We’ve all worked with leaders who excel in their roles. And we’ve all worked with leaders who just get by. But even dynamic leaders who are really good at what they do could improve. Organizations need leaders who are more than merely effective. They need enduring leaders—those who can help propel their organizations forward to remain relevant in the marketplace.
The Effective vs. Enduring Leader
The distinction between an effective leader and an enduring one is important. At a minimum, a leader should have a vision: Where are we going today?
An effective leader is able to build on that—putting words to that vision and leading teams, partners and stakeholders in pursuit of the vision. Effective leaders communicate, empathize and engage across these three spheres of influence to launch a product that delivers value for both their organizations and their customers.
An enduring leader is able to look even farther into the future, grasping the inevitability of change. Enduring leaders are defined by an ability to evolve their visions and bring along their teams and stakeholders amid a perpetually evolving market. Team members aren’t one-time project builders; they are resources whose skills and effectiveness improve with each iteration as they learn on the job. Through sustained engagement with their own leaders and partners, enduring leaders are able to discover long-term organizational synergies, effectively influencing the organization as a whole.
Most critically, however, enduring leaders are truly focused on their consumers and their ever-changing circumstances and needs. Enduring leaders think beyond product planning. It’s not enough for them to walk a mile in the customer’s boots—they must wear them permanently.
With this focus on the long term and the ability to evolve their vision, enduring leaders bring a sustainable competitive advantage to their products and organizations.
The Spheres of Influence
Enduring leaders pursue sustainability, continually working within their three spheres of influence toward their goals:
• Marketplace Sphere of Influence: Leaders seek to refine and evolve their vision by constantly studying the needs of the marketplace and then market-testing possible solutions.
• Leadership Sphere of Influence: Leaders engage their peers and organizational leadership to discover synergies and competencies. By understanding what their organizations do well, leaders can plan for and build tomorrow’s competencies.
• Team Sphere of Influence: The goal of leaders is to create a cycle of refinement. By putting processes in place at a program level, helping teams improve their skills and working to remove obstacles, leaders can help their teams better deliver on subsequent iterations with always-improving results.
To endure, leaders must influence—and be influenced by—all three spheres.
Working with Customers
When leaders commit to a long-term partnership with their customers, they’re able to keep a constant eye on what’s changing. How is the customer experience changing? Is there a shift in their fundamental expectations?
Let’s pretend you are in the highly competitive mobile-gaming industry. You worked on your market requirements in December with a plan to launch on July 1. Chances are, your target customer has been downloading two new games per month while you were developing. (And that’s conservative, considering that in January 2016, more than 19,000 games were launched on the iTunes App Store.) This means that by the time you launch, your target customer will have been exposed to 12 of the most popular gaming experiences, substantially shifting their expectations and desires. With those changing desires, your product may well be a laggard by the time it launches.
It might not just be your customer’s experience with other mobile games that you have to consider. Over the longer term, some customer experiences need to be viewed at a macro level, as fundamental use cases begin to alter. For example, gamification can be seen across a wide cross-section of industries, including e-commerce, banking, health, food and beverage, consumer goods and more. How do these experiences affect your customer’s expectations?
This is why it’s important for leaders to listen to customers in a never-ending cycle of discovery and prototyping.
Working with Leaders
Almost every successful corporation employs a horizontal and vertical growth strategy, which means that exploiting synergies is now fundamental to your product’s success. Every product today can play a part in an organization’s overall success.
Apple’s integrated ecosystem of devices and software is perhaps the most famous example, but this strategy also can be seen across disparate industries such as consumer goods and automotive manufacturing, where interchangeable parts were famously key to reducing burgeoning costs and improving production speed.
Enduring leaders engage with the organizational leadership sphere across multiple iterations, keeping them abreast of the long-term product vision, and always look for synergies and opportunities in other departments. The goal is to not only impact the product and its customers, but to contribute to the organization’s future by replenishing the pool of internal competitive advantages.
Working with Your Team
“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success,” Henry Ford once said.
Keeping teams together requires a dedicated effort to understand everyone’s capabilities, limits, drivers and impediments. It may not be easy, but this effort pays exceptional dividends as the team’s theoretical knowledge converts into practical know-how. Their governing structure and processes are slowly molded to better enable the way the team works. Operational processes go from constraining their capabilities to supporting the team’s needs.
At the heart of the enduring leadership theory is a requirement to build long-term teams instead of short-term projectized teams. Building long-term teams starts with careful retrospection at the end of every iteration. It requires soft skills to elicit systemic problems and an open mind to listen to critical feedback. Addressing this feedback not only ensures a better environment by removing impediments to product success, it also helps leaders keep people on the team longer.
The Long-Term Benefit
The long-term focus of enduring leaders enables companies to build and retain a loyal user base of evangelists who know you are aware of their needs before they are. It enables organizations to operate cohesively instead of as a house of brands built on siloed product lines. Most critically, it enables perpetually improving teams that take each iteration of a product as an opportunity to sharpen their skill sets, toolkits and processes. Put another way: Enduring leaders enable enduring product lines—creating organizations that endure.