Knowledge Library

Tom Peters - Leadership and Change

DirectTalk with Winnifred

I met - the then younger - Tom Peters in July '89 in a New York hotel foyer, signing for me his book 'In Search of Excellence,' - one of the 'Top Three Business Books of the Century.' He was the main speaker at our annual Direct Marketing Conference and talked about lessons learned from the Best-Run companies in America. It made a huge difference in my life and career and thereafter - I like so many others have been keen followers of his writings and talks.

What I do remember then and that which has not changed at all - 15 years later - is that "excellent companies were, above all, brilliant on the basics. Tools didn't substitute for thinking. Intellect didn't overpower wisdom. Analysis didn't impede action. Rather, these companies worked hard to keep things simple in a complex world. They persisted. They insisted on top quality. They fawned on their customers. They listened to their employees and treated them like adults. They allowed their innovative product and service champions long tethers. They allowed some chaos in return for quick action and regular experimentation."

GIBS satellite link with Tom Peters
This is a short synopsis of what Tom Peters had to say about Leadership and Change. "Leaders should challenge the legacies that they have inherited and create entirely new value propositions - and then get out before they get stale. In this age when all values flows from creativity and initiative, leaders must imagine and embrace a model of leadership that is loose, open and perpetually innovative."

Tom's presentation shows us how effective leadership and management and constant innovation are the best strategies for survival and success. Also, how to transform our companies by putting the passion back into our workplace with enthusiasm, integrity and commitment. Furthermore, to understand how our business environment sustains its ever increasing speed of change.

The polar shift of What Was and What Is
Tom suggests that the business challenges of yesterday will not win the business challenges of tomorrow. Saying that one should forget about the Systematic Planning Rituals of writing a long-term business plan, but look at shorter-term business plans that fit in with the changing environment that we are in. To re-look The Quality Thing and train ourselves to play an entirely new game. Also, that we are living in a hyper-competitive world where victory goes to the agile, innovative and the disruptive, rather than having The Sustainable Competitive Advantage.

Here are some of the differences in What Was and What Is!

  • A job for life - A life full of jobs
  • Clunky bureaucracies - Agile alliances
  • Accountants rule - Innovators rule
  • Tangible assets - Intangible assets
  • Success-to-failure cycles last decades - Success-to-failure cycles last months
  • Technology supports change - Technology drives change
  • Upstarts disrupt. occasionally - Upstarts disrupt. Constantly
  • By-the-book management - Rewrite-the-eBook improvisation

What does this mean for us as leaders?

As leaders, what are we to do?
Tom gives us 10 ideas for successful leaders out of 50 published in his book called Re-Imagine. Leaders:

  1. Create opportunities: Leaders do not transform people; they create opportunities and then encourage them to apply their latent talents to grasp these.

  2. Say, 'I don't know.' All-knowing commander and order-givers is fatally and fundamentally flawed.

  3. Are rarely the best performers: Leadership is discrete, limited and a special quality.

  4. Are talent developers: Great talent developers are the bedrock of a company that perform over the long haul.

  5. Are visionaries: They are dealers in hope, according to Napoleon.

  6. Are profit mechanics: They grasp the nuances of a P&L or balance sheet and understand the underpinnings of financial management.

  7. Understand that it all depends: They take on many forms and shapes and the Right leadership approach depends on the situation.

  8. Thrive on paradox: Relatively extreme with wild swinging between too much control and too little control is probably the secret to long-term effectiveness.

  9. Love the mess: They must be tirelessly on the lookout for those who get their fun in the face of madness, where others waffle or fold.

  10. Leaders do! Leaders are players. They do something. They choose to make a difference. They don't watch from the sidelines, they lead with conviction and passion.

Tom Peters believes that leading companies continually self-destruct and reinvent themselves. And he says, ". they do so with astonishing speed. The CEO's challenge today calls for broad leaps, big plans and staggering risks."

And ask: Is there a leader in my company? Or - am I a leader?
Leaders carry water for their people.

Winnifred Knight

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