Leadership Challenges for the Third Millennium

Chief Executive (U.S.), March 2000 | Go to article overview

Leadership Challenges for the Third Millennium


Is the Internet redefining business any more dramatically than the invention of the steam engine did? One thing is clear-largescale change requires large-scale leadership. But what's the right leadership model for thriving in today's technocentric world? And tomorrow's?

THE INTERNET CHANGES EVERYTHING-OR DOES IT? CAN IT POSSIBLY COMPARE with the invention of electricity or with the impact of World War II? What about changes too subtle to grab-headlines about increasing longevity and declining birth rates that will have enormous consequences sooner rather than later? How can CEOs be effective in a world undergoing large-scale change? In the following CEO summit, our second annual at JFK's "Winter White House," CE gathered leading business and political thinkers and asked them to come up with a road map for managing complex change.

One of the hardest things for busy people to do is stop and think about the future. Yet those who don't may soon find that the future has passed them by. As an historian, former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich recounted how such disparate thinkers as Peter Drucker and W. Edwards Deming, George C. Marshall, and Dwight Eisenhower, modeled the challenges before them. In asserting that to think and act effectively about the future, one must have a clear understanding of near, mid-range, and deep battle strategies, Gingrich freely borrowed from the U.S. Army's war-fighting doctrine.

In the roundtable, held in partnership with Spencer Stuart and co-hosted by Castle Harlan's John Castle, that followed CEOs agreed that the e-commerce revolution is real, however much the hype has gotten ahead of the reality. Perhaps the best way to think about its impact on business is to view it, ironically, not in commercial terms, but in terms of the e-person-the e-employee, the e-customer, the e-patient, the e-voter, and yes, the e-politician, who is very much with us in such figures as Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura. But the e-revolution will not be the only one with which CEOs must contend. As MIT's Charles Vest pointed out, the rapid advances being made at the subatomic and molecular level will soon be visible in the form of nanotechnology and new pharmaceuticals. The danger, he warns, is that the U.S. is living off its technology assets; and that business puts its future competitiveness at risk by sidestepping its research role.

-J.P Donlon

SCALING THE CHANGE

Newt Gingrich (Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives): In talking about a change as large as you're seeing today with e-commerce, or you're seeing in biotechnology, it occurs to me that it might be helpful to put the process of very largescale change into a context. As you talk about change today, I propose that you think about a four-level hierarchy, which I think you'll find helpful. It's a very simple model of vision, strategies, projects, and tactics.

I suggest this because when you talk about very large-scale change, the urgent tends to drive out the important. I would bet for every one of you in your job, if you really had five minutes when you get up in the morning to put in order what really matters, that you'd have a list when you walked into the office. By the end of the day you'd have found most of your time had been spent on the urgent.

As a historian, I've looked at AT&T, Sloan in the 1920s at General Motors, George Catlett Marshall, and Dwight Eisenhower in World War 11 because those are all situations where there was conscious, rational management of very large problems, and the creation of new strategies and new structures. And I've also studied with Edwards Demming on the process of quality and worked with Peter Drucker. I have worked as a consultant to the U.S. Army on training for command, and, of course, have a background of trying to change the Republican Party.

Drucker covered this brilliantly in a book called The Effective Executive. …

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