Sunday, May 18, 2008

Building a Path to Leadership

I recently was watching a report on CNN's "Reliable Sources" (which is a fascinating review of the media) and was reminded that Presidential candidates are more than ever media-focused and media-sensitive. It made me realize that as a natural consequence of living in a world with 24-7 media coverage, we are all more aware of the media and its importance. And this is particularly notable with younger entrepreneurs with whom we are working: there's more sensitivity than ever to playing to the media ("media" is defined in the broadest way here). That is, before lots of basic company blocking and tackling is thought through, getting attention in the near term is attended to.

Yes, this is the world we live in. But it's worrisome for a few reasons. First, the most basic: it's hard to build a company and it takes lots of time and energy to understand how to build it. Too much distraction with externals can be costly.

Moreover, in addition to this basic concern, so much of the attention paid by these (usually) young entrepreneurs is to the near-term and not the long-term image of their companies. And that is the bigger problem. Just because a young company has a good idea that captures initial attention, how will the company seize the high ground and really define a leading company? Initial hype is not the same thing as leadership.

This is an interesting conundrum. After all, we at Roeder-Johnson often talk about needing to be aware of the perceptual environment. And more than that, it can be maddening to work with more traditional executives who are oblivious to how their companies are seen and really believe that building a better mousetrap will win the game. But, what's the right balance?

Well, of course, the real answer depends on each individual situation. But we believe the answer can be found in clearly thinking through the "path to leadership." That is, what are all the pieces and parts that need to be put in place in order attain long term leadership. A few of the questions to find this path are:

• What needs to change?
• What are you doing and how will it change the market?
• Why is this important?
• Who needs to understand the needed market changes and when?
• Who needs to understand what you are doing, why it’s different and important, and when?
• How will you reach these important constituencies?
• How will you continue to build your credibility?
• How will you continue to build your leadership?
• And more.

There are certainly no hard and fast answers to these questions, but our experience is that it’s important to think them through initially and then refresh them every six months or so – based on the realities that have emerged along the way.

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