Three Little Big Ideas


Foxconn, a Taiwanese contract electronics manufacturer, rang up $179 billion in sales last year by a relentless focus on cutting costs and creating huge volumes of non-sexy stuff to sell to other companies. Fendi, on the other hand, is an ultra-luxury brand that hand-makes bespoke apparel, shoes, timepieces and fragrances, selling deliberately to the billionaire class. Part of the $63 billion LVMH Group, which owns other luxe brands such as Louis Vuitton and Bulgari, Fendi deals in low volume, high margin, and high-touch service. Both are wildly successful organizations, largely because they know exactly who they are, what they do and who they serve. Companies struggle when they try to serve too many customer types and attempt to be both a high-end, luxury item and a high-volume, low-cost provider. You can be Foxconn or Fendi, but you can’t be both at the same time. Which are you?

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Maps, especially digital ones like Google Maps or Waze, instruct a traveller exactly where to go…no thinking required. Compasses, on the other hand, help directionally anchor a traveller who must then discover a specific route herself. If your business is totally predictable without much industry, technical or customer disruption, you can afford to lead your organization with maps. Specific, step-by-step instructions, blindly followed with precision, worked great in simpler times. But in today’s complex, hyper-competitive, tech-enabled, NASCAR-speed world, the compass strategy is far better. Set the direction, give your teams their waypoint, and let them find their own path to the destination. This empowers people to think for themselves instead of simply following your instructions, which often leads to a better outcome. It also allows them to course-correct as needed, adapting to changing circumstances in real time. It’s time to replace the rigid Leadership-by-Map approach with a more fluid, agile, and inclusive model. In these challenging times, compasses beat maps.

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After working hard for years to claw your way to the top, that corner office sure feels nice. As leaders, we too often think that our subordinates are there to serve our every whim, need, and demand. You lead, they serve. Plain and simple. Yet that’s not the role of leadership at all. The best of the best are servant leaders, recognizing their role is to lift others up rather than boss them around. Leadership is an act of service – to your employees, investors, customers, and organization. You’ll achieve your greatest success by serving humbly rather than coveting the trapping that fancy titles provide. Lead by helping others up the mountain, and you’ll enjoy the beautiful vistas of the summit together.

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