Toronto Entrepreneur's Thoughts – These 20th Century Practices for Business Leadership Don’t Work

Emily Lyons is a Toronto entrepreneur acclaimed as a “Woman of Influence.” She is the CEO and founder of Femme Fatale Media Group. In this brief piece, Emily presents her views on outdated-but-still-popular leadership practices which must be upgraded for the 21st century.

The 20th century – it’s now nearly twenty years behind us.

And it’s a century that laid the foundation for much of today’s business practices. Great management thinkers and executives came up with new ideas and fresh insights in that century, radically transforming the world of business and entrepreneurship.

However, the 20th century also continues to grip current-day entrepreneurs with outdated-and-outmoded ideas for business leadership. In many respects, then, business success in this fledgling century of ours requires a conceptual shift from the 20th century approach to business leadership to an upgraded approach that reflects 21st century realities.

In my opinion, these are some of the 20th century ideas for entrepreneurial leadership which are now worn-out – and need retrofitting for the postmodern era.

20th century approach: Business leaders should prioritize outcomes.

21st century approach: In this day and age, business leaders should still prioritise outcomes and end results. However, to be truly competitive in the 21st century, entrepreneurs must also have an equally laser-like focus on processes – that is, the entirety of the system which produces desired outcomes.

For example, during the latter part of the 1900s, companies tended to focus on increasing the speed and reducing the costs of supply chains – a logistics process which serves to distribute goods and services to consumers.

Yet recent research suggests that firms which create supply chains that emphasize quality and flexibility at all points of the supply chain yield better long-term outcomes – so much so, in fact, that high-value supply chains have been dubbed a “key competitive weapon” for businesses in the 21st century.

20th century approach: Business leaders should be tolerant of diversity.

21st century approach: Business leaders should deliberately seek to create diversity within their organisation. The 1900s witnessed a firestorm of social action which challenged the sexism, racism, and other injustices implicit in many cultural institutions – including the business arena. Many business managers and executives were slow to adapt to these changing circumstances, and were only willing to “tolerate” diversity.

However, merely tolerating diversity is not enough for today’s entrepreneur who wishes to create a thoroughly competitive company. Instead, entrepreneurial game-changers must proactively forge greater organisational diversity.

The alternative is to go down the route of Uber – a company ostensibly lacking diversity, and now facing continual backlash from the public at large for its contemptible company culture.

And, besides the ethical imperative to foster diversity, there is the business case for it, too: racial and gender diversity results in greater sales revenue and market share (among other indicators of business performance).

20th century approach: Business leaders should acknowledge the necessity for integrity.

21st century approach: Today, it’s becoming clear that merely acknowledging the necessity for integrity in business is not enough; this may serve as potent PR bluster for a few financial quarters, but it’ll eventually fizzle out unless it’s backed with action.

So, if entrepreneurs want their company as a whole to act with integrity, they themselves must act with integrity. Leading by example has always been a cornerstone of leadership success, but it’s a dictum that was all-too-often neglected by corporate leaders in the 20th century (Enron, anyone?). For a business endeavour to really be successful in the 21st century, true integrity must be a foundational character trait of the entrepreneur.