Are Luddites Limiting Your Leadership Success?

BY Kathy Crosett
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At the start of the Industrial Revolution, a group of skilled textile workers did everything they could to stop the introduction of mechanical looms. The Luddites, led by Ned Ludd, knew the machines would destroy their way of life. Today, business owners and professionals involved in industries ranging from taxi driving to hotel management are facing a similar situation. Whether you call it “creative destruction” as Joseph Schumpeter did decades ago, or disintermediation, your business will face extreme challenges from outside forces. To survive, you’ll need to provide a unique form of leadership.

In a recent Smartbrief​.com article, Steve McKee discusses the tendency of some leaders to stick their heads in the sand while change is taking place around them. If sales are holding steady or improving, and product development is successful, it may feel ridiculous to fix what isn’t broken. But, as technology changes, start-​ups and competitors, will introduce new products to the market. You may be aware of these threats, yet as McKee points out, leaders have a hard time focusing on “what may bring the company down.”

If you’re relying on a team of trusted employees or advisers, you may notice many of these folks are comfortable with the status quo. That strategy could hasten your company’s demise. McKee suggests empowering at least one individual as a ‘chief attack officer.’ This person must feel comfortable pointing out new ways to win in a changing market without fearing for her job. You may even want to establish a team, across divisions, that meets regularly with the sole purpose of discussing technology changes, competitor development, and start-​ups that may have unique angles that will completely disrupt the process in your industry. As a leader, it’s your job to make sure the team has the freedom and resources to identify problems and suggest solutions without fear of retribution.

Your new product or service will likely stem from the suggestions these teams develop. Give them respect and allow them to operate in a supportive culture in order to guarantee long-​term success for your role as leader and your business.