What is bellwether leadership?
According to Wikipedia, a bellwether is “any entity in a given arena that serves to create or influence trends or to presage future happenings.”
That definition serves the subject of this article well, as what I hope to convey are those qualities of leadership most conducive to influencing others for positive change.
Interestingly, the etymology of the word “bellwether” is more instructive, even profound. One story has it that English shepherds used to employ a castrated ram – also know as a wether – to help manage the flock. Despite the Ram’s missing manhood, the flock of sheep, not knowing any better, followed it anyway. To make it easy to locate the flock in large fields or thick fog, the shepherds hung a bell around the wether’s neck. Hence the term bellwether.
Today’s multinational business environment is immobilized by a thunderous storm of financial instability, a thick fog of indecision, and a frightening lack of leadership. Today’s executives and entrepreneurs must weather this storm. They must lead those who choose to follow them with courage, resourcefulness, innovation and vigor. Most importantly, they must lead from a position earned through effectiveness and trustworthiness, not merely dictated by their CEO title.
An apt case in point is IBM. Bridget van Kralingen, the general manager for IBM North America, explained in a recent Forbes article: “If you go back about a quarter of a century, IBM was at the pinnacle of success”, she began. “Over the previous two decades we had practically invented general-purpose computing for business. We had helped put a man on the moon. Our researchers won Nobel Prizes. Our revenue and market share skyrocketed as customers clamored for our latest products. By 1984 we were the toast of Wall Street.”
“Less than a decade later”, she continued, “we were toast. In 1993 we posted what at the time was the biggest loss in the history of corporate America, $8 billion. We had missed a number of key technology shifts. Customers… were abandoning us for faster, more nimble competitors. One major business publication labeled us a dinosaur. Another said our era had passed.”
“Finding our way back to growth and success was a difficult and painful process,” she concluded. “But it illustrates that companies on the brink can turn things around if they do what is necessary.”
What is necessary for bellwether leadership?
Courage: Doing what’s necessary often means instituting fundamental change, and change can be frightening.
Also, leadership presupposes leading from the front. You can’t lead your company from the sidelines, or from a comfortable office separated from your followers. They need to see you on the battlefield, courageously putting yourself on the line for them. An effective leader should never ask his coworkers to do anything he is unwilling to do himself. Leadership worthy of the term requires courage, because courage inspires.
Resourcefulness: Succeeding as a leader means never giving up. Failure is not an option. If you are resourceful, you can always find a tool to solve the problem. Your task as a leader is to find appropriate, inexpensive, multifunctional tools – learn to use them yourself – and then teach your followers to be experts as well. Having done this, you will find that your coworkers bring you solutions, not problems.
Social Media is the Swiss Army Knife of the online toolbox. Whether your objective is to expand your customer base, solidify your reputation, defeat your competition, provide timely and efficient customer service, or reduce your cost of doing business, there is an easily accessible functionality for that purpose.
Finally, diligence and creativity require you to constantly review technology, always looking for the next tool to increase your effectiveness and efficiency.
Innovation: There is nothing quite so powerful as a new idea.
Leadership is far more than a skill; it is a perpetual, creative and infectious mental process. The resulting innovations are the hallmark of inspiring leaders.
Your mental discipline is best used when it is always pushing the outside of the envelope, and your organizational reach should always exceed its grasp. An effective leader is never satisfied with the status quo.
Companies like Apple, have proven conclusively that innovation is the most reliable weapon in the corporate arsenal. Without it a company stagnates, and with it a company becomes remarkable. Innovation is the shortest path to profit, the most direct road to brand recognition and the most satisfying reward for both your employees and your management.
Vigor: Physical or mental strength, energy, the capacity for natural growth and survival, strong feelings, enthusiasm, intensity and even legal effectiveness and validity, are all elements of vigor.
An effective leader must vigorously approach every task, every decision, and every competitive situation with strength and resilience. He must create an atmosphere of corporate well-being and must inspire his coworkers to do likewise. He must exude passion for his work, his company and its mission. Most importantly, a vigorous leader is always prepared for action and action is always the precursor to success.