These days an awful lot is written (and a lot of it is awful), shared, published, retweeted, and generally consumed about the top skills you need in the modern world to be a successful executive leader. More often than not they will involve things like digital awareness, technical savvy, social media presence, leadership authenticity and transformational visioning. To achieve all of this and actually live, eat and sleep as well you may well rightly think you need to be some sort of sorcerer.
Whilst all of these wondrous topics clearly have a place at the future table (no doubt a stand up table or maybe even a virtual one) I will be able to add nothing on these subjects that you cannot find with google and two minutes. And I am learning this stuff as fast as possible along with everyone else just to ensure I have “enough” knowledge and spiel to be credible. No, what I intend to focus on are the REAL skills at the other end of the spectrum that are truly needed to survive this onslaught.
1. Jousting. Not the medieval variety with requirements for trusty steeds and sabres, but more a relentless ability to verbalise continuously even when you know you are on incredibly thin ice and more importantly to do so with an air of authority and experience that will stagger even yourself . Only by a) being willing to do this, then b) working out some great techniques of “how”, will you successfully be able to out twaddle the twaddlers. And that, I’m afraid, is what it’s all about in executive meetings a scarily high percentage of the time.
2. Skimming. If the modern desperate “look at me” executive norm loves anything more than sprouting conceptual twaddle in meetings then it must be proving how socially savvy they are by continually bombarding their colleagues and team with inspirational and futuristic articles, blogs and stories from their incredibly wide yet rigorously focussed social media library. The only way to counter this as a receiver is to hone the ability to “e-read at speed”. Or skim. My own personal approach to this is to wait for a couple of weeks worth of build up and then blast it all in one go. You will often find themes repeat, which means you can delete a good chunk straight away – and no you don’t need to be overly scientific about how you do this. Most of this stuff is pretty predictable from the outset, and rarely gives any actual insight or answers. All you need is a quote or two, a theme or two, and impressive sounding source. Then it’s all about the ability to drop them into conversation as if it’s discussing the weather at the bus stop.
3. Liking. Let’s face it sharing and liking are the new reading and writing. But the sad truth is that to be remotely credible as an executive, this is a bandwagon you need to jump on. The good news is that the short cuts here are very available and very easy. I am a big fan of liking. Not only does it tick all those “digital savvy” boxes but more importantly it takes about a nanosecond out of your day. There is so much twaddle out there within even the simplest and purest networks that it’s almost impossible to mess up and like something that you shouldn’t. I say almost as you do need to be a tiny bit careful – but on the whole as long as you remember to check your damn device, and update the screen you can pretty much like whatever comes to the top. One a week, every week and all of a sudden you are a new age warrior. And more importantly you should still be able to look in the mirror, as your wasted time twaddling using this approach is very minimal.
4. Motivating. A bit more real in my book, and in truth this is the stuff that really counts. Ensure you firm up your place on the big team of the future by employing the above techniques to ensure credibility and survival but never forget that it will mean absolutely nothing unless you bring your team with you. Teams these days are more scared and disloyal than ever – and understandably so. Jobs are not for life any more, they are until you get something better or get laid off. Change is not enough any more it’s got to be Transformation. Technology is no longer an enabler, it is going to take over the world and then remove our jobs. The only way to manoeuvre your battalions through this psychological minefield is by good old fashioned talking to them. A lot. Listening to them. Empowering them. And supporting them. Do it right and I guarantee you it’s the most important and enjoyable part of any role you will ever have.
5. Coping. If you can do all of that then well bloody done. Now for the bad news. You need to do it again and again. Then reinvent it a bit and then do it again. In all honesty the biggest challenge is just coping with all of this, whilst staying sane, not burning out, and maintaining enough balance in your life to keep on top of what is really important to you. We are all only here once, and whilst the world needs executives who are built and balanced the right way, never forget there will be a vast army out there who are not and who will sell their grandmother to the Martians for the chance to get on. Don’t be like them. Good luck!