Leading People Through Dark Alleys

60 Minutes is a Sunday evening ritual for me. I love the interviews. Charlie Rose is one of my favorites. He hits hard. I recall him interviewing Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and he was leaning into Bezos about putting the traditional booksellers out of business. Bezos leaned back:

“Charlie, you know, people can complain about that, but complaining is not a strategy. And Amazon is not happening to book selling, the future is happening to book selling.”

Boom! The future happens. It’s happening to you and me right now. The question is: How are we going to respond?

Amateurs react. Leaders anticipate and take aggressive action to advance the organization. The marketplace punishes an organization that isn’t willing to evolve. I’ve lived through the consequences of failing to anticipate marketplace disruption and the reality of being reactive is painful. Companies lose customers. Employees lose jobs.

Bezos went on to explain to Charlie Rose that he knows “Amazon will be disrupted one day” and that in the new economy companies are going to have “short life spans.” It is exactly that kind of productive paranoia that drives an obsessive approach to innovation. Bezos puts it like this:

“I would define Amazon by our big ideas, which are customer centricity, putting the customer at the center of everything we do, invention. We like to pioneer, we like to explore, we like to go down dark alleys and see what’s on the other side.”

If Amazon is going to be disrupted, that is our most certain reality as well. The only response is to maintain a foot in two worlds. You have to deliver performance today and have the discipline to reinvent the business to win in a world that hasn’t even been invented yet. You boldly enter the “dark alleys” and lead people through them to the other side.

The biggest breakthroughs take place just outside our comfort zone. Leaders need to get more comfortable being uncomfortable. The key to success is to disrupt your own business before the marketplace does it for you and that is exactly what I talk about with Gene Hammett on his podcast, Leading in the Trenches.

Listen to the episode to learn:

  • How to schedule time for creativity.
  • Why traditional leadership is failing.
  • The two self-assessment questions leaders should ask every day.

The way we lead is being disrupted also. There is constant pressure to do things better, faster and differently. One could react to this with stress — or embrace it as a catalyst for growth. It’s a very clear choice.

Amateurs react. Leaders anticipate and respond.

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