I am frequently asked, “What makes a great leader?” There are a lot of good answers to this question, but when I really think about the most successful, respected leaders, one characteristic comes to mind – predicting what’s ahead down the road. Knowing what direction to take a company strategically to maximize its core strengths, or tapping into a new technology or direction for the future shows the ability to predict – being a great leader means being a “Predictor.”
In 1998 I was at a conference of CEOs and had the pleasure of hearing Andy Grove, then CEO of Intel, speak. He talked about his industry and where it was going, but mostly he spoke about Amazon. At the time, Amazon had multiple quarters and years of losses and everyone was focused on the novelty of buying books online and whether or not it was the death of brick and mortar bookstores. What Mr. Grove said was to stop focusing on the books, and instead, to focus on the database of information they were amassing. Amazon was gathering the likes and dislikes of their customers and predicting how, who, and why people would buy. The value was not in the sale of products, but the database of information. Several people in the room challenged him – he just smiled and said “wait and see.”
Jeff Bezos is also a predictor. He is able to see what is going to be valuable in the future, not just today. He continues to see things others don’t. He captured the “cloud’s” value for services before most people even understood what it was, let alone how to tap into its business potential. Amazon currently hosts more cloud services than any of its competitors. As long as Mr. Bezos is at the helm, I wouldn’t bet against Amazon.
Resistors on the other hand are keepers of tradition – “we have always done it this way” – resistant to change even in the face of overwhelming evidence that a shift may have already passed them by. Pope Benedict XVI, (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger), who resigned from the papacy on Monday, February 11, 2013, is a classic resistor. In fact, he reigned over the Catholic Church even more conservatively than his predecessor and quelled any attempts to change such as women serving in the clergy, accepting gay marriage and allowing married priests. He resisted change at every step of the way and I would posit that the Church is not better off because of it. Had he taken a pulse on what his parishioners were looking for in the 21st century instead, perhaps the Church would have grown and weathered some of the myriad of scandals that have kept it unfavorably in the press for years. Peeling back the onion one layer at a time to uncover all the ways the church has resisted change and in fact covered up wrong doing has moved it backward, not forward.
Would Amazon have survived if the top leader had been a “Resistor?” Perhaps, but it would certainly be different than it is today. Take a look at your leadership style – are you a predictor or a resistor? Are you looking ahead 5 and 10 years to predict where your industry or your customers’ needs might be? Or are you sure that if you keep doing things the way you are, with a few minor tweaks, you’ll be good to go? Take a leap – put on your Predictor shoes and take them for a walk. You’ll be glad you did.