A few weeks ago, a little event took place in San Francisco that you may have heard of called Dreamforce, thrown by a little boutique CRM company by the name of Salesforce. Tongue in cheek aside, VerticalResponse team members were on deck for this year’s annual SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) event. In addition to the usual schmooz… er, networking, I personally got the chance to attend informative and instructive keynotes, featuring some of the brightest minds in our industry. The keynote that left the most lasting impression, however, would be the conversation between Gen. Colin Powell, former Secretary of State (2000-2004); Jeff Immelt, Chairman and CEO of General Electric (GE); and keynote moderator, Salesforce’s CEO, Marc Benioff. Regardless of your political views or the size of your business, there were great nuggets of information distilled by these three heavyweights. Here are some of the fascinating insights:

Social: The Best Thing to Happen to the Internet since… the Internet?

Let’s sit back for a second and consider: ever since the army flipped the switch on the world wide web back in the ’70s (“I am proud to say that it was the U.S. Armed Forces that developed the Internet,” beamed Gen. Powell, “We gotta get a little credit for that.”), has anything revolutionized the way we connect with other people until the likes of Facebook or Twitter?

For Jeff Immelt, the biggest challenges he’s currently facing at GE are fighting size and bureaucracy, but social media gives him direct access to customers and employees, allowing him to conquer barriers that previously existed. For instance, using Salesforce Chatter, Immelt can now chime in on sales issues whenever he sees fit. In addition, for the past two years he has maintained his own corporate blog, in which he speaks frankly to employees, bypassing GE’s general counsel review before posting. “Today organizations move too slowly,” he said. “By using technology, I think you can move faster. You get more transparency. You get more access.”

Colin Powell has also wholeheartedly embraced the use of social media, posting regularly on Facebook and interacting with his 68,000+ followers (at time of writing). Based on the skill sets younger generations bring into either the military or the State Department, Powell believes social networks have allowed us to speed up the way we work.

“We’re moving so fast that we have to respond to every bit of data that comes in,” which has to be acted on immediately. “You better keep up with them,” he advised, “they’re not going to keep up with you.

But even though we want to be literate in our use of new technologies, Powell cautioned that we need to be very protective of them as well. “There are dangers with this revolution, where we are so interconnected that perhaps we are too interconnected […] You have to have channels in place to distribute the information in a safe and secure way, but make sure it is usable without overwhelming the whole system.”

Leading Through Inspiration, Not Motivation

Both interviewees displayed an understanding of social media’s strategic significance, as well as its tactical power, and agreed that leaders around the world have a critical part to play in this digital revolution. The challenge that faces any leader, from political leaders in the Middle East to corporate CEOs, is the understanding and integration of social media into pretty much everything. “I think any leader has to have his or her finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the information revolution, the pulse of international economic system,” said Powell.

However, even as technology takes on an ever growing presence in companies, leaders need to ensure their employees remain the heart of the organization. As the General stated, “The best leaders understand that human beings are more important than the information system or the tools and robotic systems – they are the most important part of any organization.” Powell went on to elaborate on his own leadership philosophy, stating, “I no longer use the word motivate,’ I say ‘inspire.’ […] The most important thing is to create organizations that are high-performing that believe in themselves.” Self-motivated people can always be expected to perform at an extremely high level. On the flip side, leaders who don’t provide such inspiration and who fail to foster self-motivation among their employees can pay a steep price: “They’ll undercut you every day, and you’ll turn your head and it will fall off,” he quipped.

Immelt concurred, listing three core qualities he believes every leader should possess: “Openness – There is no going back in this information age, you have to be willing to share more and you better just deal with it. Authenticity – People don’t want to work for a phony. They want to be mission-based, they want to believe in what they are doing, believe in a leader. Unity – People want to be on teams, it’s always been that way.”

Small-to-Mid-Sized Businesses, the Key to Revitalizing Today’s Economy?

Finally, the speakers shared their thoughts on the global economic climate, with both men reiterating the importance of creating new jobs. Essentially, they agreed these new jobs come from encouraging fast-growing companies and entrepreneurs. “Government does not create jobs,” said Immelt. “What you want is for government to create the structure on which entrepreneurs can create jobs.” In order to get there, it’s important to train people for the roles that are being sought after by companies, taking advantage of the great colleges and universities at our disposal; simplify today’s economic regulations; and set a new tone, explicitly tell people it’s good to invest in start-ups and small businesses. Citing the Silicon Valley mentality as an example, “Don’t worry about the money, just build stuff and go beat your competitors.” He concluded, “This situation is imminently solvable.”

The former Secretary was optimistic as well, believing that the cynicism reigning in political circles wasn’t necessarily reflected in other parts of the country. Powell reaffirmed that we should be looking forward, not backward, and that education and encouraging entrepreneurship would be playing essential roles in the years to come: “The jobs that are gone are not necessarily going to come back. We have to create new jobs and go up in the ladder of sophistication. We better start educating our kids for the jobs that are really going to be here in the United States.” He also looped back to how everything is connected, that companies need to realize we are now living in “an international economy,” which makes the need to fully understand the international economic system all the more vital.

So there you have it – The opinions of some of the most powerful and influential men on the planet on how to handle today’s ever-evolving technology landscape, and how to give a still recovering economy a much-needed shot in the arm. What does this mean to you as a small-business owner? Well, quite a few things:

  • Social is still the rage: Not only is social media not over-the-hill, there is considerable potential just waiting to be tapped. Companies are still learning and finding new ways to take advantage of social to boost their business, and if you can be innovative, you can give yourself a serious leg up on your competition.
  • Cultivate a “winning” culture: If you have people on your payroll, set “stretch” goals and give them projects that will inspire them to strive and exceed expectations. Challenging your employees to test their limits, providing encouragement when they come close, and rewarding their efforts when they succeed, only creates a positive, stimulating environment for your team.
  • It gets better: We know how stressful it can be to run a business (we’ve been – and still are – there). Thankfully, based on this keynote and others, it sounds like things are about to get a lot more interesting for entrepreneurs and SMBs in the very near future.

Do you agree, disagree, or are you indifferent to any of the above statements and viewpoints? Share away in the comments!

Additional quotes courtesy of the Salesforce Blog.

© 2012 – 2018, Contributing Author. All rights reserved.

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