SMART Power

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“Forty percent of today’s businesses will not exist in a meaningful way in 10 years.”  John Chambers, Cisco’s recently retired CEO, announced this at a recent conference here in San Diego. He may be right.

More large businesses are failing to thrive. Their leaders stifle positive innovation and drive value-destroying negative innovation because of their hard power mindsets. In our new world of unexpected technologies and unseen competitors a new mind of successful business leadership is coming from a new source— women. This is why:

There are three basic paradigms of leadership power:

  1. Hard Power, which is the willful drive to get immediate, self-enhancing results.
  2. Soft Power, which is driven by empathy and collaborative skills to maintain high functioning relationships.
  3. SMART Power, which blends soft power collaboration with the goal achieving energy of hard power to create genuine human benefits. Put simply, a SMART Power leader is inspired to create a river of value to customers, employees and investors.

So what does this have to with businesses going out of business? It turns out, everything.  The combination of MBA school training, Wall Street demands, and money-fueled politics have enthroned blindly competitive hard power as the mindset of success.  But it’s not.

Just look at Volkswagen. The ego driven ambition to become the world’s largest car maker fertilized a culture that internally sneered at environmental regulations and exploited the brains of talented engineers to scam consumers into believing Volkswagen had actually developed high mileage, clean diesel cars. It is a screaming example of negative innovation that permeates today’s business management.

Positive innovations are products or services that enhance people’s lives. They result in higher levels of customer value. Negative innovations are strategies that create higher profits by making customers pay more for things that make their lives worse. Airline baggage fees are a negative innovation. Raising the price of previously inexpensive generic drugs is negative innovation. What Volkswagen did was a whopper. Lack of customer empathy combined with blinding self interest drives hard power, negative innovation.

Mckinsey & Company’s new research on corporate performance gives six reasons for a steady slide of established enterprises as they try to compete with newer and nimbler competitors.

  1. Resistance to the transformation necessary to succeed in a new economy. The new economy is driven by the digital revolution of business models, innovation, customer acquisition and engagement, and organizational processes and structure.
  2. Businesses that are organized as silos are internally competitive, rigid and change-resistant. Business agility requires both internal and external talent to be organized as networks, yet few leaders know how to lead talent networks.
  3. Ninety percent of capital budgets of large companies are spent on old initiatives.
  4. Legacy systems, processes and products are huge roadblocks to new value creation and working relationships.
  5. New competitors can use the latest technological advantages to create and hyper scale customer value and convenience at very little cost.
  6. Public companies that are driven by quarterly profitability cannot compete with venture-backed startups that are willing to over-invest to disrupt the market.

So, are you open to a radical solution? One that will shake up and wake up your leadership?

Most companies already have untapped leadership resources who have Contextual, Operational, Relational and Empathetic intelligence that is ideally suited to excel in hyper-competitive environments requiring constant adaptation. This is talent that they already employ. It is the CORE talent of most women.

It’s true. We now have the scientific evidence of over 100 validated studies, including ones from the McKinsey Global Institute, that show that female brains are designed to better deal with complexity. The design of a brain marinated in estrogen before birth makes it easier for women to deal with a confusing array of interactive and paradoxical forces.

According to experts like Daniel Goleman, most male brains are typically designed for efficiency.  It is easier to control the short-term than trying to influence the long-term. In business this can lead to the common hard power error that speed and continuous cost reductions are a strategy rather than acts of desperation.

The unprecedented challenges of our age are suited to the CORE talent programmed in women’s brains.
Contextual Intelligence: This is the ability to continuously align short-term goals into the long-term big picture.  It’s the intuitive capacity to “see” the interactive effects of multiple decisions in complex circumstances.
Operational Intelligence: This is the holistic thinking ability to predict the time, talent and resources necessary to execute a project, improve the process, or develop a solution.
Relational Intelligence: This is the ability to systematically improve group intelligence by carefully including diverse points of view and resolving competing priorities.
Empathetic Intelligence: Women are much more likely to create positive innovation that
enhances customer’s lives because they have more vivid empathetic imaginations than most hard power leaders.

In the war for talent it is so easy to overlook that, according to Gallup, more than 67% of women are disengaged in their work because they feel unheard and undervalued.  What I tell leaders is that if they really want to create a competitive advantage they need to unravel the invisible biases that disable soft power women to create an agile, SMART Power culture. It will require a revolution… a revolution led by women.

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Will Marre
Will Marré is the co-founder and former president of the Covey Leadership Center which brought The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to millions worldwide. Today, Will's focus is on developing Smart Power leaders through his Smart Power Institute. Will is a women's leadership advocate and the author of "Save the World and Still be Home for Dinner".