Leadership expert, Scott Stawski explains the success of being a disrupter in today’s digital economy.
Barely five months into 2019 and Amazon investors could not be more pleased. Quarterly sales increased by 17% to more than $59 billion and shares of Amazon stock have increased by 27% since January 1st. Behind Amazon’s continued success is Jeff Bezos; undoubtedly the prime example of a Mandate Driven Leader; a leadership style that is the antithesis of the leadership models that are taught as more idyllic in many business schools.
Most management consultants and many business schools teach consensus building and management as the core foundation of leadership. In fact, in many companies the concept of achieving consensus has achieved a sacrosanct status. But truth be told, consensus-driven leadership is, in fact, a root cause of many a failed business. One of the first works in favor of consensus management was a 1990 Harvard Business Review article, “Consensus, Continuity, and Common Sense,” Rod Canion, cofounder and CEO of Compaq Computer, stated “Our management process is based on the concept of consensus management. The real benefit of the process is not that you get the answer but all the things you go through to get the answer. You get a lot of facts, you get a lot of people thinking, and the result is that everybody owns the decision when you get through.”
The assumption here is that groups always make the right decision in the end. Really? I know some very charismatic individuals who are great at consensus building, right to the point where the consensus-driven programs they implemented failed miserably. As for Compaq Computer and its much-hailed consensus management approach of the late 1980s, after many turbulent years Compaq was acquired by Hewlett Packard in 2002, and the Compaq brand was discontinued in 2014.
As opposed to many failed leaders whom practiced consensus driven leadership, you have leaders like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Reed Hastings of Netflix, Brian Chesky of Airbnb and, of course, Jeff Bezos of Amazon whom have disrupted entire industries and propelled their companies to immense success. Brad Stone for Bloomberg wrote in 2013 about Jeff Bezos, “His drive and boldness trumps other leadership ideals, such as consensus building and promoting civility.” This is exactly the discussion that needs to take place; the successful leaders needed today are the anti-thesis of consensus driven leaders.
In The Power of Mandate: How Visionary Leaders Keep Their Organization Focused on What Matters Most, the case is made that that while consensus-based decision making is very popular and does tend to make people feel good, it is rarely the right approach for C-level executives—especially during a time when technology is driving real business disruption. Today’s digital economy is resulting in real, long-lasting business disruption. New markets and channels are being created, entire business paradigms rethought, supply and demand channels upended. Nothing is sacrosanct.
The challenge is that in today’s business world too many senior leaders practice consensus driven leadership in a disruptive business environment that demands a different approach. Today, companies using harmony of decision making can be on a fast track to failure for the simple reason that consensus is not necessarily about what is best for the company. Nor is it about establishing and moving toward a vision that drives and thrives on disruption. It is about finding the outcome that is least objectionable to everyone involved. Quite often in that approach innovation simply gives way to harmony and good behavior.
Think about it—the winners in today’s digital economy are the disrupters—the absolute antithesis of consensus.
The fact is that disruptive companies are propelled forward by Mandate Driven Leadership. These visionary leaders have a belief, idea, strategy, or tactic that is so compelling that they will not take no for an answer. Through mandate, they drive the vision from concept to implementation. Through this leadership willpower, organizations are propelled toward the vision. Once on that path, management and the employee base of these companies can increase the depth, breadth, and velocity of that forward motion. A leader that possess the traits of the Mandate Driven Leader is the effective leader needed for today.
In The Power of Mandate: How Visionary Leaders Keep Their Organization Focused on What Matters Most, I reveal how in today’s disruptive business environment that demands innovation, companies must have Mandate Driven Leaders in their leadership positions. Vision, strategy, and even aspects of implementation and daily management that are driven by consensus management are more apt to fail. Whether an established company or a start-up, the companies that will survive and thrive will be driven by executive leaders who do not take no for an answer. They don’t surround themselves with executives or employees that are “half in.” They don’t tolerate questions or problems without answers. “It can’t be done” and “That is not possible” are comments that will be quickly rebuked.
These Mandate Driven Leaders have a vision, and they simply demand that vision be turned into a reality.