“Real leaders don’t hide from their future – they confront it!” – Futurist Jim Carroll
If you hadn’t seen the news story through the weekend, you should see it now. In a surprise move, Volkswagen AG CEO Herbert Diess invited Tesla CEO Elon Musk in to address an internal global leadership meeting on a wide variety of issues, including the acceleration to electric vehicles, supply chain issues, the chip shortage, and more. With this move, Diess is now my new leadership hero! (Elon is pretty much up there too.)
Why is that? Because through his action of inviting in his fastest moving and most disruptive competitor, it’s pretty clear that he is trying to spur his team to directly confront the challenging future they face, rather than hiding away from it. And believe me, in doing so, he’s acting in direct contrast to so many similar CEO level sessions I’ve participated in, in which the key seems goal seems to be to deny the reality of the future the competition represents rather than learn from their success. I would guess he understands that the internal combustion engine truly is from the olden days, that cars are rolling, upgradeable technology platforms on wheels, and that Volkswagon simply does have the compelling sense of urgency within its leadership team that is necessary to survive the transition.
Good for him!
The backstory? My direct experience has shown me that many similar executives are often unwilling to take such a bold move. Over the years, I’ve been invited to address similar CEO or senior leadership meetings for a vast swath of global organizations. Usually, during the inevitable pre-event planning conference call, someone will mention that I shouldn’t mention a particular competitor. Or, horrors, my slide deck that includes the logos or example of one of their competitors, and that I SHOULD NOT MENTION THEM. In other cases, I’ve specifically been instructed to ignore a particular trend.
My favorite situation was when the National Mining Association asked me not to talk about renewable energy because it might upset a few of the coal CEOs in the room. LOL.
What this has taught me is that there are precious few CEOs and executives who are really prepared to acknowledge and learn lessons from their faster-moving, more disruptive competitors. Somehow, it seems, their attitude has been that if we don’t really reference them in our future-oriented discussions, the threat they present isn’t all that real!
The most absurd situation had to do, of course, with my keynote for a global leadership team of Motorola. It’s 2006 – Research in Motion is carving up the global cellular phone industry with its Blackberry, Nokia is accelerating its innovation, and Apple looms on the horizon as a potential entrant to the smartphone marketplace. These were elephants not to be referenced – the attitude was that the Razr phone would always dominate. (More LOL.)
Learn from the Volkswagon CEO and act accordingly. Your reality right now? Your competitors are probably moving faster than you are. Their ideas are more sustainable and far more disruptive. Their skills base is evolving quickly. And the key point is this: their actions will more than likely place them squarely in the quadrant of success.
Wouldn’t it make sense to listen to them, learning from their thinking, understand their actions, rather than hiding away from them?
Confront your future. Do it now.