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Are You a Legacy Leader? Or Are You a Future Leader? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 336)

Future leaders looking towards the horizon

I’m not a big “there are two types of blank in the world” person. But, when it comes to leadership in a digital era, there really are two types of leaders. One, the “legacy leader,” believes that things aren’t really changing that much and that, pretty soon, things will go back to normal. A “future leader,” by contrast, recognizes that we’re living through some fundamental shifts in customer and employee behaviors brought on by the pandemic and how that brought digital to center-stage.

What does the difference between a legacy leader and a future leader look like in practice? Which kind of leader is best positioned for where we are and where we’re going? And why does this matter for your organization? This episode of Thinks Out Loud takes a look.

Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you.

Thinks Out Loud Episode 336: Are You a Legacy Leader? Or Are You a Future Leader? Headlines and Show Notes

Show Notes and Links

Here are the regular show notes detailing links and news related to this week’s episode. Be sure to check out all the links that matter for your business once you’ve given the episode a listen.

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Past Insights from Tim Peter Thinks

You might also want to check out these slides I had the pleasure of presenting recently about the key trends shaping marketing in the next year. Here are the slides for your reference:

Technical Details for Thinks Out Loud

Recorded using a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Mic and a Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface into Logic Pro X for the Mac.

Running time: 22m 33s

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Transcript: Are You a Legacy Leader? Or Are You a Future Leader?

Well, hello again, everyone and welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital marketing expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. This is episode 336 of the big show. Thank you so much for tuning in. I think we have a really cool show for you, actually.

Trends That Matter in 2022

We’ve kicked off 2022 here in the office, here on the show, et cetera, talking a lot about the trends that are going to matter to you. We started by talking about the trends that don’t matter and then we dove last time into trends that will matter this year. I thought it was worthwhile to talk about how you, as a leader, can use the realities to create the kind of company that you want to create, the kind of environment that you want for your customers and for your business, more generally.

One of my core beliefs, one of the things that I’ve seen prove true. I talked about this in terms of what I’ve learned over the last 10 years of being an entrepreneur is that part of your job as a leader is not to take care of your customers. It’s to take care of your employees so that they can take care of your customers.

We are living through massive change. This is not a surprise to anyone who listens to the show, or I don’t know, listens to anything these days, reads anything these days, we are dealing with systemic change. Probably one of the biggest we’ve seen in my career. And I don’t just mean digital, I mean the world that digital has enabled post-pandemic, or as we start to move towards a world where we’re living with an endemic COVID situation, as opposed to a pandemic COVID situation. I talked before about how you can’t go back, you can only go forward.

Growth of Ecommerce

There are a host of trends that we need to recognize and need to talk about. For instance, ecommerce continues to grow and continues to grow off on already large base. MasterCard reported that, that for this past holiday season, ecommerce grew 11%. Now, remember that number is on top of the single biggest growth year in decades. 2020 was massive, massive growth and 2021 added another 11% on top of that, that’s huge.

WFH FTW!

Remember that we’re seeing this enormous shift to work from home and it is almost certain that that is going to remain to some degree. I’ll explain why that is in just a moment, but that has huge implications for other businesses. If your business depends on people working in their offices, you’re probably struggling right now as is the case for lots of businesses that depend on that, there’s been a big shift in business travel. There’s been a big shift in restaurants. There’s been a big shift in other suppliers to folks who work in offices, I think dry cleaners and the like.

The Great Resignation

We also know that we’re in the middle of what people call the great resignation. I’m going to talk about that in a little more detail, but clearly that’s driven by the fact that your employees see a different reality now.

How Leaders Respond

And there are two types of leaders as we talk about this, there are "legacy leaders" and there are "future leaders."

Legacy Leaders

Legacy leaders make all kinds of mistakes. It’s almost like, you remember Highlights magazine when you were a kid? Goofus and Gallant, right? Legacy leaders assume that there will be a return to normal, that things will go back to what they were. They complain about employees taking power in this situation. They ignore the realities on the ground. When I talk about them complaining about employees, there was a great CNBC article. Great, in the sense of insightful and really gave a clear picture into how people are thinking about this, that may not be accurate, that they said employees are missing out on a lot of opportunities because of work from home.

Now that may be somewhat true, but I think it’s awfully interesting how many of these same leaders have done little, have avoided investing in ways to make remote work more effective, and also claim that it’s not effective. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It’s Not Either/Or; It’s Both/And

I want to be fair. I think that both remote and face to face have their advantages. I don’t think it’s one or the other. I do think that companies need to embrace opportunities for both remote and face-to-face work, to work. The data strongly suggests that the winners in the next decade are doing that, are working toward that. I do think the basic insight is correct and that in-person interactions help young employees learn and grow. It’s also incumbent on businesses and leaders, and yet to some degree, employees to find alternatives that work for remote team members. Ethan Mollick, on Twitter, sent data around how the work from home optimists’ case is showing signs of coming true.

We seem to be learning how to do it better. The efficiency at working from home is steadily improving and he links to a survey that shows this. Tim Minahan, on Medium, detailed a new study that showed 13,000 plus knowledge workers say that nearly 90% of employees expect to continue a more flexible work model in the year ahead. These are folks who have come to embrace this reality. When we talk about things like the great resignation, the great resignation isn’t a resignation. There was data that Max Sawicky pointed out that shows the number of people who are being hired outpaces the number of people who have quit. So these folks who are resigning, they’re not resigning and leaving the workforce. They’re just resigning from companies that won’t let them work in a way that they feel most valued and most effective. They’re finding new jobs.

And legacy leaders are finding themselves saying, "What are we doing here? What’s going wrong?" Now I mentioned the ignoring the realities on the ground. There’s a lot of data that shows how much we changed. Business travel has cratered. There’s a new study from AHLA, the American Hospitality and Lodging Association, and from Accenture that said business travel is down more than 20%. They expect business travel to be down more than 20% from much of this year. They expect only 58% of meetings and events are expected to return. I monitor for my travel clients, the TSA data that shows throughput, and there is a 25% reduction in throughput from 2020. By the way, we know this is mostly business travelers because a Gallup poll showed that fewer Americans traveled by air in 2021 than in any year Gallup records between 2003 and 2015, largely because of reduced travel by employed adults.

We can see it in data from hotels that it’s sort of a tale of two recoveries. Business hotels, big city center hotels with lots of meeting space are hurting. Hotels that focus on leisure guests are actually doing basically fine. There are some geographic variations here. There are some regional difference so it’s not one to one, but it’s pretty close. It’s close. We’re seeing this reality across the board. Despite work from home, and despite the decline in business travel, we are seeing companies achieve record profits. So maybe having all those people in the office wasn’t necessary, maybe having all that travel wasn’t necessary. I’m not saying it’s all going away forever. I’m saying it’s not all coming back.

Even a Small Shift in a Large Economy Can Be a Big Deal

Remember what we talked about last week, or you may have remember what I talked about last week that a 5% shift in the US economy is a trillion dollars. That’s an enormous, enormous difference. Chris Herd had a tremendous, tremendous thread. Chris Herd runs a business that helps businesses figure out how to work from home and he had a great Twitter thread that went through lots of the things that companies should be doing. He pointed to all sorts of stats about why this is the new reality all the time. Here’s the thing, even if he’s overstating it, even if he’s wrong by half, it’s still a really big number, 5% shift is a trillion bucks. Huge.

How Future Leaders Respond

Now future leaders on the other hand, do all sorts of things that are beneficial for their employees and for their customers and for their business. What do they do? Well, they embrace the change. They recognize, "Here’s where we are today. Here’s where we’re going as we go forward." They’re accepting the technological shifts. They’re empowering employees to drive those changes. They’re creating opportunities for employees to learn and grow. Just some examples, when we talk about accepting technological shifts, Joe Martin on Twitter asked his followers, "What technology has the best chance of future success?" Just ran a quick little Twitter poll, gave you four choices, AI, blockchain, quantum computing, or the Metaverse, more than half said AI. Now full disclosure, I voted for AI, I’m not going to lie, but those were very much in line with my predictions for 2022.

Part of that is this situation where the future’s already here, it’s just not evenly distributed. People are already using AI, functionally, and effectively to drive improvements in their business. The Metaverse, despite all the noise we’re hearing about it, only got 8% of the vote. Now I want to be fair, that actually surprised me. I was stunned that it fell behind quantum computing and blockchain, which are much, much further from being commercial realities. Excuse me, quantum computing is much, much further from being commercial reality than "the Metaverse". I actually think part of that is that there’s not a clear definition of what the Metaverse is. I’m actually kind of bullish on the Metaverse in the longer term, but I don’t think it’s going to be material in 2022 and it may not be material in 2023. The companies who look at these that would say, "Wow, we need to be doing things with AI and machine learning because it’s actually beneficial to our business," are doing that and they’re seeing great success from it.

Future Leaders Create Opportunities for Their Team to Succeed

When I talk about why future leaders create opportunities for people to learn and grow, there was a piece on VentureBeat that suggests that AI is going to kill jobs. It’s a worthwhile read. It’s absolutely worthwhile. It also downplays a really fundamental point, past technologies also have eliminated jobs, but when they did it, they also created new ones. There’s actually strong research to back this up. Robert Dur shared on Twitter, "New evidence from France and Germany that suggests," that automation doesn’t displace workers and there’s several links here. I’m going to link to Robert Dur’s original tweet so that you can get access to all the data. But basically that as new jobs, as new technologies came in, as automation came in, it actually created more work for people. It actually created new job opportunities.

Obviously, the key is which one’s AI will be eating and can we help people transition most effectively? It goes without saying, if you are in a job or career that automation eliminates, it’s still going to be bad for you on an individual basis if you don’t have the skills or the ability to transition into a new job or a new career, that’s particularly troubling for more mature members of the workforce. If you’re just coming out of college, shifting to a new career is not that big a deal. If you’ve been in your career for 25 years, that could be a much bigger issue. And we need to do a better job, just as a society, in figuring out how people can navigate these kinds of transitions more easily. I don’t think there’s a simple answer here. It’s a complicated problem. It also is true that I really don’t see jobs going away; I just see them shifting, and the data seems to suggest that’s the case.

Notice How Digitally Native Companies Have Responded

Now, if you think I’m crazy, if you’re like, "Tim, you’re out of your mind, this is not how it’s going to go down." I want you to ask yourself a question. Do you see AGFAM, Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, pretending that this isn’t the case? They’re leaning in here. They’re embracing these realities. And I think you need to ask yourself, why do you think that is? Why are they going in this direction? I think that it’s because they kind of see the writing on the wall. And let’s be fair, they see it way better than I do. I mean, I’m trying to learn from them, frankly, not trying to teach them. But they see that this is the world we live in, that’s why they are leading us into the future. Say what you want about them. There’s pros and cons, but they’re certainly not ignoring the direction we’re heading.

How to Be a Future Leader

So what can you do about it? What do you do if you want to be a future leader? And I think we have to think about this a bunch of different ways.

Embrace Technology and Change

First, you have to embrace the technology. You have to say, "How can we use AI? How can we use machine learning to improve our customers’ experience and to enable our employees to provide a better job to our customers? How can we empower our team?" How can you help your team learn how to do this more effectively?

Empower Your Team

Next, how can you use digital more broadly to do a great job for your customers? We’ve talked before about how the modern marketing team is a media company and that content is king. Is your content telling the right story about your brand and business? More to the point, is your content doing its job as your 24-by-seven-by-365 salesperson? Is it doing its job as your 24-by-seven-by-365 customer service rep? Because if it isn’t, you have to think about how you can help it do that, or how you can let it do that, or how you can get your team to have it do that so that you can create great experiences for your customers. I talk about this a lot so there’s a ton of links in the show notes more about this, but I’ll give you a simple one right now. I wrote a piece couple years ago about how digital helps you answer your guest questions post COVID for the hospitality industry. All of those same questions still apply regardless of whether or not you’re outside. Look to partner with other content creators who have built an audience, it can be a huge, huge plus for you.

Focus on Your Customer

Another thing you can do is remember that you compete with the entire internet, your customers compare you to the best experiences they have everywhere that’s why customer experience is queen. Can your customers engage with your business where and when they want.

That’s what we have to think about.

  • Think about how you can embrace the technology.
  • Think about how you can empower your team.
  • Think about how you can use content and use customer experience to create the kinds of customer experiences your customers expect and empowering your team to deliver that so that your customers come back to you again and again and again.

Keep Learning

And of course the last thing you can do, and it’s the thing I try to do all the time with, hopefully, success is keep learning. This is incredible change. It’s something we’re going to be dealing with for a while. We have to ask ourselves, "How do we continually improve?"

Because fundamentally, the biggest difference between a legacy leader and a future leader is that future leaders keep learning. They keep growing, they keep questioning, they keep challenging. That’s what you need to do to get your business where you want it to go. To that end, challenge me. If you think I’m way off base here, tell me about it. I’d love to hear from you, because I’d love to think about this even more deeply and keep learning, too.

Show Closing and Credits

We are out of time for this week, but I really do want to hear what you say. I want to remind you, you can find the show notes for this episode and an archive of all of our past episodes @timpeter.com/podcast. Again, that’s timpeter.com/podcast. Just look for episode 336.

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Sponsor Message: SoloSegment

Before I go, I need to thank our sponsor. Thinks Out Loud is brought to you by SoloSegment. SoloSegment offers an amazing suite of search tools that provides search as a service for large enterprise and businesses. They focus on business results, not search results, with easy automated tools that help customers find the content that matters to them and helps drive business goals for you. They do this all while protecting consumer privacy and improving your business results. You can learn more about SoloSegment and all the amazing work that they do by going to solosegment.com. Again, that’s solosegment.com.

Show Outro

Finally, I do want to say once again, how much I appreciate you tuning into the show every single week. I would not do this show without you. It means so very much to me that you tune in and listen. So thank you very, very much for doing so. I hope you have a wonderful rest of the week. I hope you have a great weekend and I’ll look forward to speaking with you here on Thinks Out Loud again next time. Until then, please be well, be safe and especially with all that’s going on to the world right now, please take care everybody.

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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