Haris Ahmed from Chicago Asks: Do You Lead as Much as You Follow?

When it comes to effective leadership, Haris Ahmed of Chicago knows all about it; not only because he has over 20 years of experience as a change expert and executive coach but more importantly, he has seen businesses go south because of bad decisions. And bad decisions generally stem from either not having a good leader or not being one. It’s a hard pill to swallow but it’s the truth.

Take, for instance, what happened to Kodak when digital photography took over film photography. As early as the 70s, Kodak already knew that digital technology in photography was a possibility, thanks to Kodak engineer Steve Sasson who invented the first ever digital camera. Kodak didn’t put much thought into it, believing that photographic film will never be out of style, in a manner of speaking.

When Sony introduced its electronic camera to the public, insiders asked Kodak if there was reason to be concerned. Kodak replied in the negative. Still, research was conducted by Kodak’s team to determine if digital photography was about take off, and if so, how much time they had to prepare for the event. The study revealed that there was a huge possibility that digital photography could become mainstream, but they had at least ten more years to prepare for it. Kodak didn’t heed the warning, and failed to utilize the ten-year gap to prepare for the inevitable. To cut a long story short, Kodak failed to adapt to the technological changes, which led them to file for bankruptcy in 2012.

Was it technology that killed Kodak’s film-based photography?

Yes and no. Yes, because their failure to adapt to new technology led to their bankruptcy. And no, because technology may have been the trigger, but it’s the leader who pulled it. In other words, it could have been any other factor—changes in the industry that the organization’s leader may or may not adapt.

So the question is this: Do you lead as much as you follow, and do you follow to lead?

To further expound, let’s take a look at the factors that led to Kodak’s failure:

1. Technology, in this case, digital photography, was seen by Kodak as an adversary rather than an opportunity to take a step towards a new direction.

2. Despite being presented with market research, Kodak didn’t heed the advice and paid no attention to the warning signs.

3. Kodak remained adamant in maintaining old practices, and became over-confident that they could uphold the status quo; that is, dominating the photo processing and equipment market.

Looking at all these factors, the failure can only be attributed to poor leadership. Instead of listening to—or at least thoroughly analyzing the situation to make a more educated decision—the advice of other key players in the team, higher executives who were tasked to lead the organization maintained that their word is law and shouldn’t be regarded as anything but.

The bottom line is this; in failing to adapt to change, they ultimately failed the organization.

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