Fast pace of evolving technology having major impact on leadership, experts say

Balancing effective and nurturing leadership amid a constant swirl of evolving technology was the primary thread running through the Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum Tuesday.

“Technology changes have been vast,” John Stankey, AT&T’s group president and chief strategy officer, told about 1,000 in attendance during the morning portion of the second and final day of the event held at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center.

“If you’re not continuously learning, eventually you’ll lose your relevance. Look at the pace of what’s happening,” he said, recalling the myriad advances made over his nearly 30-year career.

Fort Benning commander Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster — out of the blue — hinted early in his speech at the possibility of impending news on the Army budget-cutting front. He noted there are “rumors” the service could cut its troop strength to 420,000 ultimately as the federal sequestration drama unfolds in the coming weeks. That would be 70,000 fewer soldiers than the previous target of 490,000, which is already down from 570,000 as the nation winds down from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I think it’s a risk considering what’s taking place around the world,” said McMaster. “This will be smallest Army we’ve had since 1939. The danger is we could become isolated.”

Former U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords and husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, were the headliners Monday night. The big-league closer Tuesday was Alan Mulally, the former Boeing chief executive who took the reins of Ford Motor Co. in 2006 with it facing a $17 billion loss. He proceeded to turn the automaker around, reducing its debt and returning it to solid operating profits.

“My biggest concern was how fast we could change the culture,” said Mulally, recalling an initial meeting with Ford employees after joining the company. “I knew it was going to be scary. They didn’t know me or what was going to happen.”

Others on the forum’s menu were Tom Mullins, pastor of Christ Fellowship Church in Florida, Yum! Brands Chairman and CEO David Novak, marketing expert and author Seth Godin, and the event’s namesake, retired Synovus Chairman and CEO Jim Blanchard.

Here’s a brief synopsis of what the forum speakers had to say:

MULLINS: Celebrating success increases retention and productivity, he said, considering 46 percent of employees leave their jobs because they feel unappreciated. Believe in your people, he said.

McMASTER: The Army has to adapt to life after 13 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. "We cannot stigmatize combat stress," he said.He said the Army must develop leaders who understand a complex environment, are adaptable, can build confident and resilient teams, and work to cultivate empathy.

STANKEY: There’s no stopping the wave of technology that made Internet access cheaper and more accessible, while also ushering in the nearly ubiquitous smartphone. The average citizen is fast becoming a reporter and movie director of sorts, he noted.

“That’s just the way it is,” he said. “You have to build strategies to cope with the new environment. Integrity reigns supreme. All these changes make the environment more transparent than it’s ever been.”

NOVAK: “A leader needs to cast a shadow that the rest of the organization can follow and emulate,” he said.

Developing leaders is the top priority at a company with 1.4 million employees and locations in 117 countries, said the chief of the KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell chains. Get inside the heads of your people and understand how they’re thinking, he said. Understand what’s on their mind and get them involved.

BLANCHARD: “Some people in positions of leadership are simply not good custodians of the authority and power they are given,” he said, adding that “oppressive micromanagement” by leadership and “killing” the dreams and ideas of employees can hurt companies.

“The No. 1 best way to motivate people is to eliminate those things that de-motivate them,” he said.

GODIN: The industrial revolution is all but over, he said, with the information age now the arena for fearless entrepreneurs and leaders. It’s about “tribes” of people with similar interests connecting on the Internet, and today's leaders know how to connect with them.

“What your tribe is saying, begging and demanding is simple,” he said. “They’re looking at you and saying: Please, we need you to lead us.”

MULALLY: “I think the importance of a compelling vision is needed and more right today than ever before,” he said of leaders in this game-changing economy.

He also pointed out the need for a strong, robust manufacturing sector in America, with free-trade agreements that level the economic playing field. And if you’re not growing, you’re dying, he added.

“Everything ought to be looked at through the eyes of economic development,” he said. “It’s not going to be the government that bails us out. It’s going to be the businesses that grow and thrive.”


Here is the list of those scheduled to speak at the 9th Annual Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum, which will take place Aug. 25-26, 2014:

Sharyl Sandberg: Chief operating officer of Facebook (formerly a Google executive)

Mark Cuban: Businessman/entrepreneur and owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks

John Ryan: Retired U.S Navy vice admiral and president/chief executive officer of the Center for Creative Leadership

Ronald A. Heiftz: Co-founder of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government

Geoffrey Canada: Social activist, educator and president/CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City

Scott Harrison: Entrepreneur and founder of charity: water

Marcus Buckingham: New York Times best-selling author, researcher, consultant and motivational speaker

Sharyl Sandberg: Chief operating officer of Facebook (formerly a Google executive)

Mark Cuban: Businessman/entrepreneur and owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks