How to Find Your Company’s Power Source

In Rebel Leadership: How to Thrive in Uncertain Times (Post Hill Press, 2021), author Larry Robertson writes about a new kind of leadership, one that matches these uncertain times and enables organizations to thrive: Rebel Leadership. Rebel leadership isn’t what you might assume. It’s a new mindset for thinking and leading relevant to every level of the company. Five key insights define it. The following excerpt from his book describes the fourth insight: find your power source.

The greatest mistake leaders can make in the new abnormal is going it alone. But something must fuel it all, something beyond an organization’s products, services, strategies, or business model, deeper still than even its people. That force is what I’ve come to call a power source.

What is a power source? While the best way to understand what it is and how it works is to look at a range of examples, management guru Peter Drucker had a test for organizations that helps get to the heart of what a power source is and why it’s so important. Drucker believed the best way to determine whether or not an organization was likely to succeed long-term was found in the answer to a single question: What business are you in? Drucker wasn’t suggesting that, at least at a surface level, leaders didn’t know the answer. He was instead observing that most leaders only answer at the surface level. The idea of Drucker’s test was simple and yet profound: If you ask this question deeply enough, he suggested, you have the highest likelihood of getting to what really drives you. Rebel leaders know it can also get you to your power source. Here’s how it works, as described by Chip Conley, hotel innovator, founder of the Joie de Vivre hotel group, and advisor to Airbnb’s leadership team.

Advised by Drucker, Conley and his Joie de Vivre team asked themselves this pivotal question, not just as a fun exercise or in good times, but “in the bottom of a downturn. We had our top twelve executives in a room…and two people would face each other. The first would ask the question to the other person, ‘What business are we in?’ And the second person would then have to answer that question.” But, as Conley explained, they’d then repeat the exercise–not once, not even twice, but five times. And there was a catch, or rather, a truth-telling mechanism. Each time, the person responding had to answer differently. “By the fifth question,” Conley said, “you’ve done an archeological dig to really get clear on what’s your differentiator. What’s the thing that’s the essence of your organization.” 

That thing you get to, that’s what you filter with–filter every decision, every new piece of information, every bet you place, everything. That deepest answer is what you define it all by, because it’s the truest, most lasting source of strength and identity. It isn’t just what connects your efforts to your shared purpose, your people to your culture, and all the rebel rest. It is, Conley, Drucker, and others would tell you, the thing that drives it all–undeniably, clearly, simply, and if you’re smart, perpetually. 

Your power source is the thing you return to both to see opportunities and to assess which ones best align with your ability to seize them.

For Joie de Vivre, Conley says they realized that, rather than being in the hotel business and thinking their uniqueness lay in the fact that no two of their properties were alike, they were actually in the “identify refreshment” business. According to Conley, the insight to their true source of power changed everything. And the facts prove it. Joie de Vivre was one of the few small hotel chains that survived that multi-year downturn in the market–a realization that wasn’t lost on Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky. He hired Conley to advise him about how to scale Airbnb in its early formative years. Using the same “What business are you in?” exercise, Airbnb realized their true power source was helping people “belong anywhere.” It became their mantra and their organizing principle, Conley says.

Effective leadership in times of great change is undeniably born of the many. But it doesn’t end with sharing the lead. You need to share your source of power, too. But first you have to know what it is and how to find it.

Excerpted from Rebel Leadership: How to Thrive in Uncertain Times. Copyright 2020 by Larry Robertson. Excerpted with permission from Post Hill Press. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author or publisher.

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