By John Elsey, President and CEO, Forum Corporation
Occupy Wall Street—a movement that consciously chose not to have “someone in charge”—taught us more than the fact that people are angry about the increasing disparities between the rich and the poor. As the CEO of a leadership development company, I found the global protests to be a fascinating case study in leadership at a time when the world needed it more than ever, whether in politics, social entrepreneurism, or business.
In the corporate realm, goals are broadening while budgets are decreasing, placing more demands on and increasing expectations of leaders at many levels of an enterprise. Leaders now must be smarter, more creative, and even more collaborative to achieve business goals. Watching the Occupy movement’s successes and failures—from hearing President Barack Obama lift some of the language of the protestors for his own speeches, while also hearing pundits criticize the groundswell for its lack of clear outcomes before crowds were dispersed—it is worth reflecting on three lessons we can apply in the workplace this year.
1. The classics are necessary. Basic skills such as setting clear visions and aligning teams around those visions are always important. Without establishing such fundamentals, leaders cannot grow themselves and their organizations and aspire to achieve new business goals. The Occupy Wall Street movement was a blunt reminder that in order to create change, there needs to be unified leadership centered on specific goals and actions. The Occupy activists proactively chose not to have leaders, and critics bashed them for not setting a clear agenda. Did they seek legislative changes? If so, what are they? Consciousness was raised, as they say, but where is the real change?
2. Focus on what matters. This may seem obvious, but approximately 70 percent of strategic initiatives fail because they take too long and do not achieve quantifiable performance results. Occupy protesters fought with local governments over the installation of sanitary systems and libraries for their encampments as authorities organized to evict them and news cycles strayed to focused on seemingly irrelevant insider issues. In the corporate world, always hold fast to the bigger picture to prioritize. One way to strategically execute initiatives is by focusing on human factors such as clarity (understanding goals), unity (collaborating across work groups), and agility (adapting quickly).
3. Act differently. Be less predictable to catalyze change. Recycling the same time-tested methods will not spur results for tomorrow. This is one example where the Occupy movement succeeded. They drew attention to their cause because instead of a one-day march, they set up camp in many locations around the world and refused to leave. In the workplace, as leaders saw with the leadership examples of Steve Jobs, creating innovations further advances businesses and the world. At Apple, Jobs was hailed for his “unique combination of showmanship, eye for detail, and instinct for business strategy,” knowing that products such as mobile devices soon would become the channels in which consumers would communicate. His legacy includes bringing the “human factor”—the way devices look and feel—to expand the designs of consumer technologies, redefining ways to distribute digital content, and illustrating how high manufacturing standards generate more revenue.
With the Occupy movement fading and the political season coming into the light, there will be other leadership examples from which to learn this year. But the essence of good leadership remains the same.
John Elsey is president and CEO of Forum Corporation. He has led global expansions, product and service innovations, and multiyear global technology infrastructure investment programs that resulted in significant business efficiencies that increased speed and flexibility in clients’ execution of strategic engagements.