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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

6 Habits of True Strategic Thinkers

Sometimes we feel like as leaders we have to generate our own "best" ideas when in reality other people are saying some really good things. Other times we buy into others peoples ideas without any thought of our own. Both roads are dangerous. Maybe the most dangerous is waiting too long to act, hoping for total consensus or perfection.

I read this article this morning and thought it worth sharing. The writer reminds us as leaders of some simple truths to remember.

From Inc.; 
You're the boss, but you still spend too much time on the day-to-day. Here's how to become the strategic leader your company needs.

 In the beginning, there was just you and your partners. You did every job. You coded, you met with investors, you emptied the trash and phoned in the midnight pizza. Now you have others to do all that and it's time for you to "be strategic."
Whatever that means.
If you find yourself resisting "being strategic," because it sounds like a fast track to irrelevance, or vaguely like an excuse to slack off, you're not alone. Every leader's temptation is to deal with what's directly in front, because it always seems more urgent and concrete. Unfortunately, if you do that, you put your company at risk. While you concentrate on steering around potholes, you'll miss windfall opportunities, not to mention any signals that the road you're on is leading off a cliff.
This is a tough job, make no mistake. "We need strategic leaders!” is a pretty constant refrain at every company, large and small. One reason the job is so tough: no one really understands what it entails. It's hard to be a strategic leader if you don't know what strategic leaders are supposed to do.
After two decades of advising organizations large and small, my colleagues and I have formed a clear idea of what's required of you in this role. Adaptive strategic leaders — the kind who thrive in today’s uncertain environment – do six things well:

Anticipate 

Most of the focus at most companies is on what’s directly ahead. The leaders lack “peripheral vision.” This can leave your company vulnerable to rivals who detect and act on ambiguous signals. To anticipate well, you must:
  • Look for game-changing information at the periphery of your industry
  • Search beyond the current boundaries of your business
  • Build wide external networks to help you scan the horizon better

Think Critically

“Conventional wisdom” opens you to fewer raised eyebrows and second guessing. But if you swallow every management fad, herdlike belief, and safe opinion at face value, your company loses all competitive advantage. Critical thinkers question everything. To master this skill you must force yourself to:
  • Reframe problems to get to the bottom of things, in terms of root causes
  • Challenge current beliefs and mindsets, including your own
  • Uncover hypocrisy, manipulation, and bias in organizational decisions

Interpret 

Ambiguity is unsettling. Faced with it, the temptation is to reach for a fast (and potentially wrongheaded) solution.  A good strategic leader holds steady, synthesizing information from many sources before developing a viewpoint. To get good at this, you have to:
  • Seek patterns in multiple sources of data
  • Encourage others to do the same
  • Question prevailing assumptions and test multiple hypotheses simultaneously

Decide

Many leaders fall prey to “analysis paralysis.” You have to develop processes and enforce them, so that you arrive at a “good enough” position. To do that well, you have to:
  • Carefully frame the decision to get to the crux of the matter
  • Balance speed, rigor, quality and agility. Leave perfection to higher powers
  • Take a stand even with incomplete information and amid diverse views

 Align

Total consensus is rare. A strategic leader must foster open dialogue, build trust and engage key stakeholders, especially when views diverge.  To pull that off, you need to:
  • Understand what drives other people's agendas, including what remains hidden
  • Bring tough issues to the surface, even when it's uncomfortable
  • Assess risk tolerance and follow through to build the necessary support

Learn

As your company grows, honest feedback is harder and harder to come by.  You have to do what you can to keep it coming. This is crucial because success and failure--especially failure--are valuable sources of organizational learning.  Here's what you need to do:
  • Encourage and exemplify honest, rigorous debriefs to extract lessons
  • Shift course quickly if you realize you're off track
  • Celebrate both success and (well-intentioned) failures that provide insight

Do you have what it takes?

Obviously, this is a daunting list of tasks, and frankly, no one is born a black belt in all these different skills. But they can be taught and whatever gaps exist in your skill set can be filled in. But for now, test your own strategic aptitude (or your company's) with the survey at www.decisionstrat.com.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Watch your mouth...

Remember when you were a kid and you said something inappropriate? Your mother would respond immediately, "watch your mouth young man (or young woman)." Yes, I heard that my fair share of times growing up. It seems my mouth was putting me, and sometimes my parents, in bad situations.

It seems God has told us to watch our mouths as well. Psalm 141:3 says, "Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips." Hmm, it seems our mouths have always been a problem when left unchecked. James mentions this and belays the dangers of an uncontrolled tongue.

The Bible tells us that with one breath we can praise God and with another tear others down. The two simply cannot co-exist and come from the same mouth, somethings got to go.

It amazes me how many people receive little or no positive affirmation in their lives. Lord, set a guard over my mouth and keep watch over the door to my lips. Let my mouth be an instrument of positive affirmation of others and praise to You.

This is a basic leadership tenet that we tend to leave out of our daily routine if we're not careful. Heed to the words of your mother (and God), "watch your mouth young man (or woman)!" See what a difference you can make in your family, church, business, organizations by simply watching your mouth.

Lead Strong,

Shawn

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Meetings, meetings, meetings... If You have to Have Them You Might as Well Make Them Worthwhile


Recently I have been afforded the opportunity to lead a couple initiatives at the college where I work (that's a politically correct way of saying things were dumped in my lap that I didn't know I would be in charge of, ha). Actually, I don't as it provides new opportunities to collaborate with others. But in so doing it involves the dreaded meeting! 

It seems I tend to live from meeting to meeting, and usually I don't mind at all, except when meetings have no value. Then I realized that maybe some of my meetings, especially the meetings connected to the newer initiatives I'm involved with may be just those kind of meetings. 

My Executive Assistant is a fan of Zig Ziglar and receives his emails. She passed on the following survey results concerning meetings. So simple, yet so much to remember about our meetings.

What's the worst thing about meetings?" Over 1,600 people responded.

The most common responses were...
  • No clear purpose or objective.
  • Not organized. No agenda.
  • Too long.
  • Boring. Nothing new or interesting.
  • Not inspiring or motivating.
  • Doesn't start on time, stay on track, or finish on time.
  • Lack of interaction.
  • Allowing attendees to ramble and repeat the same comments and thoughts.
  • Allowing attendees to ramble and repeat the same comments and thoughts (that's supposed to make you laugh). This, by the way, was the number 1 annoyance.
  • Weak presenter (unprepared, not succinct, monotone, overly redundant).
  • Repeating information for late arrivals.
  • No specific action items or walk-away points.
Meetings are an opportunity. They're an important part of how we connect (communicate), how we learn, how we encourage, and how we inspire. 

Zig Ziglar's email was a good reminder of the opportunities created by meetings. If you've got to have them we might as well make them worthwhile and productive. We're all too busy to meet just to say we met. 


Lead Strong...


Shawn