Leaders Are Essential

Leaders Are Essential

Copyright 2003, Traffic World, Inc.

In 2001, I was at a meeting of logistics professionals where some controversial issues were being discussed. These important proposals portended significant changes for the organization. I walked away from the meeting a bit frustrated and discouraged and concluded that what bothered me was the fact that some people weren't arguing the merits of the proposals, they were just dead set against changing things. Some people are uncomfortable with change. It creates uncertainty, stress and confusion.

I discussed the meeting with a friend. Halfway through the conversation he made the observation that I had unrealistic expectations about this group. I was fascinated by this observation and his conclusion that professionals who view themselves as "managers" view their tasks and responsibilities differently than leaders, and it has nothing to do with whether their actual title is CEO, vice president, director, manager or supervisor.

He challenged me to consider what these people really get paid to do. In short, he explained that someone who sees himself or herself as a "manager" will naturally "manage," or maintain the status quo; a person who sees himself or herself as a leader will be inclined to try to change the world, or, at a minimum, the department.

He stated that titles have nothing to do with leadership. He told me to focus on an individual's mindset and predisposition to change. As he so eloquently stated: "Some 'managers' are leaders and some 'leaders' are managers." The difference is their willingness to effect change in an effort to improve their company, themselves and those with whom they work.

With that thought in mind, let me ask: are you a leader or a manager? Here is another question to consider: how do you respond to the need for change? Do you ignore it and continue business as usual, or can you develop a strategy to address the realities of your future?

Why is leadership such an important question? Because we live in turbulent times and, now more than ever, companies need leaders to proactively manage the changes that are being thrown at their companies on a daily basis. While things always have been changing, what is different today is the pace of change: it is accelerating and shows no signs of slowing down.

Many of the CEOs and presidents I talk with realize that maintaining or managing the status quo is a prescription for danger. And that is why they rank the ability to manage change as one of the most important attributes in people who work for their companies. So if you want some job security in a very insecure environment, you need to be a leader and develop your leadership skills.

What really drove this home for me was my recent (and first) trip to China. A couple of years ago, as an investor in a company that sources products from China, I thought I had a pretty good understanding of the business environment there. But nothing I had learned could prepare me for what I experienced. A business expert told me that people who talk about the low cost of labor as China's competitive advantage are missing the boat. He stated that China's biggest competitive advantage is its ability to accept change as a fact of life. As he noted, this is a country that literally is reinventing itself. It is trying to accomplish in 20 years what it took the United States 50 years to do.

He cited predictions that by 2015 the Chinese economy will be the largest in the world. I don't know if this prediction is right or wrong and I don't think it's important. What I do think is important is that regardless of what China or other countries in this world are going to look like in 12 years, your business environment is going to change and be a lot different in the next two to three years.

One CEO shared an observation with me that was staggering. He acknowledged his organization had grown a bit "stale" and that his company had too many managers and not enough leaders. His company has decided to do what he called "repositioning" instead of "restructuring." With the huge surplus of talent on the market today, as well as unprecedented outsourcing options, his company has decided to "upgrade" its talent and look for leaders who aren't afraid to manage change.

Your company is looking for leaders at all levels of the organization and it won't stop until it finds them. So before you say "no, duh!" (as my kids used to say to me), please consider the ramifications of this for your career.

-- Regan is chief executive officer of Tranzact Technologies.