If you stay ready...

Stay-Ready What decisions are you making to help your business stay ready?
...you never have to get readyIn a recent discussion with other buiness owners, the topic of luck came up as a point of conversation and the impact it has on business success. One of the owners related the title quote of this article her grandmother shared with her to help navigate the ups and downs of owning one’s own business. While variations of the quote are attributed to an actor, an athlete and a rapper, this version immediately resonated as great leadership knowledge in today’s VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) business environment.In Michael E. Gerber’s 2004 book, The E-Myth Revisited, he highlights the concept of working on the business versus working in the business. This is a great place to begin the discussion regardless of the type of business a leader leads. Whether a for-profit or non-profit, public or private, corporate or small business, the degree to which leaders work on...
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“Are you a GPS...

business-direction-compass How are you fully leveraging your operational leaders?
...or a Compass?”One of the common topics that routinely comes up in our executive coaching discussions with senior leaders, is understanding the distinction between strategic leadership and operational leadership. It is an important distinction that we’ve outlined in all our “Missing Piece” books. Recently, I watched an interview with Ken Frazier, former CEO of Merck & Co. who touched on this topic. During the interview he used the title phrase as his way of making the distinction, especially for leaders in the C-Suite.We define strategic leadership as the level of leadership that sets the direction for the organization. This includes creating and socializing the vision, mission and values of the organization. It also includes creating and executing the strategy for the business and how the business competes in its markets and industries. It is typically the realm of the leaders at the top of the organization. The CEO, Executive Director, Business...
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“Curiosity has its own...

critical-thinking How are you leveraging critical thinking to support your business decisions?
...reason for existing."The title of this month's article is actually the second half of an Albert Einstein quote that reads, "The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing." We introduced thinking differently as a lead-in to innovation last month which we also know is a function of curiosity. As we continue our conversation around diversity of thought, we will speak directly to the importance of critical thinking. Even now, as the conversation around Open AI and ChatGPT ramp up to a fever pitch, the need for leaders to understand the importance of critical thinking has never been more crucial!We define critical thinking as, "A process where leaders question their own assumptions, as well as those of others, using a mix of research, analysis, questioning and exploring new ideas to inform in a way not restricted by subjective perspectives of peers and/or the status quo."...
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“If you don’t know where you’re going...

Strategic-communication What will your strategic narrative sound like for your business leading into the new business year?
...any road will take you there.”Many will recall this classic line from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” in the conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat. As business leaders start looking at how this year will end and begin planning for the next year, it is important they plan through the lens of strategic thinking. Strategic thinking is comprised of the three guiding elements of the business: Vision, Mission, and Strategy. In chapter 3 of our most recent book, “Finding the Missing Piece: The Impact of Effective Communications on Sustainable Success”, we focus on the strategic communications involved in strategic thinking and why it is critical to the effectiveness of an organization’s overall communications strategy.We define strategic communications as the actions involved in communicating the long-term purpose and direction of the organization. To that end, strategic communications is unique in its application than the operational and tactical communications which we will...
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“The ability to learn faster than your competitors...

strategy-making How is your business strategy creating a sustainable competitive advantage and how do you know?
...may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.”It is the time of year where many organizations are starting to plan for the continued success of their business. Whether for-profit or non-profit, large national corporation or small local business, the challenges of maintaining a sustainable and successful strategy continue to challenge leaders at all levels. Leaders continue to navigate a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) business environment laced with supply chain issues, employee retention, political unrest, and economic inflation to name a few.The inspiration for the framework of this month’s discussion is an article in the most recent issue of Harvard Business Review titled “Strategy-Making in Turbulent Times – a Dynamic New Model” by Michael Mankins and Mark Gottfredson. Right up front I’ll argue whether their model is new or not, a point the authors even acknowledge as true for parts of their recommendations. However, the five elements of the structure are valid...
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We are all Products...

core-competencies How is your business capacity and capability supporting your strategy and how do you know?
...of Our Capability.A frequent topic of discussion in our leadership coaching practice in the last several months is how to manage burnout. When we explore the topic more closely, a common theme arises to the surface. It seems despite the many issues of the time (great resignation, post-pandemic uncertainty, global supply chain, etc.), leaders are still trying to achieve their original goals as if these issues simply didn’t exist.In truth, every business, for-profit or non-profit, public or private, large or small, operates on two related and interdependent variables: Capacity and Capability. Capacity consists of the assets and inputs, both tangible and intangible, the organization has on hand or can be readily acquired. Capability consists of the collective skills, knowledge and attitudes the organization leverages to conduct their business strategy and effectively compete in their markets. All businesses must assess their competitive strategy through the lens of their executable capacity and their...
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“I Love It...

strategy_-thinking-journey What does it look like when your next plan comes together?
...When a Plan Comes Together!” Many might remember this often-used phrase from the fictional character Hannibal Smith, the leader of “The A-Team” from the mid-80’s TV series (or the 2010 movie). In many cases it always seemed there was no plan, but in the end, things worked out for the team eliciting his infamous phrase while lighting the obligatory cigar! Suffice it to say, most, if not all, plans for 2020 were shot to hell due to the pandemic. However, as business leaders adapt to the new reality and start to put 2020 in the rearview mirror the narrative becomes, “What’s next?”The 4th Quarter of 2020 is shaping up like no other in recent history. In addition to the lagging effect of the pandemic, the effect of schools in various stages of openness, continued social unrest and a very contentious national election, what is a business leader to do to plan...
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“Action and Adaptability...

VUCO-2-0 What new opportunities are you taking advantage of?
...create Opportunity.”At the risk of sounding redundant and a little like Captain Obvious, the new reality challenged every leader’s script for success. It reminds me of a term from my former life, VUCA which is an acronym for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. It was coined by the Army War College in the late 1980s as part of post-Cold War planning discussions. There is little doubt today’s 21st Century business environment encompasses all of these conditions!Instead of dwelling on each of these conditions and their impact on leadership, let’s look forward and see how today’s leaders can create opportunity as motivational speaker Garrison Wynn suggests in the title quote. By way of structure, we will use the VUCA 2.0 Model coined by former Medtronic CEO Bill George. He simply redefined the original letters in the acronym to now mean Vision, Understanding, Courage and Adaptability. Let’s explore each in more detail:Vision ~...
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“Education is not the learning of facts...

Thinker-Auguste-Rodin What is your process to expand your leadership knowledge box?
...but the training of the mind to think.”When Albert Einstein said these words, the internet did not exist. The networks that did exist in the form of telegraph and telephone did not provide access to data and information as we have now. One could almost say we no longer need to learn facts because we have access to them instantly through any number of Google searches. More importantly, the second part of his quote still resonates today. We would suggest it has become harder to train the mind to think than it was even in Einstein’s day.Training the mind to think is what critical thinking is all about, especially for 21st Century Leaders. According to Drs. Richard Paul and Linda Elder, critical thinking is where the thinker improves the quality of their thinking based on how they think and the associated intellectual standards. As human beings, much of our thinking is biased,...
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“Are you a Problem-Solver...

problem-finding How are you as a leader problem-finding for your organization?
...or a Problem-Finder?”Like many leaders, in the early days of my career, I fancied myself as a problem-solver. My behavioral assessments reinforced it and, quite frankly, I was good at it. However, at the point where I began leading larger corporate teams, I realized being a problem-solver was not enough. And so began a journey to re-define myself as a problem-finder. As a leader, it was important to be able to see potential problems and issues before they impacted our organization and clients. At one point, a client actually asked me directly if I had some sort of crystal ball (I didn’t) because we developed a strong sense of seeing what others did not!It is why I ask organizational leaders of for-profit and non-profit organizations, business owners and emerging leaders, “Are you a problem-solver or a problem-finder?” Of course, since most are familiar with problem-solving, the first question I get back...
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“If you think you know something...

3-Player-Chess
...then it is hard to be open to learning.”Last month I posted about Dr. Max McKeown’s book, “The Innovator’s Book – Rules for Rebels, Mavericks and Innovators”. In the post, I highlighted a specific page that includes the title quote of this post. I believe it sets up this month’s topic quite nicely as we talk about Strategic Leadership. At the beginning of the calendar year, many businesses, for-profit and non-profit, large corporations and small privately-owned businesses are executing their strategic plans. As we begin yet another calendar/fiscal year, let’s explore what really goes into thinking strategically as a leader in the 21st Century dynamic business environment.In the past few month’s I’ve given multiple speeches and presentations around these strategic leadership competencies as they are at the core of staying relevant and achieving sustainable success in their businesses. These competencies are based on the research of Kimberly Boal and Robert Hooijberg...
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“I can explain it to you…

critical
…but I can't comprehend it for you.” As we continue to explore the value of soft skills critical to being effective 21st Century Leaders, our discussion turns to one of the most sought after, yet least available soft skills: Critical Thinking. While many definitions exist for critical thinking, they all rally around the concept of objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment. In this world of short attention spans and social media driven opinions and assumptions, a leader’s ability to objectively analyze and evaluate the myriad of situations and decisions they face daily makes the title quote by former New York City Mayor Ed Koch all the more relevant! When we dig deeper into the construct of critical thinking, we find several key attitudes and skills necessary for 21st Century Leaders to make the right decisions for the sustainable success of their organizations. From my...
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“You can’t Motivate People…

happen
…You can only Create a Game Worth Playing” Motivation seems to be a recurring topic in many of the coaching conversations I have so it seems fitting to discuss in some detail as it is clearly still misunderstood by so many leaders and followers. And given the timing of March Madness and the upcoming Opening Day for baseball, it seemed only appropriate to use the quote from Michael Gerber to open the discussion of how leaders can create a “Game Worth Playing”! One of the biggest misconceptions around motivation is that it can be externally applied. What is externally applied are the conditions in which a person is motivated to apply the three elements of motivation: Direction, Intensity and Persistence. As these three elements are applied to one’s behavior, that person’s motivation can be inferred by how much they apply to each of the three. From my own experience, creating a...
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“It’s What You Do, Not What You Say...

Vision How are you part of your organization’s future and how do you know?
…If You’re Not Part of the Future, then Get Out of the Way.”Whenever I see these words to John Cougar Mellencamp’s song, “Peaceful World”, it reminds me that one of the biggest challenges leaders face is painting a clear picture of the intended future of their team, department, business or organization. This is the time of year where many leaders are doing just that, visualizing the intended future produced by strategic plans, budgets and resource allocations now ready to be executed in the upcoming new year. However, these documents aren't enough to dictate success as they are typically created by spreadsheets and analytics. Visions are realized through emotional engagement by members of an organization so having more than logical plans and budgets to achieve success is necessary.What is the story? ~ Before leaders share the picture of the intended future, they have to have a clear idea of the story themselves....
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You Don't Know SWOT!

swot-analysis-2 What does your SWOT say about your organization’s priorities?
Of the many lessons I’ve learned throughout my career, one that has generated sustainable success is the effective use of the SWOT Analysis.  For those readers who are not familiar with the SWOT Analysis, it is a flexible tool that helps the leader identify internal Strengths and Weaknesses as well as external Opportunities and Threats (hence the acronym).  It can be used to assess individual circumstances and/or organizational situations with a very straightforward process.  The challenges for both frequent SWOT users or those leaders just getting started with the tool is that most fail to realize the full value of the SWOT process.  Most only realize half the value by ignoring the most effective part of the tool!In a traditional SWOT Analysis, the leader creates four lists containing the collective insights on the internal Strengths (list #1) and Weaknesses (list #2) along with the external Opportunities (list #3) and Threats (list...
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If the Economy has changed...

...has your Business Model? Leadership is about managing change and there is no more significant change requiring authentic leadership in recent history as now.  We still see many businesses large and small not coping well with the necessary changes needed to keep their businesses viable.  A vast majority of companies must continue to leverage their ability to change on their own and reach into the leadership tool kit for some never before used tools. Understanding how to manage change involves first recognizing that a change is needed. Recognizing the skills and knowledge that brought your business to this point may not, will not guarantee your success going forward. More importantly, has your attitude changed with the new economic reality? What are you customers asking for now? What are your suppliers telling you now? What are your own sales and operations people saying about their ability to succeed now? What is your...
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Strategy…

…is a series of expedients Helmuth Von Moltke was regarded as one of the greatest military strategists of the late 19th Century.  In the military context, his statement above meant no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.  Strategy becomes one of extensive preparation for all possible outcomes.  Flash forward nearly 150 years and business and military leaders alike find themselves in a similar environment where the key success factor is adaptability.  It is still about successfully preparing for all possible contingencies they might encounter in their area of engagement. So what does it take to plan for a series of expedients?  In my experience in the military and in business, I’ve found 3 common elements of successful adaptability: Know Your Environment – The military continuously updates threat assessments based on changes in enemy activity.  Successful businesses routinely update their environmental assessment and SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) Analysis.  While...
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Change Occurs At The Outer Edge of Your Comfort Zone

Comfort-Zone
As we wind down 2012, many of us are reflecting on what we accomplished in 2012 and what changes we will make to continue our successes into 2013. In my own work with small and medium businesses as well as non-profit organizations, managing change is the most common topic of conversation; and why not? The uncertainty that remains in the economic and political environments have leaders in the unenviable position of making the next right strategic decision in the face of all this uncertainty.How do leaders mitigate this uncertainty enough to make the crucial decisions before them? While there are many moving parts to a successful business strategy, two elements of leading any organization is understanding the general environment you are competing in as well as knowing how your current capabilities match up to that environment. Key to a leader’s strategic thinking process includes a recurring assessment of their general environment...
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You Cannot Control The Wind But You Can Adjust The Sails.

These words to the Ricky Skaggs song Can’t Control The Wind are a great entrée into understanding the Total Leadership Process. These particular words came to mind as I read a Fortune article about Larry Ellison and the BMW Oracle Racing Team returning the America’s Cup Trophy back to the United States after a fifteen-year absence. His thoughts on the victory centered on the right combination of technology, sailing skills and strategy. Strategy forms the foundation of the Total Leadership Process and reflects the Purpose of the organization. In actuality, the organizational Purpose is a combination of Vision, Values, Mission and Strategy but it is the Strategy that determines how the organization will compete in its current market and industry. Understanding the importance of this definition is crucial as the competitive landscape and assumptions in every industry are changing. What strategic assumptions worked when economic and industry growth rates were 10%...
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