Matt Cooper, the Vice President of International & Enterprise of oDesk said, “If you are going to build a top-tier team, you need to be able to accumulate connections that will follow you. …it doesn’t matter who I know, it’s about who knows me, wants to work with or for me, and who is willing to follow my lead.”  

 In the last few years,  the value and means of “relevance, power and importance” have changed. Today it is increasingly important to become an influencer and gain acceptance via social networks. It is open to anybody, at any age and at any time.

If we review the latest sources on who is gaining the most followers (i.e. 2 mln! per month), we’ll find the surprising names of 16-23 year old’s like Grace Helbig, Philip DeFranco, Jon Cozart, and Justin Bieber.

Loren Goraldo (17) began using Vine in the summer of 2013 and accumulated approximately 2.5 million followers in only one year. She has more influence among teenagers than Vogue. Not to mention Pewdiepie (23) –  I’m sure you’ve heard the name of this Youtube star before.

The names on this above list where completely unknown 5 years ago.  At this point in time, some of them have more traffic individually than CNN or BBC, and they can easily ask thousands of dollars for advertisement.  They have viral content and enormous purchasing influence.

The style influence and power is also changing in business

As Mrs Sanderberg (Facebook COO) during the world economic forum said,

“this is a shift from the historically powerful to the historically powerless, because everyone has a voice. Everyone can post and share. That gives a voice to the people who historically have not had it.”   

We are living in an exponentially changing world with an even larger impact of digital presence and mobile technologies. Whether you enjoy it or disdain it, in every minute social media is gaining importance. It seems unstoppable.  Today’s society is fast moving, influenced by digital appearance, digital devices and digital sales channels. Human to Human interactions are increasingly important.

Consequently, the “first impression” in an online business context is also having a different dimension.

The image of leadership

The possibility to gain influence and recognition has shifted (and is expected to shift further) from the importance of physical presence and presentation skills to digital presence and our ability to reinvent ourselves.


Critical factors to gain power

•Well educated/ Strong knowledge based

•Graduated from the right school

•Sound/Well groomed/Mingling in the right circle/ Appropriate


Critical success factors to gain influence

•Vibrant/Surprising/Able to think out of the box/Innovative

•Astonishing/New, unconventional/Imaginative/Life time learner


Our ability to stay young irrespective of our age, to think and act outside the box, to keep up and learn how to be followed are now critical skills no business person can afford to be without.  The key success factors for any leaders and companies are more and more becoming the connection with the end customer, mostly through digital experience, the ability to inspire, and the speed of acting and reacting.  As much as traditional business models are becoming obsolete, the shelf life of a new ideas is also becoming shorter.

What do these changes imply to our European leadership style? How can we keep our heritage while keeping up with our times?

Go digital today: learn it, try it, use it:

In today’s business world, we cannot afford to forgo a strong digital presence and high level of social media engagement

From looking at the profiles of the CEOs of leading companies in Europe, I couldn’t help but get the impression that in Europe, business leaders are still viewing see social media as a “second grade” tool.  In Europe, we like “traditional” and “conservative.”

According to a study conducted  by Investis (published in February 2015), UK companies are far behind USA counterparts in social media marketing. For example, CEO’s in the USA tweet 4x more than their UK counterparts. Government leaders in the USA (i.e. Jack Welsh, Barack Obama and many others) also engage in active social media use.  I believe more and more leaders need to realize the digital engagement potential for their businesses and personal success It is happening in Europe, but far too slowly. 

Creating your own personal website, learning how to use it, and writing frequent blogs are becoming as important as learning presentation skills and/or learning to use the computer in 1990s.  Irrespective of our age, we need to be able to understand and use digital tools efficiently.

It is not good enough to be a grey mouse

How we present ourselves and our businesses on social media is becoming increasingly important. As the attention span of our customers, recruiters and shareholders becomes shorter, the quality of our images, videos, and overall web presence is more important than ever before.

A photo with insufficient quality, or an old-looking or out of date website which is not mobile compliant can be very damaging on your image. (Google has recently noted that there are still a high percentage of websites that are not mobile responsive, while over 50% of the digital experience is now happening over mobile devices.

“Four years ago, 8% of our visits were from mobile devices; today, more than 50% are,” said Joff Redfern, vice president of mobile products at LinkedIn.

People in our society need constant surprises and inspiration. Their attention spans and our product life cycles are becoming shorter.

The reality is, if we don’t have a strong digital and social presence, our social relevance we will be outvoted by the end customer. We might not notice it immediately, but it will come upon us. We will be pushed out by those who do have an increasing digital presence, as they are more present for the digitally empowered customer.

This is very new to us in Europe.  We like history, knowledge, and status. We like to know where people come from, what we have done in the past. Reality is that much of what we have learned has lost a lot of its commercial value. It can no longer can monetized.

There is an increasing acceptance of “causal” in business

Lets look at the picture comparisons.

One the right, there are images of leaders of 2 major European banks, on the left are two new challengers.

I started my career in 1998 in a conservative, prestigious bank called MeesPierson. In those days my boss would send people home if they were not appropriately dressed. (He was a lot more conservatively dressed than the picture on the left….)  This would not happen today.

If you look at the new leaders of the Fortune 500 companies, it becomes pretty apparent that the dress code has changed.  Apple, Facebook, and Google leaders appear in jeans, T-shirts without any problems.

There is an increasingly social acceptance that a conservative, stylish appearance does not mean that the person is trustworthy. I am sure that the banking crises and common distrust in banks have facilitated this process.  The style of power and leadership has changed.

My conviction

In a changing world where businesses models can become obsolete in next to no time, one has to reinvent herself every day. We can build on our rich European heritage and values, but we also need to be open for change.

We have the choice to be young or old, irrespective of our age. Youth implies continuous learning,  listening and adapting to our environment.  Who we were yesterday has never become more irrelevant….

We can keep our classic style if we wish, but we cannot only live in history.  As Steve Jobs said: “Innovation distinguishes between the leader and the follower.” 

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