Category Archives: Executive Development

Is Going With Your Gut Smart Leadership?

Is_Going_With_Your_Gut_Smart_LeadershipBefore we get started I have a confession to make.  I’m not the smartest person in the room.  Many of you knew that already.  I am however someone with a good bit of experience leading and consulting to organizations and Boards.  I have learned a few things about smart leadership, decision-making and the power of execution.  Here are some things I want to share for your consideration.

  • Is going with your gut smart?
  • How do you leverage your big picture skills in execution?
  • How do you execute with excellence?

This post should have been sub-titled “How I Learned to Love the Micro-Biome” because it has perfect symmetry with the notion of going with your gut. Not exclusively mind you, but as a critical component of your decision tree.  Now the micro-biome as you may know refers to the microbes that live in the human intestinal tract. They are responsible for digesting the foods we eat.  Interestingly, even though they are bacteria, they don’t make us sick, they help keep us healthy.  Without them, you would starve to death.  Some of our best decisions meet the same fate, when we don’t trust our instincts.

I think we would all agree, it doesn’t matter how smart you are, it matters whether you can achieve the goals of your organization and illuminate the aspiration of your customers.

Downsizing your dreams—-the big picture, if you will–is not the way to go.  Right-sizing your expectations is.  I don’t mean settle for less. I mean be prepared to meet your team where they are and be prepared to advance them to where they need to be.  If as the French artist Gustave Flaubert said, “God is in the details”, then I’m going to trust my gut and only pray at the largest cathedrals.

Would you agree customer networking events need name tags? Right?  Me too!  Funny thing though, in one organization they said they didn’t.  When I asked why, they said, because everyone already knows one another.  To which I replied, if they already know one another, then why are we having networking events?  They got the message.  Big picture. Little executions.

If you are a “big picture” leader, your greatest strength is not trying to retrofit your skills in execution, it is using your broad perspective to ask the right questions of your team.  There is a caveat of course, if you’ve moved to a tiny firm, you may be asking yourself the questions.  So be it.  What’s important is asking the questions and thinking through the issues and the answers.

Likewise, it’s important to realize you have allies–among your peer network, the membership or customer base and ultimately your staff.  Finding people among those three groups who will accommodate you and leverage your big picture skills is critical.

I have followed several industry veterans with long tenure.  Two of them were in the CEO seat for 26 and 39 years respectively.  Where my predecessors gave short shrift to some issues, I found manna for a strategic vision.  An example–an industry is in the throes of seismic change.  One of our customers had been pitching an industry promotional campaign for at least five years with no success.  What are the three most common complaints we hear in today’s data saturated world?  Nobody knows what we do or why it’s important/valuable/vital and we need to do more to promote our business.  That’s exactly what we did.

With lots of collaboration and about six months of steady effort, we launched an educational campaign designed to help consumers connect the dots between the environment and the responsible use of our industry’s products.  Big picture project, with lots of opportunities to leverage the detail level skills of staff, volunteers and members alike.

If there’s any secret to this process it is demonstrating you are in the game. Know the details of the game plan.  Attend the execution meetings.  Ask the big picture, strategic questions.  For our industry campaign, it was asking the obvious questions about how to focus the campaign and the hard questions about the best ways to execute the “grass-roots” campaign we envisioned. More often than not, groups move to “how” far too quickly. Your job, no different than showing “you own the numbers” when it comes to financial reporting is showing your capacity to engage with vital questions and insights.

Be the champion.  The 7 Measures of Success research published by ASAE suggests CEO’s be the broker of ideas for their organizations. I agree, totally.  Using the big picture skills you possess to make clear the strategic imperatives behind your programs and efforts is a vital part of the job.  Helping your members/customers see “behind the curtain” of your plans makes a huge difference to your success.  Our industry campaign offers valued insight.  While the campaign does not necessarily drive buyers directly to our members, it does an outstanding job of driving visitors to the association’s website–where they can learn about our members and the association.  Not everyone fully appreciated that strategy at the outset.  We broke it down for them.

None of this is a guarantee of success.  It is more akin to a compass.  You have to learn how to use it proficiently before it yields any meaningful results.  Failure is inevitable at some point along the way.  Know it. Work like crazy to avoid it. Prepare for it in any case.

Now this is important.  Do not get caught in the trap of separating strategy from execution. It is a myth, that these two processes could or should be separate.  This is a false dichotomy.  This new age invention is based on an age-old joke.  “While the surgery was a complete success, the patient died”.  Far too often, I hear claims of spectacular strategies which failed not because the strategies were bad, but because the execution was poor.

Let me be clear. Execution does not live outside of strategy. And frankly neither does your success.  If you haven’t taken all of the variables of your culture, organization dynamics, demographics, and attitudes into consideration right alongside your strategy, you’re missing a huge opportunity and a huge point of leverage.

Understand, I’m not talking about the pedestrian objections of “we’ve always done it this way” or “we’ll never be able to do this”. I  am really talking about the fine details of what will it take to be successful.  That old saw about “some people being too busy getting it done, to listen to those who say it can’t be done.” is about right.

Let me wrap up by saying this…Big picture leaders delight in seeing others achieve their fullest potential. Our sense of self comes from witnessing the success of others.  Our strength comes not from hitting targets others can’t hit, but rather from hitting targets others can’t see.

  • Take advantage of your “big picture” expertise to ask the critical questions to correct the shortcomings in execution.
  • Find those who will accommodate you.  That is, those who will gladly fly in the shadow of your creativity, innovation and strategic vision.  They thrive on getting it done and you will benefit from their knowledge.
  • Remember that execution and strategy will do more damage held separately than held together.

How do make sure you have the right team in place to support your “big picture” strategy?  So what’s keeping you from your next success?    May it’s your gut.

Showing The Love for Wired 4 Leadership 2014

Showing_The_Love_for_Wired_4_LeadershipLeaders have a lot to learn, me included. While you may be tempted to dismiss this notion as trite or cliché, it is and remains the central tenet of effective leadership. The rate of technical progress is increasing exponentially, we are discovering more effective ways to use our brains and bodies to learn, and leaders at all levels face challenging environments–global and otherwise–that for lack of a better description are always “on”.  You can’t stop learning.

At Wired 4 Leadership we recognize the demand you face in  re-thinking your business models and the need for strategies that optimize all available resources gave you plenty to think about in 2014. With our sincere thanks to those of you who shared your responses and reviews, here are your favorite posts from Wired 4 Leadership in 2014:

3-D Leadership in a Changing World – There’s a new normal afoot that I’ve taken to calling 3D leadership. You don’t need those cheap plastic glasses to see or experience it. You will however want to think hard about your worldview with an entirely new lens.

5 Reasons Complexity Is Your Friend – Business leaders. Community leaders. Association leaders.  Education leaders. Political leaders. Thought leaders. As a rule, they are smart, driven, and extraordinarily capable women and men.  Many of them are increasingly confounded by the complexity they face each day.  Who could blame them?

Leaders: Get Your Head In The Game – “Get your head in the game” is the clarion cry of coaches demanding athletes regain focus and bring their talents to bear on the success of the team. That’s incredibly true for successful and effective leaders as well.

New CEO? Five Ideas To Help You Thrive – Congratulations! You’re the new CEO. Ruh-roh! Now what? Every leader faces the inherent challenge of making their mark. None more so than a newly appointed CEO.

Why Leaders Should Practice Forgetting – When it comes to common knowledge, leaders have a lot to learn about forgetting.  Why?  Because forgetting is essential to finding new, innovative solutions to long running problems and challenges.

The Meaning of Change for Leaders – Leaders need to revel in change. There’s no other way to say it. Without a bona fide commitment at the top to alter an organization’s way of doing business, change will fail. Not at first and maybe not for some time. But it will fail.

As we at Wired 4 Leadership look ahead to 2015, there will surely be enormous challenges and amazing opportunities for leaders as new media, business services, products, and technologies surface to support the extraordinary efforts of our teams, customers, clients, and members.

We close out 2014 by wishing you all a warm and wonderful holiday season, a very Happy New Year and a most prosperous 2015. You deserve it.

Leaders: Five Ways To Step It Up in 2015

Leaders: Five Ways To Step It Up in 2015The economic reality of 2014 was far better than many expected.  Unemployment fell to its lowest level in six years, the stock market climbed to historic highs, gasoline prices fell and commercial interest rates remained steady and low. The continued gridlock in Congress and the coming shift in majority control fuels some uncertainty and likely gives even the most optimistic leader among us pause. Normally, with the turn of the New Year just a month away, taking stock and setting a course for 2015 would already be overdue, but in today’s world, savvy leaders know there’s always time for fine-tuning. Here are five ways to step it up in 2015 to navigate the coming trends and challenges in the New Year:

Readiness, Resiliency and Re-adjustment Will Be Your Mantra.
For too many years, leaders acted as though the coming year was simply an incremental adaptation of the prior year. Don’t even think about it.  The nature of leadership today demands that we identify and prepare short, mid and long-term strategies for all of our key activities. In meetings with CEO’s, business owners and senior executives, I increasingly hear about their six-month sales strategy, the twelve-month strategic plan, or the three-month capital equipment budget.  Much of the foundational business planning familiar to many of us is giving way to a near-term focus with a healthy dose of long-range re-adjustment strategy in the wings.

Think Deeply About Your Members.  What business are they in and what’s happening to their employees and customers?  What problems are your customer’s customers facing? Chances are if your members or their suppliers are involved in transportation, graphic communications, logistics, financial services, home building, auto manufacturing and the associated supply pipelines, 2015 will be difficult.  Scott Stratten, in his book, Unmarketing talks about the importance of remarrying your current customers. Your members have high expectations and the current trend line in customer experience is heading in the wrong direction. Does your organization have a member assistance plan in place?  Stepping up the focus on your career center programs, offering free or low cost business counseling, focused research or resume banks will continue to serve a vital purpose.  If your membership is company-based finding new ways of reaching out to the various internal departments (HR, supply logistics, finance) with ideas, tools and resources will be essential to success in 2015.

Step Up Your Personal Member Communications.  When former United States Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson headed up Goldman Sachs, he made 50-60 phone calls just after New Year’s Day to simply say hello and share goodwill for the coming year with the firm’s top clients.  Association leaders should do the same.   While there’s a better than even chance you’ll get an earful about the political gridlock, and uncertain times, there’s an equal chance you’ll strengthen the connection between members and your association.  No doubt some of you reading this will say, “but we’ve got 10,000 members, we can’t call them all.” Well you can call some of them. I called three hundred members and prospects in the space of a month. You can pick thirty members randomly from across the country. Call them. Now.

Prudence, Pragmatism and Frugality Rule.  Being productive, efficient and wise with resources never goes out of style. Uncertainty provides an ideal opportunity to engage your team in finding ways to keep a lid on expenses or exploring new ways of doing day-to-day things more efficiently. To be clear, few of our associations can shrink their way to success. We are already doing far more, with far less than we are used to doing. As a leader however, you can use the moment to inculcate staffers of the importance saving money, seeking new efficiencies and considering new means to productivity are more than leadership clichés.

Master Your Own Voice and Share Your Great Story. It’s a given, nobody knows what tomorrow will bring. And this great story isn’t about you. Don’t let that stop you from developing a vision for where your association is heading in 2015, how you’ll get there, and why everyone around you—staff, membership, Board members, stakeholders and customers—will feel stronger, be better looking, and succeed beyond their wildest dreams, when you do. As humans, we are social beings and connecting through stories is what we do. Leaders understand great stories stir emotion, are memorable, authentic, and conclude with a powerful call to action.  That’s hard to get from reading the Association’s latest strategic plan or its financial statement.  Just like the increasingly popular “dashboard” tools, stories illuminate the unity behind our purpose and mission.

You’re it. Vous êtes le chef.
What’s your story going to be in 2015?