with a limited educational background – you could always find a job with a competitive wage. Today, AI-integrated machines are replacing skilled labour at a fraction of the outlay companies once spent on hiring, retaining, and retraining the people who handled skilled labour tasks. In place of these jobs, businesses require more and more employees with technological credentials like coding, computer repair, and network management. Today, it’s vital for businesses to staff with individuals who can manage the machines doing the work. Businesses must also invest in their current employees, providing continuing education opportunities that move the team from the analogue processes of the past to the digital processes of the present.

Interestingly, the shift to automation will also require the hiring of more individuals credentialed in fields like industrial psychology and counseling. With the deepening shift toward automation and streamlined workforces, businesses may lose some of the important interpersonal connections that have historically nurtured innovation and esprit de corps. Having professionals on the team who can help tech employees stay connected with people will be vital moving forward. Further, intentionality in “bringing people together” to network, celebrate, and learn in the workplace will become far more significant in the future.

Tomorrowland is our reality in 2019 and beyond, and more of the wonders envisioned in decades past will continue to arrive and reshape how we live. Automation will boost business profitability, safety statistics, and time available for the tasks and relationships that matter the most. As we embrace the technological marvels that are reshaping work and leisure, let’s not neglect to imagine what the next breakthroughs may look like.

Diversity and Inclusion in the Infinite Game of Business

Diversity and Inclusion in the Infinite Game of Business

Diversity and Inclusion
Ubuntu. No, I’m not talking about the operating system. In this case, I’m referring to the Zimbabwean word that rose to notoriety during the days of South African Apartheid. Ubuntu… While there is no real English equivalent, a string of words does the job: Ubuntu means “I am, because we are.” When the great visionaries of the anti-Apartheid movement like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu looked out upon a deeply divided South Africa, they recognized amazing diversity and the potential of a far more just and inclusive society. After Apartheid collapsed, Ubuntu became a rallying cry for the establishment of a government that honored the value and contributions of every person in South Africa.

So, what does Ubuntu have to do with business? Diversity and Inclusion (D&I). If you’re serious about participating in the infinite game, that is, leading your business for long-term relevance and value and not just short-term victories, then a commitment to D&I must be a top priority. This may require a significant shift in your approach to hiring, promotion and overall Talent strategy to be successful. Especially if your leadership table is comprised of a single homogeneous team (predominantly white and male in North America). This shift must start with potentially difficult and honest dialogue about experience and privilege. For many of these leaders who had an unencumbered rise up the corporate ladder, it may be hard to recognize and action D&I deficiencies in the business. This isn’t an affront against white males, just the reality of privilege. It is vital to be honest about the influence of privilege in our culture and in business (and yes, I say this, with a deep understanding that I too, as a white female, have privilege).

Now that we have tackled this sensitive topic, let’s look at the benefits of a diverse and inclusive culture. For starters, innovation. When we talk about D&I, we often frame it as building a safe space for our colleagues. With safety comes the comfort to challenge the status quo and to think about new and different. Having an environment that is diverse and inclusive opens the gates for novel thought, practices, products, and marketing – it becomes an environment that is an incubator for innovation.

A hyper-focus on D&I also has the potential to supercharge your business growth. A BCG study found that diverse teams drove 19% higher growth rates, because of the innovation of the teams. Just think…. businesses that want to reach new customer segments – how better to do that than leverage the insight and experiences of those same segments that exists WITHIN the organization.
Ubuntu. Yes, this is a lofty word. I am, because we are. However, I think Ubuntu gets to the core of what it means to be in the infinite game. Businesses that are committed to best practices in Diversity and Inclusion are in it for the long term and will encounter sustainable innovation and growth. Not to mention, it’s quite simply the right thing to do. I love that at IBM, our Ubuntu phrase is “You cannot BE what you cannot SEE”.

In it to Win it or Outlast it?

As an athlete, I’ve developed a real appreciation (aka: obsession) for high-quality athletic apparel and shoes. In the Canadian and US markets, Nike, Lululemon, Adidas, and Under Armour are the undisputed leaders by market share, outfitting millions of people in their products. But, let’s be clear… The difference between #1 and #3 is staggering. As of December 31, 2018, Nike’s market capitalization was $110 billion US to Under Armour’s $10 billion US. More importantly, Nike continues a trajectory of modest growth while its upstart competitor has been ceding market share and bleeding cash since 2017. Why is there such a disparity between #1 and #3 when their products and audiences are so similar? The answer? Nike is engaged in an infinite game, while Under Armour is playing a finite game.

In business, sports or any other contest, those playing a finite game are in it to win it. THAT IS ALL. When Under Armour launched some 23 years ago, the brand had the vision and appetite of a prize fighter fixated on knocking Nike to the mat. While Under Armour geared its operation toward quickly challenging and then besting the “Swoosh,” Nike kept responsive to its customers and their emerging apparel and shoe needs. Nike was and is interested in keeping the game – the athletic apparel game – going indefinitely, not eliminating its competitors. Under Armour, on the other hand, continues to exhaust its resources in a Quest to unseat Nike. Who will have the wherewithal to be around in 20 years?

Simon Sinek, leadership guru and author of the 2019 title, “The Infinite Game,” believes that the most effective leaders, and the organizations they lead, compete in infinite games, not finite ones. They are motivated by moving people forward, not overwhelming a real or perceived adversary, or being solely focused on quarterly results. “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it,” Sinek says, adding, “and what you do simply proves what you believe.” Said another way, the leader’s motivations will often determine the leader’s effectiveness.

Obviously, there is tremendous value in moving toward an infinite game mindset. For starters, leadership with a long view is always more responsive to the changing needs of employees and clients. When the “goal” is to stay in the game, leaders and organizations keep their ears attuned to feedback, great ideas, and market trends. Infinite leadership also nourishes an air of collaboration and innovation. When stakeholders believe in the leader’s “why,” they will walk with the leader in pursuit of the why. Ask yourself, are you more likely to work for the woman who says, “We’re going to beat the crap out of X,” or the one who says, “Here’s where we’re going, and here’s why I feel you need to be on this journey with me?” Sinek says, ““If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money.” However, “If you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.”

Are you leading to deliver a knockout punch, or because you believe in something far more profound than a one-time victory? How you answer this question reveals a lot about the health of your leadership style. As for me, I’ll be wearing Nikes when I’m ninety. That’s the power of infinite game leadership.

Doing the Right Thing: Ethical Leadership

Ethical Leadership

In the 50’s and 60’s, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) dumped nearly 400 million gallons of water contaminated with Chromium 6 into unlined wastewater ponds near the town of Hinkley, California. It was a cheap way to dispose of the byproducts of the process involved in transmitting natural gas through the state. The money saved through this catastrophic practice funneled into the bank accounts of the company’s leaders. PG&E executives continued to receive rich compensation while contamination seeped into the groundwater around Hinkley. It wasn’t until 1987, after residents in the area saw a huge spike in cancer rates, that PG&E finally acknowledged the gross negligence. Who was at fault for this ethical lapse? EVERY PG&E leader who knew there was a problem yet failed to report it. The courts agreed, of course, awarding the Hinkley residents impacted by cancer with a combined $300 million (US) in damages.

If you are in the least bit paying attention to the business news, you will recognize the failures of leadership with great frequency. While they don’t always make the front pages of the Wall Street Journal, the lapses are there. Financial malfeasance, sexual indiscretion, and racial/gender/sexual orientation discrimination are among the many missteps that hurt people, derail careers, and damage businesses. Indeed, power corrupts. Unfortunately, the consequences of poor leadership ethics are not immediately mitigated when shady leaders are removed from their positions. Unethical behavior can fester “system-wide” when the bad habits modeled by leaders become the behaviors of employees too. Remember the 2007-2009 banking crisis? That’s a case study in systemic, unethical behavior.

Every leader has a different definition for ethical leadership. Some present a tidy list of traits that the ethical leader should model for her team. They might say ethical leaders live by a code of conduct, practice transparency in all of their affairs, or have an accountability system in place to check potentially unethical behavior. Others insist that ethics is more gut-level than specific traits and practices. Simply, the leader must just do the right thing. Given this wide variance in the discussion, let me offer two touchstones that guide my understanding of ethical practice: 1. Ethical leaders honour and respect the members of the team and the business’ clients, and 2. Ethical leaders practice what they preach.

If you hold the members of the team in high regard, you will always discern how your words and actions impact the people working for you. Are you encouraging your team to cut corners, do you allow high performing, yet toxic, team members to remain in place, do you drive low/no value engagements to meet short term objectives? Are you honest with the members of the team, or, in the alternative, do you withhold or mischaracterize information that’s essential to the good functioning of the business? The same applies to your clients. If what you say and do does not hold your team and clients in high regard, then assume it’s not the right thing. Given the inherent power that is vested in leadership positions, ethical leaders must never use their power to force others do engage in behavior that compromises one’s sense of safety, identity, and value.

In my years of leadership, I’ve grown ill of colleagues whose rhetoric doesn’t align with action. If you are serious about ethical leadership – and you must be – then how you act must be consistent with what you say. If you demand the highest standards of ethical behavior from your team members, but don’t act ethically yourself, then you are hurting your organization and everyone in it.

True leaders are ethical leaders.

I Choose to Lead

I Choose to Lead

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz was well regarded for his long work hours and his easy rapport with Starbucks employees. Known to frequent many of the local stores he ran, Schultz was at home running an espresso machine, chatting with customers, and roasting the famous beans that put the Seattle-based chain on the international map. Schultz’s willingness to get his hands dirty inspired his employees to work a little harder every time they donned the green aprons and visors. That said, Schultz’s greatest strength as the two-time CEO of Starbucks was his ability to think strategically. During the infancy of Starbucks, Schultz convinced the owners of the business to retool their stores in the model of the espresso-fueled meeting houses of Europe. With espresso on the menu and space in each unit for people to visit, Starbucks was positioned for massive growth and massive profits. In fact, years after Howard Schultz stepped away from the CEO position at Starbucks, he was asked to return and rework his strategic magic for a company in need of a new direction.

Some leaders like to have “skin in the game.” The approachable leader inspires her team every time she’s willing to grab a mop handle, scrub a table, or troubleshoot a copier problem. Who doesn’t appreciate the leadership of a person who isn’t afraid of a little grunt work or association with the hourly workers on the team? We all want “one of us” in the boardroom. That said, leadership is a bigger nut than sweat equity and good relationships. If you really want to lead in a meaningful way, you must do so from a strategic posture. Said another way, good leadership is different than good management. Many hard-working, well-meaning, and approachable leaders have run their businesses into the rocks because their vision never reached beyond the day-to-day management and short term objectives of the business.

Strong leaders do more than manage teams and business practices, they make bold decisions. When you lead from a strategic posture, you are envisioning what the business could and should look like 3, 5, and 10+ years downstream. Strategic leaders recognize that their decisions nourish the long-term health of the business, and not necessarily the immediate concerns of daily operations. For example, Schultz realized that Starbucks needed to revamp its menu and drastically change its store design if it ever wanted to grow beyond the Seattle- area. A strategic vision for growth required short-term upheaval in the company’s original stores and patience from the earliest employees. 28,000 stores later, Starbucks is the largest coffee retailer on the planet. Without a strategic leader at the helm of the company, Starbucks would still be a regional coffee brand.

Schultz stepped away from Starbucks for a second time in 2017. While he no longer roasts beans and brews espresso for the business, Schultz’s leadership legacy can be seen on 6 of 7 continents. The little decisions that demonstrate your work ethic and care for employees will always show that you are trustworthy and authentic. However, your ability to make courageous decisions will determine whether you are leading as well as managing. A strategic posture is a must for those who aspire to lead. When your vision sees beyond the immediate needs of the business, you are in position to plot a course that has the best interest of the business, and those who work on behalf of the business, in mind. I choose to lead.

I Choose to Lead

I Choose to Lead

Collaboration for the Greater Good

Collaboration for the Greater Good

Collaboration for the Greater Good

Do you remember Circuit City? Way back, Circuit City was the go-to provider for many families’ electronics needs. Fueled by a slurry of acquisitions, the company expanded its footprint using the “Big Box” format to dazzle customers with spaciousness, innovative displays, and, of course, the latest products. Then, Best Buy entered the scene. Best Buy out-dazzled Circuit City; as customers shifted their allegiance, Circuit City didn’t have the capital to update and re-challenge its competition. Could Circuit City learn some things from Best Buy? Absolutely. Was Best Buy interested in charitably dulling out its trade secrets to Circuit City? No chance.

When you make your living in the tech world, you come to realize that competition is the name of the game. I don’t need to summarize “Porter’s Five Forces” to articulate the importance of staying ahead of the firm down the street. If you can’t beat the value offered by your competitors, then your buyers will take their business elsewhere. It’s as simple as that. Obviously, the tech space isn’t the only space one encounters competition. Retail, services, and banking are all angling – against each other – for a larger slice of wallet share. But here’s the interesting thing… Sometimes, bitter rivals collaborate on projects that benefit the greater good. In the digital world especially, a little collaboration can seed a great deal of good.

Consider the cohort of major retailers who recently found some common ground in the arena of food supply. Fueled by a shared commitment to provide a safe food supply to consumers, major retailers like Walmart, Nestlé, Tyson Foods and Unilever worked with IBM to explore the potential of Blockchain Technology. The driving idea behind the collaboration was simple and elegant. How can Blockchain help us trace our perishable items from the farm to the retail shelf so we ensure that the food supply line is optimized for efficiency and safety? The cohort wasn’t formed to stoke competition, but instead to make sure the food purchased by consumers was delivered to the highest level of quality possible. My colleague Marie Wieck, who serves as general manager of IBM Blockchain, believes that Blockchain is transformative for retail. “Unlike any technology before it, blockchain is transforming the way like-minded organizations come together and enabling a new level of trust based on a single view of the truth.” I agree with Marie and also believe that tech firms like ours benefit when we listen to the real-time concerns and aspirations of our clients. If retail giants can come together to serve the greater good, then certainly we can partner with these cohorts to offer our input and resources.

Collaboration serves the greater good. This is certainly the case on the micro level too. While I may not sit down for a conversation with a competitor about the inner workings of my company, I will grab a tea or a glass of wine (preferably the latter) with a rival to talk about business trends, leadership challenges, and our common concern for the well-being of our communities and planets. What we can learn from each other that moves everyone forward? Great leaders, like great companies, know when and how to collaborate especially when the “cause” is not market share. Not something you’ve done before? Now is the time.