Regardless of the role we play in an organization, leadership is a quality defined by how we conduct ourselves. Many of us are great leaders on the hilltop, but what about the character of a person as he carries out his duties in the valleys?
For example, we read in the Bible that Abraham exhibited his greatest faith in the face of a father’s most desperate trial. We learn that David is considered a great king more for the response to his most humbling moments than for his battlefield achievements. Similarly, our country’s forefathers crafted our republic on the sacrifice of public duty and the discipline of virtue in the face of almost sure defeat. Abraham Lincoln led us through one of our darkest periods by wielding humility and steadfastness.
These men’s qualities — of being out in front during difficult times and in back during prosperous periods — are evident in modern-day leaders, as well. When I was a young man on Parris Island, South Carolina, I witnessed drill instructors rise each day an hour before the platoon. They went to bed an hour after. They were always at the front of the run. As the football coaching legend Paul “Bear” Bryant once said, “If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, then we did it. If anything goes real good, then you did it. That’s all it takes to get people to win.”
This is the kind of thinking that today’s business leaders need to internalize to win one of their own biggest battles: marketing. We can apply lessons from these great leaders to the business application of the latest engineering, science and technology.
Technology and Leadership
Throughout history, periods of civilization are marked in large part by technological progress, such as the advent of fire, the wheel, the alphabet, money as a means of exchange, the use of iron, combustible engines and the present digital age. In each of these periods, the best leaders embraced the shift that new tools and thinking created.
Leaders are always at the front end of change. They seek to understand the impact that emerging technology will have on their business. They study ways to take advantage of the shift, and they exhibit the ability to adapt and flourish in the new landscape created by those evolutionary influences.
These qualities are often described as a leader having vision. Admired leaders not only have vision, but also inspire those who follow them through change. In business, change is constant. Good leaders help to steady the experience by understanding where they’ve been, where they are and, most important, where they are going.
One of the many benefits of the digital age is the ability to access information quickly and assess the current and historical facts. We can identify trends, pinpoint strengths and weaknesses, and get a pulse on the state of cash, inventory, customer satisfaction and the like. Today’s technology provides great insight into where your business is headed, and can be a key contributor to the vision you set for your team. Helping the team to succeed is why great leaders equip their organizations with the latest technologies and tools.
Great leaders also communicate in impactful and timely ways. Our current technological age, in addition to using data to drive vision, is defined by communication. Today’s business leaders must drive an organization into real-time engagement with current and prospective customers. The era of waiting hours or days to follow up on a lead ended when Apple morphed the iPod into the iPhone, Amazon upended retail, Facebook moved our communities online and Google radically altered the use of Internet data. Leaders know how to speed connectivity with customers and team members in meaningful ways.
I’ve spent almost my entire career leading technology change in the marine industry. With the inevitable negative consequences that can come with innovation, there also are many benefits. Our great business leaders embrace those benefits, thereby amplifying the core traits of their leadership.
Creating a culture of integrating technology into your business and management practices demonstrates a commitment to growth, business relevance and respect for the customer experience. The direct benefit is communicating rapidly with your customers, an ability that should result in increased margins, faster sales cycles, more rapid service turns, and reduced overhead and inventory costs. Another benefit is an increase in employee engagement as your teams execute their jobs more efficiently and ultimately become more productive.
Innovation leverages the defining characteristics of good leaders and strengthens their influence. Vision has always followed technology. Years ago, it was understanding how a steam engine could affect the supply chain. Today, it’s realizing how adopting the right management systems can lead to expanded profit centers. n
Mike Adams is chief executive officer at Dealership Advantage, a boat dealership software company.
This article was originally published in the June 2021 issue.