There's no such thing as a private company. I'm not talking about shareholders; I'm talking about stakeholders. In the era of WikiLeaks, Linkedin, employee chat rooms and industry-specific social media, information about your products, customer service, employee wages and benefits, internal company culture -- even you -- is one "send" away from being seen by the entire world. As with all technology, there's no putting the toothpaste back in the tube. So as a corporate leader, how should you navigate the challenges of this new "naked" era?
1. Be accessible, not insulated.
Old Era CEOs could hide. Not anymore. New Era leaders realize that you can't just embrace the connected/transparent world; you have to harness it. Form opinions. Share articles. Participate in chat rooms and virtual Q&A sessions. Yes, even provide the occasional glimpse into your personal life. Most of all, relish the opportunity to discover traditional S.W.O.T. (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) information directly from consumers and employees. You don't have be Mark Cuban, the American businessman and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, who freely provides his email and has nearly 6,000 tweets. But by embracing social media, you'll build your reputation as "social media-savvy" vs. "technophobic."
2. Be vulnerable, not stoic.
At our most recent annual conference, I stood on a stage in front of 2,000 Anytime Fitness franchise owners and asked them to raise their hands if they ever woke up in the morning feeling scared. Only a few hands went up, including mine. Most people assumed I was testing their toughness (after all, my home state of Minnesota is known for its Scandinavian stoicism). I was actually testing their honesty. Because if you don't have some fear in you every day, you're either not paying attention or you're not human. As leaders, we can anticipate the future, but we can't predict it. The New Era is about having the guts to show you're human. Because saying "I don't know" doesn't define you; what you do afterwards does.
3. Show your silly side (assuming you have one).
We have enough stress in our lives. Inside our walls, the speed of business overwhelms employees. Outside, world events raise our collective blood pressure to all-time highs. A leader must be willing to chip away the "anxiety plaque" that builds over time inside every work environment. For my part, I've dressed like a Scottish warrior on horseback for an internal "Braveheart" parody, donned a toga for an Animal House party, bought 5 tons of dirt to create a mud bog for an employee photo shoot, had my legs waxed (don't ask) and jumped out of a perfectly good airplane. Employees can bond in lots of ways. But few bonds are stronger than those formed with laughter.
4. Don't stop communicating. In fact, do it more -- and for different learning styles.
The fact that more communication platforms exist than ever before is a good thing. But there's also more one-size-fits-all corporate messaging (and outright garbage). What separates a New Era leader from an Old Era leader is embracing the fragmentation, adapting to employees' and customers' ever-diminishing attention spans, and delivering content to match learning styles. It used to be enough to distribute a monthly four-color, eight-page company newsletter. Today, it's no longer enough to maintain a real-time intranet hub. At Anytime Fitness, we communicate through AF radio (audio learning), AFTV (visual learning), the "Dashboard" (written communication) and live support ("walk the talk"). It costs more, but like any good investment, it delivers a bigger payoff in the long run.
5. Be more open about fostering employee health -- and set an example.
Considering that I'm in the fitness industry, this may come across as a bit self-serving. But here's the deal: Transparency now applies to health as well, and with insurance costs eating up more and more company budgets, employee health is no longer a private matter to be swept under the rug. While organizations must be respectful of privacy concerns and adhere to necessary laws and protocols, an employee's Body Quotient (BQ) is at least as important as his or her IQ (and in fact, more and more research shows how closely the two are related). BQ is a measurement of how people take care of themselves -- how they fuel, move and rest their bodies. New Era leaders must emphasize physical activity and healthy habits in the workplace. This means subsidizing gym memberships, investing in on-sight exercise offerings, providing healthier vending options, creating smoke-free campuses and implementing companywide wellness initiatives. This isn't about vanity; it's about productivity. New Era leaders need to understand that more physical activity and better nutrition stimulate brain activity and boost self-confidence, energy and happiness. And even more important, they need to lead by example.