Some leaders are born, and others are made. For Box CEO Aaron Levie, leadership and entrepreneurship come easily. He started Box while still in college and has grown the company from a small startup to a publicly-traded tech giant with nearly 2,000 employees. The road to success hasn’t always been easy, but Aaron and his team have created a thriving company with a clear vision and goals for the future. As one of the youngest CEOs of a large company at just 34 years old, Aaron offers unique perspectives on leadership and where it’s headed.
As part of the research for my new book, The Future Leader, I interviewed more than 140 CEOs around the world, including Aaron. You can learn more and get a copy of the book with all of the insights and research at GetFutureLeaderBook.com. I sat down with Aaron to discuss his views on the future of leadership; here are five important lessons he shared.
The future is customer-led, not company-led. Power dynamics are shifting and giving power to customers, which means leaders need to be much more in tune with delivering a great customer experience and amazing service. As Aaron said, “If you’re not tuned into their latest needs and issues on both an individual and a macro basis, there’ll be a competitor that will emerge that will deliver that value much more seamlessly and much more rapidly to customers.”
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Leaders are responsible for the product experience. Modern leaders don’t just oversee things and crunch numbers on spreadsheets—they are actively involved in creating the product, or anything that the customer interacts with. Leaders need to ensure they they’ve put together the entire product system in a way that best serves customers. Aaron says the move to product-focused leaders is one of the biggest changes that needs to occur in corporations because it allows companies to focus on customers and more quickly adapt to change.
Agility can make or break a company. With constantly changing technology and markets, companies and leaders need to be agile and know how to pivot and make decisions quickly. Aaron sees one of the biggest challenges for future leaders as keeping up with change and being on the offensive instead of the defensive. Those challenges also bring great opportunities to lead change and disrupt industries. It all comes down to the speed at which the company is operating and how it responds to the level of dynamic inputs and outputs.
Leaders need to constantly communicate the vision. One of a leader’s most important responsibilities is to chart a strong vision for where the team or company needs to go. That also means lining up the right people who can execute the vision. The new way of thinking involves constantly communicating the strategy and staying authentic and transparent. Leaders of the future must be constantly focused on improving the culture and keeping the group moving together towards the goal.
Core leadership principles don’t change. Aaron says that a leadership book written decades ago would largely still hold true today, but the way things are manifest are very different and faster now. People are different today, but good leaders will always need to be able to communicate, align the company, and have a clear vision, no matter the trends or technology.
The core principles may stay the same, but the way of thinking around leadership is definitely changing. Aaron highlights many of those changes with his fresh approach to building a strong company culture and engaging employees. Connecting with customers and being integrally involved in product development are relatively new responsibilities of leaders that could yield huge rewards. Box is aggressively investing in talent enablement to train the next group of leaders. If the next generation follows in Aaron’s footsteps, they will be prepared to take on whatever rapid changes come next.
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