The best leaders must be revolutionaries

The staggering pace and impact of advances in technology and the digital sphere make this a tremendously exciting time to be an innovator or a creator. New ideas emerge every day to upend whole sectors and unleash new players. As someone who has spent a lifetime tracking the innovations that change how we live, work and play, I find it both thrilling and inspiring. 

But let’s face it; it’s also an incredibly difficult time to be in business. Many leaders are struggling to know how to steer their organizations today, let alone know what to do about tomorrow.  

The recent EY Global 5000 CEO survey reveals that CEOs keenly feel the tension between running the current business and trying to plan for a hard-to-predict future. Half of the 100+ CEOs surveyed suggested that their companies have not implemented an adequate response to disruption, putting market leadership and capitalization at risk. And the same number also indicated their companies were not well prepared to seize opportunities from disruption. 

So how can you be both the disruptor and the disrupted? 

Let’s take a look at five things leading, fit-for-the-future organizations are doing to cultivate the appetite for transformation and achieve the necessary state of readiness to pursue it. 

1)    Ignite a revolutionary mindset

Underpinning the entire effort to address the duality of managing today and tomorrow requires evolving from doing to being. Rather than treating digital or innovation as discrete “we’re now doing digital” strategies, leaders need to make them part of a holistic business perspective: “being digital.” It means moving away from seeing digital and its related forces as a way to optimize our current businesses, and instead as a way to transform those businesses. In my mind, it’s the difference between evolution and revolution. 

2)    Instill a sense of urgency

Changes that could upend the business are happening now…scratch that, they probably have already happened. Yet most organizations remain mired in today’s frameworks. So no matter how overused you might think the word disruption is, the idea of it demands that we kindle a sense of urgency around responding to it and driving it. Those who don’t are the ones who end up on the wrong side of the disrupt-or-be-disrupted equation. 

3)    Drive with purpose 

Revolutions work when they have a crystal-clear sense of purpose, and business reinvention is no different. Organizations looking to radically transform need to know where they are going. That takes a shared sense of purpose that focuses efforts and aligns stakeholders, partners and talent. Research backs this up; in an EY survey of executives, 84% of respondents said a shared purpose improved their company's ability to transform.

4)    Look end-to-end

Business revolution means going way beyond small improvements. It’s anchored in a laser focus on the entire experience of the end user, and a commitment to improving that whole experience. Innovation must be embedded across the whole organizational structure and value chain.  

5)    Reassess the business model

The business models that once worked may no longer. Good leaders will embrace an honest, tough assessment of the business. Are there signs the industry is converging with another? Which parts of the value chain are these newcomers moving into? Is your core business still your main growth driver – and, chillingly, which part of your business is already dead? 

Tough questions, to be sure; but they are essential in revealing where our best path forward lies.

Ultimately, this kind of strategic revolution is a living, breathing one; leaders know to frequently revisit the plan, re-design the future and re-pilot the concepts while demanding new and improved experiences. Those that quickly sense and best respond to change will be the ones who survive and thrive during seismic disruption. 

To learn more, check out How can you be the disruptor and the disrupted? and 18 digital resolutions for 2018.

Follow Warren on Twitter @warrentomlin.