Serendipity for Modern Leaders

by Francesco Pagano

Serendipity for Modern Leaders

This is my 2nd piece on craft and micro-marketing.

I have asked Elisabeth Drzaic-Lang, Coach and Entrepreneur, to discuss with me how the way we look at Leadership has changed, given the revolution brought about by smaller & upcoming businesses. Old ways do not work any longer, and today’s Leaders need to change given new needs and challenges.

Spoiler alert: it’s all about being more human and serendipitous.

Leadership is serendipitous 

One of the learning’s from working with ‘craft’ fashion brands is a new way of looking at leadership. Who do I need to be? The corporate HR rituals generate only incremental improvements, which are not even fit for today’s trends. Being 40+, I also live this with a good dose of worry.

I have been observing the behaviors of corporate leaders vs. those practiced in start-ups, where fresh ideas have the ambition, and curse, to become successful, penetrated and long-lived. These two camps need opposite sets of skills, which are so hard to be rolled-out per se from one world to the other. There is, however, one feature that everyone can adopt. It is serendipity.

How it works, most often than not, is that you actually stumble upon new ways to run your business. Are your eyes willing to see beyond what is reasonable at first glance, especially if you are in charge? This is at the heart of leadership. For the HR people reading this, we tend to associate leadership with firm vision, sometimes with perfect execution, very often with deep knowledge and growth via continuous feedback. What if the starting point of leadership was conscious ignorance, namely having no idea whatsoever how to solve an issue. What if leadership was a stretch, which means asking people from completely different fields how they crack a problem, and stealing from them? What if leadership originated from the brutal sense of urgency of a start-up – the notion that we have nothing to lose, and from the belief that our ultimate objective is to serve people an exponentially better solution to a frustration? What if leaders should not always prioritize established business interests only on the grounds that they are too big to fail?

Success is a loss, namely stripping away all corporate noise, and concentrating on the one thing that matters: chasing unique, common solutions to real problems, while injecting a ‘wow’ into people’s lives. I contend that this instinct is lost in the corporate world, while it is present in craft-land, as it is the only way to survive against market leaders. I contend that loss is ‘the’ key for future success.

A simple example for corporations: amazon entered the pharmaceutical industry in July 2018 with the acquisition of Pillpack. Welcome to the jungle. Big pharma trades products with some perceived complexity, in danger to become plain and mainstream, and chained to a traditional trade network and set marketing rituals. We are all like that. Now, what kind of leaders are most needed in this context of sudden and definitive transformation? What kind of questions should dominant brands ask themselves to beat beasts like amazon?

Serendipity is a relentless search, inside and outside the organization. Corporate behaviors and business questions repeated overtime will fail people’s expectations and tank shareholders’ value.

I am not advocating for risking the entirety of a core business. I am endorsing the recruitment of leaders who will be capable to look beyond the usual KPIs and the narrow boundaries of their current market share. We need leaders who have faith and courage to stretch into new territories. We need leaders who care more about people around them, than own business model. We need leaders who are humble enough to venture into a serendipity path: starting from a simple ‘I do not know, and we will find out’.

Modern leadership: a choice, not a rank

How does the portrait of a modern leader looks like? What does good leadership mean?

My learnings and yours might be different, but when we get down to it, there are some qualities that we expect from great leaders which are fairly universal. There are 5 top qualities that an employee wants in a leader: ability to genuinely listen; willingness to give credit where it’s due; ability to adapt to own team; infectious passion; and, unimpeachable integrity.

So, this actually means that we want to follow humans, who are authentic, genuine, visionary, clear, persistent, empathetic and adaptable. Not just authorities per se. We want humanity and empathy. Leadership is a choice, and not the rank that you happen to step up to in a company.

Looking into Frank’s perspective, this comes also from the rise of startups vs. corporations. In startups, people decide to take the lead; it is always their choice.  But, this does not immediately have an impact on their leadership style. The environment, culture and mindset truly makes the difference. If you create an environment of transparency, honesty & openness, it will be just routine to ask for help, and also to offer  support, always. When was the last time that you asked your people what they actually needed from you in order to be at their best in their job? As leaders, we need to seek for feedback by our employees, and foster the skill of ‘upward feed’. How will we otherwise be able to develop further as humans and great leaders?

A leader who creates an environment of trust and purpose, using empathy and vision, will be serving his people and company at best. Thinking of how to help people to be at their best will help them grow, and this will grow their business as a consequence. Given the current context of ever- changing business challenges, leaders also need to learn to practice a “distributed” leadership style. Empower your people to play both roles: the follower and the leader; explore the great power of creating an environment of high trust and purpose, by leading together with your people.

Summing it all up: due to the industrial revolution, the rise of big corporations with thousands of employees, and their exponential increase in revenue, we have been building leadership out of effectiveness and skills’ specialism, with a vision of shareholders supremacy. This needs to be completely redesigned. The new leadership or ‘modern leadership’ needs to be based on people and engagement, in a continuous loop between employees, customers, society and shareholders. This means that it needs to focus on ‘dreams’, as well as strategic goals, networks, experimentation and planning.

We ask a lot of a modern leader. If I think of why I would be following my boss, a simple answer comes to my mind:  ‘because whatever is needed to support me to be at my best, he would do it for me’.

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Elisabeth Drzaic-LangElisabeth Drzaic-Lang is a dynamic, innovative and strategic Senior Business Leader/Global Marketing Director with over 20 years experience in the FMGC/luxury industry, as well as a qualified Executive Coach, supporting people, teams and organizations to grow people and businesses by creating a higher purpose. Empowering them from within will change the way they operate and achieve progress against, both their personal and professional goals.

Franceso PaganoFranceso Pagano is Vice President, head of Portfolio of Licenses Brands, EMEA for Fossil Inc. He is passionate about craft brands, innovation, brand management, brand communication and international business. He is always up for irresistible product concepts, ultimate communication via integrated campaigns and truly great Italian food.

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