How do top CEOs lead during this exponential age?
How do you manage the explosion of information and onslaught of increasing competition?
How do you sort through the abundance of opportunity and prevent getting burned out?
How do you maintain agility during today’s tsunami of change?
Today’s blog is the first of three parts deriving insights and advice from three incredible, forward-thinking leaders: Beth Comstock, Sue Siegel, and Arianna Huffington (their bios are below).
Beth, Sue and Arianna participated in my 2017 Abundance 360 CEO Summit in a module called “Exponential Leadership.”
This is a post for any exponential leader, so let’s dive in.
Meet the Exponential Leaders
Beth Comstock is the vice chairman of GE. In this capacity, she leads GE’s efforts to accelerate new growth. She heads GE’s business innovations including GE Lighting, GE Ventures, GE Licensing, GE sales, marketing and communications. And since 2008, she has served as GE’s Chief Marketing Commercial Officer.
Sue Siegel is the CEO of GE Ventures. She heads their growth innovation business investing, licensing new creations. Previously, Sue was the President of Affymetrix, and she’s had 30 years of combined commercial experience. She’s also on my board at Human Longevity Inc., which I’m very proud of, and GE is an investor in HLI.
Arianna Huffington is the founder of Huffington Post, the Founder and CEO of Thrive Global and a fellow Greek. She is the author of 15 books, including “Thrive – The Sleep Revolution.” She’s been named by Time Magazine and by all of us as one of the most influential people on the planet.
All three of these leaders had extraordinary insights to share about leadership in exponential times.
For part 1, let’s dive into Beth’s top takeaways.
Beth Comstock’s Eight Principles of Exponential Leadership
Beth has an extraordinary mindset as a leader at GE.
“These days, I think you have to be constantly thinking about what’s next, what’s new, and how do I adapt,” Beth began, during her address to A360 members.
Beth outlined eight principles for exponential leadership. Read carefully.
1. Be a Mission-Based, “Emergence Leader”: If you’re a leader today, your job is change and culture. It’s a lot of other things, but it doesn’t matter where you are in the organization, [the most important aspects] are change and culture. The old is going away (but it has not fully disappeared), the new is emerging and we’re all trying to make sense of it. Change suddenly shows up and it’s disruptive. An emergence leader is constantly focused on and ready for change.
2. Organize Around Information Flows: In the digital age, information moves fast. To keep up with information flows, you have to ditch hierarchy. There’s no room for bureaucracy. It’s about openness, candor, radical feedback and full transparency. If you organize your organization around these tenets, you’ll thrive. At GE, we’ve really reorganized ourselves as a digital industrial company digitizing everything we can get our hands on.
3. Empower Individuals: Build a team of people who are prepared for change and empower them to do great work. The question is: how do you get people to get excited to grab power and go for it? More autonomy.
4. Define your company’s “MO” – Mindset Orientation: Mindset is everything. As a leader, you must provide the vision and then allow your teams to figure their way out. Create a mindset that incentivizes them to do what they need to do the fastest, best way they can. It means they may fail. You should encourage them to fail fast, learn from their mistakes, and keep going. At GE, this process is called FastWorks, and it’s built on lean startup methodology.
5. Establish Feedback Loops: Exponential leaders must both give and receive feedback—and importantly, they have to actually use it. Beth offers three ideas here:
First: “One of the things we’ve done at GE is we’ve actually gotten rid of our employee performance reviews. Anyone in the organization can give anyone feedback. I just did a Facebook Live event last week and one of my young colleagues in the company gave me some feedback. It wasn’t so good… ‘You weren’t looking at the camera at the right point. You looked like you were distracted.’ It was hard feedback to receive, but it was encouraged.”
Second: Beth suggests asking your team a very direct question that yields a lot of value: “What is the one thing that is true that you think I don’t want to hear?” Beth comments that you’ll be amazed what you’ll learn. It’s extremely valuable.
Third: Rather than doing long, convoluted employee surveys, stick to a simple feedback mechanism: Continue, or consider. You get feedback that says either “Continue doing X” or “Consider changing X to make it better.” It’s really simple, fast and actionable.
6. Get Used to Living in the In-Between: Exponential leaders are comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. This is going to be key to survive the change that is coming. Beth advises, “Get used to the ambiguity of working with people who know how to figure it out and who don’t need as much instruction.”
7. Mash Up Minds and Machines: Exponential leaders use technology to their advantage, combining the power of computing and data with human leadership. They must develop collaborations between people and machines, between artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the people operating in their company, their customers and their executives. Teams that don’t do this will be left behind.
8. Prioritize Innovation and Observe Patterns That Block It: Innovating is really hard. Good leaders understand they have to navigate the tension. Sometimes leaders give up, and they don’t hold their team accountable for growing. They themselves back off on it. And so is it any wonder that the people on the team deprioritize innovating? It’s also important to stick around a while. I’ve been around my company a while, and it’s only after a few years that you start to see the patterns and to understand what went wrong.
Change is coming. Exponential leaders must prepare for it and embrace it.
Beth concluded, “I think we still need great leaders with vision, the ability to find and coach people, to encourage people, to help them renew themselves, to go forward…
“I’m a firm believer that the future still depends on great leaders who can constantly reinvent themselves.” –Beth Comstock, Vice-Chair, GE
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