The Post-Heroic Leader

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The Post-Heroic Leader

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What do wars, natural disasters, damsels in distress, and Bette Midler have in common? They all needs heroes.

Organizations don’t need heroes, they need leaders.  Post-heroic leaders.

Post-heroic leaders recognize that organizational success does not hinge on their own, unique leadership ability.  They believe they are simply the latest, not the greatest, organization leader.  Nor the last.

They see leadership as the opportunity to motivate an organization to success, not to rescue it from itself.  They don’t need it to be broken, so that they alone can fix it.

They accept organizational superiority but reject personal superiority.  They empower those superior in knowledge and skill, develop those that can be, and never competing with anyone they lead.

They seek objective counsel, guidance, and education from sources outside the organization.  They resist the subjectivity and bias of the organization, remaining ever skeptical of its uniqueness and greatness.

They are not afraid to ask for help, especially for themselves.  They know that the egocentric approach to leadership disempowers and demoralizes people and destroys productivity.

We will always need heroes, but only when there’s nothing left to lose.  Organizations have everything to lose.

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The Intelligence Illusion

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The Intelligence Illusion

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You’re driving down a residential street.  A toddler darts into your path.  Your only choices are the toddler or an oncoming car.

Not every human will make the right choice.  But every human knows the right choice.  Even the toddler.

Computers know nothing at all.  When they do seemingly intelligent things, such as drive a car, they are only blindly following a predefined algorithm.  That algorithm must contain not just the decision above, but every other possible decision.

And they aren’t really decisions.  The computer has no intuition.  It all boils down to a binary choice at a threshold.

This illusion of intelligence is just fine for ordering groceries or playing music.  Not so much for life-and-death situations.

Humans have an innate ability to process human error.  We apportion blame, reflect on our own fallibility, and wrestle with forgiveness.

But what about computer error?  In the situation with the toddler, we’ll blame the only form of intelligence involved, the programmers.  At least they’re paid well.

Remember, the toddler is actually intelligent, yet still needs 14 more years of training before taking the wheel.

Buckle up!

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Wanted: More Chess Players

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Wanted: More Chess Players

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Every year organizational leaders get together to discuss the future.  They set goals, define measures of success, and develop plans.  Most call it strategic planning.

This work is very important, but it’s largely tactical.  Mistaking it for strategy forsakes the opportunity to affect the market you operate in.  It’s declaring victory way too early.

The whole point of strategy is manipulating the external forces working against your organization to improve the prospects of your tactics.  Tactics deployed in absence of strategy do succeed, but often by chance and very often in vain.

Strategy must be focused outside the organization.  And it must involve some degree of deception.  These distinctions are critical to its success.

So, while most organizations mistake tactics for strategy, they survive because, well, most organizations mistake tactics for strategy.  The opportunity to strategically dominate the market remains available to those who recognize their mistake.

It’s kind of like chess.  You can’t win relying on tactics alone.  But at least in chess, the need for strategy becomes painfully obvious after just a few games.

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Don't Play Follow the Leader

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Don't Play Follow the Leader

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Humans are naturally inclined to organize for a common cause.  For proof, look no further than an angry mob.  A leader will either harness that organizational energy or diffuse it, depending on the leader’s focus.

An organizationally-focused leader develops a movement, individuals focused on their collective success, empowered and inspired to fulfill their own potential.  A movement is independent of any one leader.

A self-focused leader develops a following, individuals focused on their leader’s success, sacrificing their own potential to his or hers.  A following is entirely dependent on its leader.

If you’re surrounded everyday by people who feel safe taking risks in pursuit of better performance; who collaborate, cooperate, and share credit; who speak in collective terms, you are part of a movement – good going.

If instead those people fear using their own judgment; avoid taking risks; compete with each other for the leader’s attention; speak in individual terms, or in the leader’s name, you are part of a following – good luck.

Oh, and if you’re part of a movement and can’t find the leader, just look behind you.

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Growth At Every Cost

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Growth At Every Cost

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In the U.S., roughly 50% of first marriages end in divorce. For second marriages, it’s about 66%. Third marriages, 75% or higher.

It seems that mere statistics will not deter our faith that we can succeed where others have failed.

Maybe that explains why acquisitions, despite a roughly 80% failure rate, are the preferred method of growth for most organizations.  Not just preferred, they are often deemed necessary, or even strategic.

Acquisitions are typically justified with overestimated synergies and undue confidence that improbable efficiencies will materialize.  The deleterious impact on productivity, culture, and morale are grossly underestimated or completely ignored.

The prospect of all that new revenue without all of the attendant costs proves too strong a lure.  After all, growth is growth, even the most expensive kind.

But, sustainable growth comes from winning rather than acquiring business from competitors.  Innovative and strategic organizations do this by continually introducing superior products and services. They grow economically instead of physically.  And they preserve their cultures.

So, resist the temptation to acquire growth.  The odds are simply not in your favor.

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Just Say No

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Just Say No

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There’s an old saying in investing about taking care of the losers and letting the winners take care of themselves.  Irrationally, most investors do just the opposite and let the losers drag their portfolios down.

It must be human nature, forsaking the probable for the possible.  It seems very difficult to forgo an intriguing opportunity or give up on a failing effort.  After all, what if it turns around?  What if it’s the next big thing?

Organizations are not immune to this tendency.  They’re filled with underperforming efforts that heavily tax resources, yet somehow manage to endure.  The what-if fallacy is endemic.

This is why organizations must adhere to an effective, omnipresent strategy.  It’s the only way to know how best to allocate resources.  To know when to say no.

Saying no preserves resources for innovation, opportunity, and growth.  At the very least, for reinforcing successful efforts.  Saying no emboldens and empowers.

In any organization, rewards flow to those who say yes.  But, success flows to those who know when to say no, and have the courage to say it. 

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Reorganization: Solution or Symptom?

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Reorganization: Solution or Symptom?

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Microsoft announced a major reorganization recently.  Don’t worry if you didn’t notice.  They do it so often you have to wonder whether one reorganization completes before the next one begins.

They’re not alone.  Reorganizations are seen by many as healthy and necessary, even strategic. They supposedly promote innovation, create realignment, shake the tree, etc.

If that’s true, wouldn’t there be a direct correlation with improved performance? And wouldn’t any gains be discounted by the inevitable productivity drain from reorganizing?

Simply announcing a reorganization instantly refocuses employees from the organization’s future to their own.  A coveted opportunity for the select few is an anxiety-ridden endurance test for everyone else.

Reorganization is neither innovative nor strategic.  It’s a tactical correction that, done correctly, can both promote those things and scale to their resultant growth.

Of course, unhealthy, neglected organizations do need reorganizing.  But not repeatedly.  Frequent reorganization is a symptom of a much deeper problem.

Just because the big guys do it every few years doesn’t mean it’s right, just that they can afford it.  Can you?

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Tactics Masquerading as Strategy

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Tactics Masquerading as Strategy

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In World War II, the European conflict ended when Hitler ran out of gas. Literally.

It wasn’t an accident. It was a key element of the Allied strategy. The Allies controlled the oil and they kept him from gaining access to it.

Not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of war strategy, is it? What about the battles, the firepower, the brave and heroic efforts of millions? Those are tactics–vitally important, but not what wins the war.

Most organizations suffer from this same confusion. They mistake planning with strategy (strategic planning). Though crucial, planning is purely tactical. It’s what everyone is doing. And probably planning similar tactics, too.

Strategy is deceptive. It’s what no one expects of you, and what no one else is doing. It’s what moves the market toward you and away from them. It’s what keeps you in the lead.

So, keep improving your tactics. You’ll need them. But if you want to control your destiny, you’ll need strategy. Just don’t ever confuse the two.

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Forget technology already. Just innovate!

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Forget technology already. Just innovate!

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It’s 1980 and you sit down at your desk to start your workday. On your desktop are a telephone, stacks of papers, a pen or two. Your inbox is a metal tray. Your contacts are stored in a Rolodex.  Your calendar hangs on the wall. And you get your news from a newspaper.

Today, it’s difficult to imagine working in such an environment. No email. No internet. No text messages. No sales force automation software. Not even a spreadsheet. What on earth did they do all day?

With all our productivity-enhancing technology, you would assume we are significantly more innovative than people were then. But we’re not.

True, the pace of innovation, as measured by productivity gains, increases exponentially. But the acceleration is rather steady.

In other words, periods of remarkable technological advancement, such as we’ve seen since 1980, do not remarkably affect the pace of innovation.

That’s because technology is not innovative. People are innovative. Sometimes technology helps, sometimes it hinders. Recognizing this distinction is critical to success.

Now back to work. Somebody has to get through all that email today.

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History's Greatest Innovators

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History's Greatest Innovators

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When the U.S. Civil War began in 1861, medical care was primitive, often dangerous, and at times even barbaric.  It had not advanced significantly in thousands of years.

The war’s intensity and devastating new weaponry caused unprecedented numbers of wounded soldiers.  Most of them died while under medical care.  A soldier’s chances of survival were actually greater on the battlefield than in the hospital.

When the war ended in 1865, medical care had radically transformed into essentially the same system we use today.  Wounded soldiers recovered in the hospital, and most survived the war.

Four years that ushered in the age of modern medical care.  Four years of extraordinary innovation by ordinary people that changed the world.  Just four years.

This is what people are capable of when empowered to do what humans do best. They continually experimented and improved until soldiers stopped dying in their care.  They didn’t need guidance, oversight, or approval.  And they couldn’t wait for technology advancements.

That’s what innovation means.  Imagine what the people in your organization are capable of.

 

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