Originally published in Forbes.com by Krystal Rose for Oracle BrandVoices
Business leaders looking for direction in their digital transformation initiatives often look to top executives, consultants, coaches, and case studies. There are also lessons in leadership that can be uncovered in unlikely places, such as the North and South poles.Robert Swan, polar explorer and author, is the first person in history to journey to both the North and South poles. He led a team in 1986 through Antarctica and a team in 1989 through the North Pole. As a customer experience consultant with Oracle, I had the privilege of conducting an interview with Swan that was streamed on Facebook Live during Oracle’s 2017 Modern Customer Experience Conference.
Swan’s experience trekking across the polar caps may seem unrelated to the business world. However, those of us fortunate enough to hear him present his lessons in leadership could see how his experience translates to best practices in leadership and even as a possible framework for digital transformation.
Here are lessons and best practices that Swan shared during his interview:
“The world makes leadership really complicated…
Leadership is actually really simple.”
The most important lesson in business is trust. Trust is a key element in any relationship, whether it’s leading a small team, the entire organization, or servicing customers.
To help build trust, leaders should:
- Avoid lip service. Leaders need to lead by example, not just sell their team a vision with little guidance or support to meeting the objective. Swan stresses the importance of following through on commitments to teams and stakeholders. The consequences of not implementing what is promised would be a loss in credibility for future objectives.
- Earn respect through “servant leadership.” To gain respect, Swan recommends leaders embrace servant leadership by rolling up their sleeves and getting engaged with teams. Leaders should be present and involved in the transformation process, but without micromanaging. They should also allot room for mistakes.
- Make inspiration sustainable. Empowerment and guidance are critical to moving forward with a plan, yet leaders often fail to keep their constituents inspired throughout the journey. Leaders shouldn’t expect people to keep inspirational language in mind for 6 months or more, and should therefore motivate their stakeholders throughout the course of a project.
- Celebrate success. While Swan states that celebrating success is not an original concept he highlights how critical recognition and accolades are to a team now more than ever. It is up to the leader to determine what level of motivation and affirmation their team needs to stay motivated and progress towards the vision.
- Customize communication within your team. Modern businesses strive to connect, engage, and build relationships with customers by using their preferred language and channels—because that is what their customers value. Communicating with today’s workforce is no different, and leaders should connect and engage with their teams via individual preferences.
On Business Transformation
“If we don’t make changes, we swim.”
Swan is referring to action needed to tackle the effects of climate changes. Data tells us that the polar caps are melting and Swan highlights that if the world doesn’t make changes to prevent them from further deterioration the consequences can be disastrous.
From a business perspective, brands are faced with tackling challenges in customer experience, operational processes, and competition. If brands do not make efforts to innovate, streamline processes, and address challenges, the consequences can be detrimental to the organization.
Identify the problem and offer a solution. In business and in a modern customer experience, constituents expect timely and convenient resolutions to current challenges. Once an inconvenient truth is uncovered, the next steps are to develop a framework for transformation, deliver a solution, and build awareness of the solution.
Embrace new technology. With technology come mixed emotions. There is both fear and a desire to replace processes, operations, and even sometimes people with advanced technology. Leaders that are faced with transformation can uncover ways to embrace new technology and use it to enhance and enable their people, workflows, and structure. In 2018, Swan and his son will embark on a new Antarctica expedition, using new technology to simplify and maximize operational efforts as well as communicate to their target audiences via a variety of channels.
“The key to making long-term change in business is people,” Swan states in the interview. People can find it difficult to look 25 or 50 years ahead. An important part of leadership is getting people to focus by giving them small, achievable steps on the way to the long-term goal. Simplify what the team needs to do in order to reach their goal and, as a leader, keep inspiring the team and all stakeholders along the way.