Talk about food for thought. Before I turn the page on this issue, I’m still chewing on comments from Nestlé Prepared Foods President and CEO Angelo Iantosca and leadership author Kenneth Blanchard.

Actually, it was this small quote from Blanchard that got me going.

“The key to successful leadership is influence, not authority,” he said.

Authority. Let me think about that for a moment. Truth is, corporate leaders could be more “all knowing” and authoritative back when the black-and-white food industry moved at a slower pace. That was when there were only two distribution channels (traditional supermarkets and foodservice operators) and your only competition involved those products directly beside yours in a well-defined retail shelf set.

Interestingly enough, Iantosca’s career began in those days. After jobs at Lipton and Progresso Foods, Iantosca assumed coffee and tea marketing responsibilities at Nestlé in 1987. I probably talked with Iantosca two or three times between 1991 to 2002. That was after he had joined Lean Cuisine and rose within Nestlé’s various refrigerated and frozen food businesses.

Talking with him today, it became clear that Iantosca sees a different industry landscape.

“We’re much more focused on the consumer today,” he says, “but even that is more challenging because the market is more fragmented - whether you’re talking about media communication or even responding to various nutritional issues.

“Likewise, the competitive environment is significantly more complex. Just one example is the explosion in restaurant take-out. In a parallel track, supermarkets also are making more of a statement, either through the deli or their own private label brands. You also have contiguous [frozen retail] categories such as snack foods, vying for more of the consumer’s meal solution dollar.”

I think Iantosca understands that - with so much change on so many levels - the challenge is for him to become more of an influencer and facilitator. In his own words, the goal is to keep Nestlé Prepared Foods “fast and focused.”

“We’re working closer in when it comes to innovation and what it means to deliver true incremental innovation,” he says. “That means we can’t afford to wait to build a capital structure or a knowledge base. If you’re not agile, market opportunities will pass you by. That’s why we’re embracing ‘open innovation’ …”

What does he mean? You’ll find out more by reading our cover feature that begins on page 6.

Meanwhile, I see that Ken Blanchard recommends an Executive MBA program that - among other things - emphasizes real world learning over theories and case studies. This type of program also emphasizes that leaders should better understand themselves and develop their own leadership points of view.

Bottom line. Blanchard argues that every organization needs clear vision and that the best organizations are those with an inverted pyramid approach. A strong, servant leader sees and casts the vision - and then influences and facilitates so that everybody wins.

Are your leadership skills keeping pace with today’s market and tomorrow’s demands? Just like Nestlé Prepared Foods, every company will need strong vision and a flexible management style to realize greater success.