In this great new century so much of our success comes from out-designing and out-innovating our opponents, instead of simply manufacturing bigger, faster or cheaper. We now describe our competitive differentiators with words like 'smarter,' 'cooler,' 'nicer,' 'greener' and 'more responsible.' And, without a doubt, it takes a very different set of skills for each of us to succeed today, compared to even a generation ago. Here is my small personal collection of leadership niche rules for the knowledge-economy era:
1. Do well by doing good. In this changed world you will definitely be more successful at attracting clients, employees, praise or publicity if you blend some 'good' into your work. You can no longer stand out just by writing cheques to your favourite charity; you need to find ways to creatively combine making money with making a difference. Whether you're a lawyer, an accountant, a car-maker or a city administrator, there's definitely something creative you can build into your daily output so that your work actually helps make the world a better place at the same time.
2. Create your own rush hour. Nine-to-five and overtime are so 20th century. Today's smart workers get paid for thinking -- and there is no "off" switch in our brains. You'll probably never get fired from a smart company for keeping irregular hours if you consistently over-achieve on your objectives, but you might very well lose your job if you're always at work from 9 to 5 and produce very little.
3. Don't have lunch at your desk. The "lunch hour," a fabulous relic from the stricter work-hour regimes of the last century, is a great opportunity to slip into other people's calendars, network and constantly broaden your mind. Most people are out of their offices at that same time -- and those who know how to grow are always on the look-out for smart lunch dates! Read the book Never Eat Alone.
4. External should (almost) always win over internal. Don't fall into the trap of the old-fashioned, inward-looking culture. While it may feel easier (or more natural) to be spending time with your own colleagues, meeting smart people from outside your organization almost always carries a bigger pay-off. When you have to choose, always put a higher priority on external -- your smart colleagues and your boss will probably not be offended and they will still be there when you get back.
5. Stretch your trust limits. Our mothers may have taught us to never trust strangers but our world is now so 'open source' that we really don't have a choice anymore. The more you trust and share, the more you're enabling others to multiply the value of your brilliance -- and the more fun you'll have in life. Sure, you might still get cheated and hurt once in a while -- but even those experiences can help make you wiser and more successful in the long run. Always start from a default position of trust with clients, employees, employers, suppliers, prospects and strangers.
6. It's OK to break some eggs. As the old saying goes, "You can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs". The best -- and best remembered -- leaders, inventors and change-makers in our world were all controversial to some extent. They weren't afraid to challenge paradigms and formal rules; and, by doing so, they were ultimately able to build stronger brands for themselves. Don't be disruptive just for the sake of it, but don't be an unconditional conformist either.
7. Silver linings everywhere. If you've got a tiny dose of incurable optimism, every setback will feel like an awesome opportunity. Every mistake, every rejection, every failure contains all sorts of new lessons, ideas and potential deep trust bonds with those around you. Few moments in life can be more energizing and rejuvenating than the morning after a catastrophe, when you wake up, roll up your sleeves and start mopping up the mess. Think about it...