Future Leader

What is the future leader like? – is a question that pops up ever so often. But what is true, is that the role of a leader, manager is changing dramatically. Let the reason be new generation, medias, globalization, culture change, multinational powers, etc. Yet I see there are some common characteristics among prominent future leaders.

My example of a changing leader is Tony Fernandes, the CEO of Air Asia and Team Lotus. Article on him was featured in the latest Talouselämä.

Future leader changes culture and values dramatically in a way that affects the business and cultural environment. How many managers have the guts to spin around lifelong traditions and political unitarism? Mr. Fernandes, of Indian descent in Malaysia, bows to no bumiputra-policy: ethnic background holds no value in his companies.  “We have one cafeteria for everybody no matter what color they are. Let them be blue, all I care”, summons Fernandes. I can only imagine what example Fernandes provides to young Indian leaders in the Malay-Chinese –led Malaysia. Leaders lead the way to future, they do not stumble on past.

Today’s breaking company is led by participative management. Is it the cause of true-television that leaders are mingling inside the company and participating in the tasks of the personnel? Going undercover – this is what 7-Eleven’s CEO Joseph DePinto did: he disguised himself as a regular-Jack and visited several of his shops to see how things work there. He would not have been able to gain such data from the Board room. The little observations he made in shops should not (contrary to what was shown in the tv-programme) remain as single remedies. They are valuable only when brought to the big picture, processes.

Our Mr. Fernandes works regularly as a steward or loads the planes to be in touch with the everyday business and service. It seems that Virgin’s Richard Branson shares this participative management –style with fellow future leaders (incl. the Helsinki City Administration), since he agreed to work as a steward on Air Asia –flight after losing a bet for Fernandes. (It must be noted that Branson in addition is quite a character himself.)

Future companies have coalitions, liaisons, semi-coalitions, or at least micro-cooperation, or at worst, “so-called-friendly-attitude” towards competitors (competition understood in the past life sense). Fernandes concludes: “Singapore Airlines copies our concept. We are proud of it.” It is not about tripping competitors but about concentrating being strong and moving towards target results.

The winning strategy in the future is composed of passion. No one can win without passion! (And note winning does not mean that some loose.) Passion is kept up by making sure that every body at all levels of the organization has a chance to make a difference. I add that all employees should understand what passion and target result of the company mean to them and to their work. Future leader ensures that personnel work together towards the same goal, the winning goal.

What then is the secret of Air Asia’s booming success? “People and service”, says Fernandes. I agree. Products are so well defined and often beyond the consumer’s regular comprehension that it is not the features that break the market, but the service and, how the “whatever” serves the consumer, that in the end matters. Future leader thinks with the brains of a consumer and provides winning service.

But what amazes me the most in Mr. Fernandes’ leadership is the fact that he has rumbled down the ant-type-of-hierarchy commonly known in Asian companies, and which this far, has built the new booming China. Fernandes has abandoned numerous Asian business culture values: hierarchy, bureaucracy, status, and nepotism. And now embraces Western values of open office, no hierarchy (e.g. shares his mobile number with all employees) and climbing the career ladder is based on accomplishment and merits. Question is that how come the winner then comes from Asia (not from Europe), like Talouselämä titled its article? There is a hidden secret somewhere. I quote Fernandes  freely: “I don’t know if I am there to reveal the secret. The duty of a leader is to understand to step aside in time.”

Tell me what the secret is.

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