Are You a 21st Century "4S" Leader?

Strategy, Structure, Social Engagement and Stakeholders

Monday, April 13, 2015

Business Strategy

If you want to restrict career advancement in the 21st century, be a "2S" Leader. If, instead, you want to have unending opportunities to pursue your purpose and your passion, be a "4S" leader.

To be a 21st century "4S" leader you need the following:

  1. A compelling strategy built on a flexible 21st century business model
  2. Resources structured to support C-level objectives defined in the strategy
  3. social engagement to spread a message the organization is passionate about
  4. A working relationship with stakeholders that addresses their expectations

David Amerland recently said in Forbes"The market’s evolving needs must be met by evolving products. Those needs are increasingly expressed not in the classic focus-groups of yore, but in today’s vibrant social media forums. This fundamentally changes the game between a company and its customers."


The 20th Century "2S" Leader

From the 1920s through the 1950s, Alfred P. Sloan was president, chairman and CEO of General Motors Corporation. His career defined successful business practices of the 20th century that were widely emulated. 

The foundation for Sloan’s success was a "2S" business model which was later documented by Harvard Business School Professor Alfred Chandler in his landmark book, Strategy and Structure. Chandler analyzed 70 of the largest corporations in America for how they dealt with a single economic problem: the effective administration of an expanding business. He concluded that success was based on having a corporate structure created to implement a given corporate strategy. Combining these elements into “product/market fit” - supported by substantial organizational capital resources – 20th century organizations produced sustainable competitive advantage.


The 21st Century "4S" Leader

That approach worked in the 20th century but is it enough today in an era when a massive capital infrastructure can actually restrict flexibility against competition that emerges from so many quarters?

In the last 20 years, the internet has enabled widespread distribution of product information that once was closely controlled by manufacturers and retailers. Today the consumer is in control of the purchase decision while their technology blunts traditional efforts to promote the organization’s message. Concurrently, product proliferation has lessened perceived (and real) differences among competing offerings which has resulted in product commoditization.

As a result, C-level leaders must adjust their organization’s business models to address rapidly emerging opportunities and threats because few competitive advantages are sustainable. The question in this century is: "How and where must I adjust my strategy, structure and other critical elements of my business model to compete in this new world?"

The short answer is to add two essential components to the 20th century “2S” business model - social engagement with stakeholders along with a process for quickly adjusting the organization’s business model. In a process of "social listening," organizations can gain the on-going consumer feedback that informs the next iteration of products and services to more closely meet the needs of target markets. By using a “lean” approach to planning, organizations can react quickly to material factors that affect their ability to meet changing consumer requirements.

In future articles, we will explore how modern technology and simple processes enable leaders to gain astonishing insight into ever-changing consumer requirements and quickly “pivot” to address emerging opportunities (and threats) as they arise. In the meantime, ask yourself: “Are we ‘2S’ or ‘4S’?”


Jim Shankle


Jim Shankle is an Adjunct Professor on JBU’s graduate business faculty who teaches MBA Marketing Strategies. He can be reached at Learn more about 21st Century “4S” Leadership at

Blog HomePosted By: Jim Shankle - 4/13/15 9:00 PM

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