• STRATEGY

    STRATEGY

    leads to confident rest while its adversaries toil.
  • STRATEGY

    STRATEGY

    is  both an art and science. Good strategy will result from neither independently.
  • STRATEGY

    STRATEGY

    can be overlooked when resources are abundant and margins for error are wide. But when environments are competitive, strategy separates those who survive from those who perish.
  • STRATEGIC ABSENCE

    STRATEGIC ABSENCE

    kills organizations. It’s people drown in an ocean of activities whose undertow moves faster than it’s the strongest swimmer.
  • STRATEGIC LEADERSHIP

    STRATEGIC LEADERSHIP

    organizes and induces a resonant oscillation that knocks down every obstacle, scales every wall and wins every battle.
  • STRATEGIC LEADERSHIP

    STRATEGIC LEADERSHIP

    never  tires. It only expends critical energy and resources on the highest value activities.
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3 Powerful Messaging Campaigns in Which Every Leader Should Engage

3 Powerful Messaging Campaigns in Which Every Leader Should Engage

 

Our leadership has become too “technique” and “process” oriented.

 

Throughout my 30 years as a passionate student of leadership, I witnessed leaders spewing “technique-leadership” virtually everywhere. Rarely did I catch a glimpse of the type of leadership that truly motivates and inspires others. Ironically, most leaders WANT to be motivational and inspirational, they WANT to develop their team members and yet they migrate to the “easy-tactical-do’s” instead of leading from an authentic, transparent heart.

 

Image result for one on one coaching

We’ve all seen these technique-process-leaders, in fact, we’ve all BEEN them at one time or another. We develop result oriented contests in hopes that competition and reward motivates. We look for opportunities to pat someone on the back in person or through an email to say, “great job” in hopes that we inspire them. And, we religiously follow a feedback mechanism template and collaborate with our employees to develop action plans concerning their 2 or 3 strengths and their 2 or 3 opportunities - “Now let’s check back with each other in six months and see how you’re doing on these”, we say. Sound familiar? Don’t get me wrong, these are all things in which leaders ought to be engaged. But, no matter how many of these tactics you layer on top of one another, true inspiration will still be rare and authentic motivation will continue to be fleeting in your organization.  

 

My experience has been, that in almost all cases, it is not WHAT you do, but HOW you do it that matters.  And when I say “how” (when it comes to communication and developing others), I mean a combination of the content it contains and the orientation of the heart from which it comes. There are three primary messages of content and heart that ought to be formed into leadership-habit, unfortunately, they elude most leaders today.

 

Develop Strategic Leaders Now - Time is Running Out!

As virtually everything in the world continues to accelerate at an increasingly frenetic pace, the demand for transformative-strategic leaders is growing exponentially. Unfortunately, senior leaders, in all sectors of society, are not prepared for today, let alone the future. The senior ranks have not discernably evolved their strategic-skills since at least 2005. This is not by design, nearly every organization has discussed the need for transformation in this area. Yet business, governmental and not-for-profit executive leadership is caught seemingly, hopelessly in their own cultural-norm-quicksand and their often sycophantic-reinforcing-structures. When they should be hiring and developing the strategic leaders of the future, they are doing the exact opposite – growing an army of “go-along-to-get-along(s)” and “I’ll-give-you-what-you-want-not-what-you-say-you-want(s)”. The biggest problem is, over the next few decades, this will increasingly result in, at best, organizational-effectiveness-lethargy and, at worst, the senseless crumbling of once great institutions, purposes and businesses. Leaders in every organization must begin to prepare themselves to lead strategically and staff their organizations accordingly or we are in for a painful, albeit avoidable, transition over the next quarter century.

 

  1. Accelerating change is creating a perceived need for the execution-oriented leader.

 

As technology rapidly provides tools for productivity and automation, marketplace consolidation continues to narrow market opportunities and human resource departments smother their organizations with endless work standardization models, it appears that the age of entrepreneurial leadership is over. “Give me somebody who can just run-the-play”, senior leaders say repeatedly as they acerbate around the board room table. However, the skills demonstrated, rewarded and cultivated in a growing number of organizations are not the skill sets necessary to lead strategically at the senior level. As change accelerates, organizations should rapidly flip the proverbial coin - only, one side is innovative-strategist-success and the other is necessary-developmental-failure. But how can an organization, that drills “execution, execution, execution”, and “don’t think, just run the damn play” throughout the formative years of its leader's careers create the next generation of talented and experienced strategic thinkers and transformative leaders? The answer is obvious, they can’t. And yet, the world spins faster and faster. Like a merry-go-round, your organization’s developing leaders instinctively hold on to the cultural execution railing that was installed by their senior leadership. They look at each other, feel the security in spinning with their peers and cling on for dear life.  Senior leaders then ask each other, “We need our leaders to move, to do something, but they just sit there holding on until we stop the merry-go-round and tell them where to go and what to do next.  What is wrong with them?” My point here is, the next time you are looking for a senior director or vice president and no candidates from your company have the strategic leadership skills for the role, ask yourself, “did we create this dearth of specialized talent?” Moreover, look at the leaders who are filling those roles today. If you are like most organizations, you have those roles filled with leaders who executed well at the level below, but just can’t seem to lead creatively and broadly at their current level. The biggest problem is, the next time a middle manager fails, he will feel as though his career is on the line. The next time a junior director tries something out of the cultural norm, she will be told, “keep it simple and run the play, things go more smoothly that way.”

 

  1. Accelerating change is creating a real need for the strategic-oriented leader

 

A very broad study was done by PWC in 2015 where they measured 6,000 senior leaders to identify who was an execution-oriented leader versus who was a strategic-oriented leader. Transformative-strategic-oriented leaders accounted for 8% of the total leaders in this large sample. Unfortunately, the study was also done a decade earlier, in 2005, where the number was roughly the same, at 7%.

Interview Cliff Avril

Moore’s law continues to deliver, processing power gets twice as fast every year and half as expensive. The critical year of unbridled technological acceleration began in 2007 (Freidman, T. Thank You for Being Late: An Optimists Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations) and still yet, senior leadership roles continue to be dominated by non-strategic thinkers and non-transformational leaders with almost no change over the past decade (93% to 92%). We have arrived at a technological, political and mode of commerce tipping point and the vast, vast majority of senior leaders are trying to look and sound wise, but are frankly “in” way, way over their heads. This will catch up with most organizations over the next 5 to 10 years. Democratized, relatively unregulated micro-commerce will flip these un-ready, lumbering leviathans; Worker populism will grind organizations to a halt without the opposition of adept vision communicators and flexible, entrepreneurial frontline managers; And the global, ubiquitous equality being brought on by universal, relatively cheap devices and internet access will multiply any business’s current competitive threats by ten. This is the arena in which strategic-leadership is not only desired, it is needed. Business, governmental, non-profit leaders should hear this as if being poignantly spit out by Jack Nicholson in a “Few Good Men”, You want more strategic-leaders in senior leadership, you need more strategic-leaders in senior leadership!” 

A mouthful I know, but the existential threat is eerily similar. So many in senior leadership either do not see the magnitude or the nature of the threat, or they are ignorant. Though there is one more option, like everyone complicit in the run up to the real estate crash of 2008 – 2009 (bankers, loan insurers, auditing firms, government, etc.) they ALL see “it” coming. But they continue to feel the irrational comfort in their numbers. Like the wildebeest, grazing in a herd of thousands eats grass calmly next to a hungry pride of lions… he thinks to himself, "Odds are, I’ll be OK."

 

 

  1. It doesn’t need to end this way

 

One of the most illustrative examples I can think of is the story of General Stanley McCrystal and his removal as the leader of International Security Forces in Afghanistan. Prior to that role, he served as the JSOC commander in Iraq, cited by the then Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates as, “perhaps the finest warrior and leader of men in combat I ever met." I read McCrystal’s book a few years ago, “Team of Teams”, and it inspired me deeply. McCrystal transformed communication, real time operational coordination and intelligence sharing by making it very open and transparent. (You will need to read the book to appreciate the gravity of this challenge to shatter cultural norms that were centuries old and tens of thousands of bureaucrats deep). He opted for the danger of speed and utility of real time transparency, (even with extremely sensitive information), over the safety of sticking with military, state department and intelligence hardened-peace-time processes. This transformation was huge, tough and yet it was required to get a nation off its heels in Iraq in 2006 and lean into the fight with a decisive vengeance. McCrystal embodied a transformative, strategic leader in every way. And so, it wasn’t surprising when this innovator, who exponentially accelerated critical communication by informalizing and operationalizing it’s flow, was caught sharing informal, yet off-putting thoughts about his senior leadership. This is not to be swept under the rug. It is not a small thing and is unequivocally a big mistake. But in a world where McCrystal may have been the ONE strategic leader that made up the 8% of 4 star generals, to ask for his resignation was the exact senior leadership mistake that is being made in every organization, virtually every day. We must recognize that strategic leadership is rare and sustaining it should be perhaps THE highest priority. We must redouble our efforts to find these strategic-oriented

Interview Cliff Avril

Interview Cliff Avrilleaders. And, we must create a culture where failure and risk are part of a front-line manager’s daily routine… where middle managers regularly access their peers to create new ways to operate… and where strategic-thinking and transofrmational-leadership is called out as valuable as often as “hitting the proverbial” number.

 

  1. Where do we go from here?

 

If the study cited above is precise, we are about 42% short on strategic leaders in senior leadership roles. To be fair, in most organizations, 25% should be absolutely brilliant technology minds or relationship developers or “fill in the blank” experts. Then another 25% should be the most magnanimous, inspirational, large-organization culture change leaders on the planet. Which leaves us with 50% - who should be primarily talented, strategic-oriented leaders. You simply will not have the capacity to drink out of this fire hose of complexity and change over the next few decades with 8% of your leaders shouldering the majority of the extreme-problem-solving, vision-casting and innovation-creating. In the army, when night falls, it is often time to dig in, to lay out the razor wire, to set out the mines, to dial in the fields of fire because the worst attack comes just before sunrise. But night is the time that everyone’s eyelids get heavy and identifying the ones sleeping in their foxholes is most difficult. Well, it’s midnight and almost NO work has been done yet. And, your organization's leaders are virtually all asleep, or, at least 92% of them. What are you going to do?      

Pete Carroll - Leading the Seahawks Strategically: The Tension Between Two Extremes

Pete CarrollBusiness owners, company executives, coaches and leaders of any organization can learn from Seattle Seahawks coach, Pete Carroll. His example could be the exact antidote for the things that ail your organization. Recently, I caught an interview of Cliff Avril, the NFL all-pro from the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks have been arguably one of the top two prolific teams over the past 5 years. What I heard in this interview peaked my interest, so I dug in a little deeper. I learned that Pete Carroll is a brilliant, strategic leader. Since he leads in the sport realm, many of you will think I’m just talking about his game-time “strategies”. But I’m not. He is an executive who is innovating strategic leadership in an arena where experimentation is more often met with overwhelming criticism and failure.

1. Strong strategy frees an organization

Interview Cliff AvrilThe interviewer tried to put his finger on what it’s like to “play for Pete”. He hemmed and hawed getting the question out… “Talking about Seattle’s philosophy… I don’t know, open-minded… it certainly seems like Seattle started that trend… ‘be you’… isn’t that the Pete Carroll thing?” Avril responds, “I think so, honestly, because that was the biggest adjustment for me… through your college years, if you’re with certain (NFL) programs… It’s more of a militant type of thing, we have to be hard on these guys so they play a certain way, kinda make ‘em afraid in a certain sense. But coach Carroll has a different approach he allows guys to be themselves within being able to play the game.”

The interviewer continued to press this “Be you” style of leadership. He was trying to poke holes, “But the other side of it… jawing on the field… and literally pointing fingers… does that carry on after the game?”

 

Avril then defends Carroll’s approach, “That’s a part of thing that Coach Carroll has created in a sense of allowing guys to voice their opinions… that makes you stronger as a team… people aren’t afraid to call another person out… now don’t get disrespectful about it… but if you call another player out because your gonna’ go to bat for him… you need him to do the same… (and then) I need to up my game to match his…”

 

This may not seem remarkable to some, but Pete Carroll has succeeded, in a place where extreme violence MUST be perfectly and precisely managed, to allow for a great deal of creativity, style and personal opinion.  In fact, many of his players, like Cliff Avril, believe this is the source of differentiating success. His organization plays free, loose, fun and creatively, yet with extreme prejudice to win created only through personal ownership and team (corporate) loyalty. Just don’t make the mistake that most do.  Many believe this is just the contagious nature of Carroll’s gregarious and competitive personality, and no doubt that has something to do with it, but he has designed, implemented and expertly cultivated every aspect of his organization’s culture with this exact end in mind. Carroll’s strategy frees the Seahawks to complete at their best and is a great example of what strong strategy can do, not to control an organization but to breath autonomous, fluid and personal ownership into it.

2. Strong strategy establishes clear and unwavering norms

Press Conference Shaquil GriffinAfter watching this interview with Avril, I jumped over to Seahawks.com and watched the first player interview I could find. It was the second day of rookie camp, so I watched an interview of a cornerback from the University of Central Florida, Shaquill Griffin. He talked about his first day on the Seahawks practice field. If there is one thing the Seahawks are known for it is their Legion of Boom, led by all-pro safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor and all-pro cornerback Richard Sherman. Yes, they are fabulous athletes, but I was surprised to hear Griffin say, “it’s totally different for me it’s a whole new technique… they told me whatever you learned in college, just throw it out.”

This made me reflect upon the brilliance of Carroll’s leadership even further. In a world where athletes are already highly skilled and have played at the top of their games since the 5th grade, it is very natural for them to not want to change everything in terms of style or technique. And yet, Carroll’s organization changes everything. I watched press conference after press conference and heard the same theme repeatedly. Though the team enjoys a sort of freedom like no other team, many things are still very specifically scripted and every player is held to the execution standard of conformity and perfection. The remarkable thing however, as Avril articulated, is that the players love the environment, the culture. It is apparent that Carroll expertly dreamed of a balance between very specific guidance AND freedom to play and enjoy the game. Then he planted it, cultivated it and grew it to fruition.

3. Strong strategy builds the right guardrails and opens freedom-highways

This is perhaps where Carroll’s personality plays a bigger role. Balancing centralized authority and non-wavering expectations with high levels of personal ownership. To support the freedom to create, to take risk, to fail and to learn while at the same time elevating a culture that embraces conformity to some of the most minute execution details may be easier for him becomes to some degree it comes naturally. But I would bet, if you asked Carroll, he would say that he has often made mistakes managing this balance, but that he continue to return to his strategy in order to continuously improve his ability to live in the tension between these two extremes.

So what should Carroll’s example inspire us to do?

As managers or coaches who desire to be strategic leaders, we ought to aspire to live in the tension between extremes. Pete Carroll’s affirmation comes often comes from what his players say in public. Avril says (and I paraphrase), we are great because our leaders give us tremendous and sometimes dangerous freedom. Griffin says (paraphrased), the Seahawks are great because our leaders hold us all accountable to even the smallest of details. They describe, freely and authentically, the results of an organization being driven by a great strategic leader. And therefore we should ask ourselves, what do our employees, our players our members say about us as leaders? Do they brag about the personal ownership they feel? Do they act as if they have vast freedoms in anything not specifically prescribed within the culture? And, those things with specific guidance, do they talk about how important they are to execute really well? Do they boast about how the culture self-polices the right execution of these no-debates? Is the tension that exists within your organization between the extremes toward which you are encouraging them to go, or is the tension a result of dysfunction?

 

Strategic leaders live in the tension between freedom and hyper-executional-discipline. And it is there, that the great ones, like Carroll, erect the right guardrails and then let the freedom-highways operate at high speed.

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