Leading with speed

Many years ago I took the high-speed train from Tokyo to Nagano, Japan.

Looking out the window, the landscape was a blurry watercolor. The train moves at speeds close to 200 mph.

Over the last 20 years, the pace of life sometimes feels like the ride on that bullet train.

Synchronous communication, guaranteed 2-day delivery, text messages, and anytime access to our jobs have set a new cadence of existence. It demands that  we keep up.

This week, however, I got off the bullet train.

I took a vacation.

For hours on end, I had no wireless service as I skied at 11,000 feet above sea level.

It wasn’t just the views that were beautiful. It was the solace of disconnection.

With today’s pace, sometimes we have to get off the train to realize we were on the train at all.

It’s the contrast of a slower pace that enables us to realize the lightning speed at which we move.

So, it’s no surprise that we are looking for a life preserver in this rapidly paced world.

We are looking for the most capable individuals who seem to thrive at speed. Those who will make reliable decisions. People who seem to know what’s coming around the corner next.

Research from Zenger Folkman shows that the most successful leaders in today’s world demonstrate eight behaviors that comprise a “Speed Index”. Interestingly, “Those leaders who were rated in the top quartile on this speed index, compared to all other leaders, were rated substantially higher in their overall leadership skills.”

You’ve heard it said that to be a leader, you must have followers.

To be the leader that people want to follow, it’s time to work our leadership-at-speed muscle, teaching ourselves how to enhance our “Speed Index” competencies:

  • Demonstrate knowledge and expertise
  • Set stretch goals
  • Communicate powerfully
  • Exhibit strategic perspective
  • Bring external focus
  • Take initiative
  • Display courage
  • Innovate

In their book, Speed: How leaders accelerate successful execution, authors Zenger and Folkman prescribe concrete actions that leaders can take to deepen their skills in all eight competencies.

In upcoming blog posts, I’ll dig into each and share my notes and highlights from their work.

The good news is that…

Leaders can learn these competencies and enhance our ability to meet the demands of leadership-at-today’s-speed.

In fact, for the sake of those whom we lead, this is an obligation rather than a choice.

You see, the thing with speed is that it can feel overwhelming.

A strong leader is a life preserver…a stabilizer on the bullet train.


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