Leadership in a digital world
Online and mobile communications are revolutionizing every aspect of marketing. Now digital strategies have become the axle around which all corporate communications radiate. The digital realm now includes management dashboards, websites, online video, social sites, mobile, tablets, e-mail and inbound marketing that together provide the harness that ties together all operations and are pivotal for enabling organizations to prosper and grow. Not only have digital communications changed the way organizations communicate and organize themselves, they have also fundamentally changed the very nature of leadership itself. Now, to be a successful leader requires new approaches and new skills.
The vacation travel market is extremely competitive; there is an oversupply of product and operators are at the mercy of the weather and unpredictable natural and man-made disasters. When Bruce Poon Tip started GAP Adventures 22 years ago, he was unable to raise capital and prospects for the tour operator were poor. Most organizations find it a challenge to manage their operations in a single office building but for an adventure travel company the operations are spread across different continents from deep in the Amazonian jungle to the Himalayas, but in spite of the challenges, Bruce managed to grow it into the largest operator in its segment of “small group responsible travel”, with 1,500 employees and a growth rate of +32% this year.
In an hour-long presentation at the Rotman School of Business, he outlined his leadership philosophies. They operate on a strikingly different plain than the usual management dictates of strategic and human resource planning. Dominant is the philosophy that their travelers (not “tourists”) should experience the cultures they visit and, in turn, enrich the local people. To make this happen, he needs employees that are happy. He explained four ingredients necessary for happiness. Employees need to be making perceived progress, they need to be connected, they need to have perceived control and feel they are part of something greater than themselves. From this foundation, the company creates experiences that transcend the product. Their travelers contribute to charitable initiatives such as Planeterra, who fund clinics to restore the sight of impoverished citizens in Cambodia, Tanzania and Tibet. They become connected to remote cultures and connect with each other through social media.
In the case of the G Adventures, as it is now called, the brand is made up of the relationships between employees, volunteers, travelers and the destinations’ communities. The digital realm enables interconnectedness and the leadership values facilitate sharing as it is evident that the brand is not driven merely by corporate self interest. Everyone is proud to be associated with the community and it can therefore become self-sustaining.
I have just returned from a mountain biking vacation in Guatemala organized by Sacred Rides. Mike Brcic, the founder and president of the company, shares many of the same leadership philosophies as Bruce. He believes that his trips should create “sacred moments” that “move travelers in some way” and also benefit the destination communities.
The company is growing +50% this year through the savvy use of social media and inbound marketing.
In Guatemala we not only experienced awesome mountain biking and stunning vistas, we also visited local cooperatives, schools and indigenous farming projects. Our group of mountain bikers have willingly joined the Sacred Rides online experience. We are proud to identify ourselves with this brand of adventurous, responsible tourism that contrasts to the ever more popular all-inclusive vacations that are experienced inside a protected compound cut off from the local culture.
These days organizations where the leaders embrace philosophies that appeal to their stakeholders and understand how digital communications can be harnessed together to create communities of shared values are sure to outperform organizations that treat social media as just another technological add-on.