Leadership insights from Amtraking to NYC late, with a sudden stop... and smoke

Spending over 200,000 miles annually teaching executives helps me get tuned into systems that most would not be aware of. It's not normal, I agree, but can be entertaining at times. Especially when you're already arriving an hour late, your hotel got overbooked, and you're staying downtown NYC about a half hour farther away from tomorrow's meeting, and it's now 12:19am. 

Here are a couple clues when there that it's going to get worse:

1) The engine change over in DC caused a 30 minuted departure delay from DC.

2) Enroute, the cafe attendant admits that the engine was, um, not up to par upon departure. The explains the 15 minute delay in departure from Baltimore. 

3) While approaching Newark, about 15 minutes from Manhattan you feel a sudden lurching stop, quickly followed by a smell of smoke, and one of the conductors hanging in the cafe car yelling "Shit!" (I prefer the cafe car because I can spread work out on a table, makes me think I'm doing something useful with my life).

These are what we road warriors call "clues". Clues are helpful. They alert us to a problem, and allow us to adjust our expectations accordingly. Like I now know I will get 5 hours sleep tonight. 

But what "clues" occur around you in your company that you might be ignoring? Were there delays? Unexpected lurches? Someone yelling "shit!"? We've heard that many times employees know there's a problem well ahead of the final collision, but fail to inform the CEO, or the CEO fails to listen.

What can you do tomorrow to listen for these clues? 

What can you do to make it safer for someone to expose them?

I'm going to lose sleep tonight. But if you can detect clues earlier, you may not have to. 

 

Warrior-Leader Culture in a Politically Correct World

Many leaders have grown jaded over the past 20 years in their search for a measurable way to accelerate performance. We often hear such complaints from executives who’ve worked with their umpteenth consultant, tried again the Next Big Thing in organizational theory, heard their 100th motivational speaker, and just finished the latest of the 35,000 new management books published annually.

But investigation into this frustration revealed that sometimes the staying power of ancient methods exceeds that of the flavor of the month theories.

Those who have learned of samurai principles, however, use ancient leadership techniques rather than following the latest fashionable trends in management theory. When Apple helped our colleague Kamran Loghman research innovation and creativity methods, a by-product was the application of Samurai principles. 

The ancient samurai ideas have been proven to be substantial and effective. These ancient techniques may surprise you with their relevance in today’s business world. Many executives find that they simply deal more authentically with real organizational issues than pop theories do.

The samurai warrior functions as an excellent metaphor for leaders throughout the millennia.

Unlike some other great leaders and leadership methodologies, the samurai system was well-documented and they were able to survive as an organization for a very long time. Until they were overwhelmed by technology and Western influence, they were able to repel every invader with their timeless, culture-crossing techniques. 

As a leader in your organization, consider the following ancient leadership truths. Implementing them could help you lead organizational change, develop strategy, and create and manage great teams.

Death

Weak management teams are those that are not taught how to “die” properly. You needn’t literally commit suicide or start taking out your colleagues in the name of organizational improvement, but consider this: Some who’ve lived through a heart attack or other serious illness no longer invest their energies in office politics when they recover. 

Just the prospect of physical death is transformative, pulling back a curtain to bring attention to what truly matters. Everything unimportant falls away. In modern management, when people have been taught to “die” properly, they execute their work more bravely and are less consumed by the distractions of political infighting and other typical cultural implosions. 

To train your managers for death, you must all first look at the ugly realities of your culture. What is not being said? What is it in your organization that needs to die in order for it to move forward? 

Together, the group must bring into the open whatever is old and dysfunctional: misbehavior, pet projects, turf wars, hidden agendas, backstabbing, and so forth. With the ugly stuff exposed the journey can begin to find out how committed the group is to commit suicide to those ego-driven agendas and create a new destination. 

Bravery

Bravery is essential, not only on the battlefield, but also in communication. A lot of training and coaching fails to challenge executives on this idea; as such, many fail, even losing the company, because their people withhold difficult truths or spin reality for the boss’ sake. By the time the CEO gets crucial information, it may have been so politically sanitized that there’s no content left, and no one’s brave enough to stand up and say, “No, here’s what’s really going on.” 

Weak CEOs might even fire or threaten those who bravely stand up and speak the truth if it doesn’t line up with what they want to hear, thereby creating an environment that perpetuates weakness. 

Good CEOs, however, want to know, because even if they don’t like hearing the truth, they know it’s more dangerous not to know, so they seek out those people who will give them straight answers. 

If you lead by example, you should be able to instill bravery in your people by admitting what you don’t know and encouraging your people to support you. Let them know that you expect the truth and reward those who exhibit bravery by taking risks. After awhile, when people see that there are no ill consequences for saying something that would have remained unspoken before, they become braver and more accountable. 

Honor

Few CEOs evaluate a candidate’s capacity for honor when they hire, but they should. If integrity is not fostered, dishonor can flourish in an organization’s culture, ending with subpoenas, handcuffs, bankruptcies, and furious stockholders. Dishonor prevails when leadership shuts people down instead of making them accountable for policies, or micromanages instead of leading an empowered, open, and honest culture. 

When leaders who lack integrity get data back that shows they’re not leading well, the honorable reaction of “What do I have to do to change and get better?” is rare. Instead, a leader without honor will question the data or the data takers, too out of touch to realize that he or she is the problem. When leaders set a dishonorable example, it isn’t long before their people start seeing that and a single bad idea begins to affect the entire executive team. From Watergate to WorldCom, there are too many modern examples of what happens when leaders create an environment that lacks honor. 

Leaders who embrace the ancient samurai truth of honor live their values, not confining them to a coffee cup slogan or the company brochure. And if those values are violated, their sense of dishonor leads them to either leave the organization or take action to fix the problem. They simply do what they say and say what they do.


Follow the way of the warrior to business success

These ancient samurai truths are much more than merely good ideas that worked for warriors centuries ago. Although today we know that the truths have a substantial scientific basis in anthropology and evolutionary genetics, these arts were lost because our culture’s beliefs and physics changed with time.

But an ever-deeper exploration of the history of humanity teaches us that some truths are unchanging. And, bottom line, organizations that adopt the samurai techniques see their leadership development and their culture changes go from a 70-100% failure rate to an over 90% success rate. 

Shouldn’t your organization be one of these samurai success stories? 

 

Dead Man Running: The Paradox of Death and Growth

My previous blog discussed leadership power through the use of the Samurai death concept. 

But how can we apply this in organizations?

Taking a number of organizations on an accelerated growth rate of 2 to 10 times, we found a number of useful techniques. They all focus on the matter that in order to rid your organization of the ego, which is the root of your company’s challenges, you must follow a proven process. 

Use the following guidelines to get your company back on track. 

1. Decide what must die.

To implement this process in a company, the executives of a team must first look at what needs to die in the organization. The organization’s leaders must be willing to bring all of the bad stuff up to the surface and put all that dysfunction up on the wall. 

The team needs to be willing to self-expose: 

What haven’t they been saying to each other, though they’re thinking it? 

What have they been saying to only a select people in a power clique? 

What information is being withheld? 

What individual agendas must everyone admit to? 

At this phase, the CEO and the team take the journey through the valley of the shadow of death and expose all of the ugliness that has held the organization back.

Looking at dysfunction can be tough, and it requires the strength of a true warrior. But only when the team has flushed from its hiding place the biological beast that has held the organization back can it then slay it and begin plans for what is truly possible. Only when the beast is exposed can you focus on the future—when you have turned the lens on the realities of the present.

2. Look to the future.

Once the management team is able to voice the things they think but don’t say, then possibilities arise and true goal setting can begin. Together, they then look at a new destination—the leadership environment and style they want to aspire to and represent in the future. They create a new future that’s more powerful than the bleak one the organization is headed toward.

3. Get everyone to commit to endure the pain.

The CEO must ask the management team to be willing to “die”; to commit enough to endure whatever suffering and pain they must long enough in order to reach the new future they created. However, sometimes the gap is so large between here and there that unless the group is willing to be uncomfortable it is better to stay where they are. 

If they are unwilling to commit, it is best to find this out earlier rather than later, otherwise the process ends up on the pile of other failed programs. 

This is a dramatic reversal from the typical “touchy-feely” approaches used in training and consulting. The team must be challenged to face the truth and be uncomfortable, to suppress their egos in the service of a greater cause. A good leader can inspire that. 

4. Prepare for rebirth.

Commitment to conquering the ego and enduring the necessary suffering then prepares the team to move the organization through death to rebirth. After the acceptance of death, the team can ask one another, “What are the critical success factors for getting where we truly want to be?” 

With the freedom to be brave, they can now create viable strategies to do what is critically necessary to achieve success. You can’t execute the greatest of new plans until you slay the beast that’s been stopping the organization from moving forward. Here the team is able to identify those few key areas that will ensure a successful transformation. 

5. Prevent sabotage.

 Contrary to what the training industry teaches, the problems of the past are not in the past; they are in our genes. No matter how great the commitment and the planning, the beast will always seek to reassert itself. The group should list how they can sabotage this process in the future—what they should be sensitive to in order to help pick each other up and continue on the path. Eternal vigilance is necessary.

Radical Methods Deliver Radical Results

Realize that not everyone is strong enough or brave enough to go through this process. Some will seek to hide out, wait for it all to blow over, and hope they won’t be found out. But they will be exposed, ultimately, by their behavior. They may try to backstab someone, for example, and that person will say, “Wait a minute, you’re violating our code of honor.” They must either join the team of warriors or find somewhere else to peddle their agenda. 

Though radical, these methods have been proven to work for centuries. And in fact, most people who tackle this process are simply too disgusted or ashamed to revert back to the status quo. They grow increasingly willing to take risks and speak the truth.

The point of death can be the point of inspiration. Are you prepared to follow the way of the samurai and face death to achieve greatness?

 

   

 

Organizational Death due to Passion Deficiency

Passion. 

It’s a fundamental, almost primordial component of the leader’s journey, and the essential factor for winning.

Yet how many times do we get up every day without it?

Too few leaders stop to ask themselves whether they still have the “juice” it takes to fuel their strategic pursuits and, if not, explore what to do about it.

When we drive organizational strategic growth faster, we find many leaders have never challenged themselves with such a deep question. And introducing meaningless programs or changes produce more hope than results. 

Without passion, the outcomes are dismal. A passionless leader cannot lead a strategic initiative. Why can’t they fake it? Because followers are too smart.

How do we unearth the causes of passion loss so we can fix this?  

Our findings detect a couple hints:

Passion as a Function of Corporate Life Cycle

Passion exists more readily with entrepreneurs. In an early stage of developing a new company or corporate initiative, passion exists because there’s an inherent risk that seems to only attract entrepreneurial spirit. Whether it’s a career risk, or a mortgage at risk, new efforts require passion for the possibility, something to motivate doing things differently or better.

But for companies that have been around awhile, this entrepreneurial passion becomes lost in the “operationalization” of the business. I find that half or more of the CEOs we work with struggle with maintaining the passion at some point in the life cycle of the company. 

As your company grows and ages, be alert to the diminishing of the entrepreneurial spirit. 

Passion as a Function of Professional Life Cycle

Like with organizations, we age and lose the spirit too. Where do you begin to look for passion if you’ve lost it? Well, that’s like asking how do you fall in love? If I knew that I’d make more money publishing romance novels than leadership books!

But seriously, it is difficult to plan. One thing you can do is begin a journey of introspection.  Get some outside coaching, join a peer group, or explore different, unrelated avenues in sports, arts, hobbies, travel, or anything to get the brain exposed to different environments. 

Also, introspection involves asking yourself questions about the meaning of your life. Open up to your issues around happiness, suffering, love and life itself.

Temporary Lapses of Passion

Not all lapses of passion are symptomatic of an emergency that requires a major change. I’m sure Gandhi got up some mornings and said, “Why the heck am I doing this?” Anybody who’s human find moments of passions lapsing. That’s when you have to ask yourself, ‘Is the possibility that I’m standing for worth more than my petty little distractions?’”

Define your passions. Be vigilant. Do great things. 

 

Vision Failing? It's Not Your Eyesight

Your company needs a Vision. 

But so what? How many times have we heard this? 

The Vision-thing’s been overused so often that many CEOs see it more as a perfunctory act. Sure, we go through the required steps of creating a Vision. We have lots of meetings, call in experts, do analysis, or just write one ourselves. 

But has having a company Vision become a “commodity” advice?

When we began researching the success rate of Vision efforts, it was hard to ignore that many bankrupt companies have Visions. And many companies currently losing market share have Visions. 

Surprisingly, most of these companies paid a lot of money to industry experts to help them create their Vision. 

So what was missing? 

We discovered a number of patterns existing in the failure data. Two key ones are: 

Failure of Strategic Viability. Good Visions bring the strategic edge alive for an organization. Without a clear strategy, Vision creation is doomed. So, ensure you have a strong strategy that drives sustainable competitive advantage before finalizing your Vision. The former CEOs of Intel, Braniff, Data General, and others who had terrific Visions provide insights on what happens when this is missing. Their organizations are dead. 

Safety Tip: Regarding strategy, the failure rates are over 70%. As I mention in my books and articles, ensure that your facilitator avoids the "analysis" dimension. Our research at Hopkins with our colleagues at Harvard and Wharton finds that it’s not about analysis; even though that is what’s generally taught. The secret is “intuition”. Ensure your Vision is intuition-based and drives the factors necessary for execution.

Inability to Drive Beliefs. Visions drive the behaviors of the people. Visions inspire the decisions and actions of an organization. Many Visions, however, are merely descriptive content. No one is driven by promised land in the future based on uninspiring facts and descriptions. Does your Vision inspire passion?

Safety Tip: Visioning is corrupted or derailed when the psychiatric-scale for cognitive-complexity (ref to the research of Dr. Elliott Jaques) of the members on the Vision team is low. Strategic leaders need to be able to see the big picture, and translate that into a belief-driven dimension. 

With these 2 foundations in place, you’ll have a successful Vision creation experience. It’s all based on thousands of years of research, so the evidence for success exists. 

 

Getting Rid of Drama In Your Organization? Think Twice

“Get rid of the drama!” 

So long have CEOs been advised of this that we don’t even question it. 

But what if we did? 

Working with 700 CEOs annually in workshops provides a great laboratory to detect common issues and patterns of behavior. This “no drama” advice occurs all too often. When I ask where the research data is on this recommendation, however, the management consultants they hired who gave them this advice couldn’t produce any. 

We decided to find out why. 

The reason consultants can’t show you research publications to back up their “no drama” guidance is because nothing’s been published to support it.   

Out of curiosity, this inspired a new research initiative at our institute to find out why drama is thought to be a bad thing in organizations. What we discovered is shocking.

What has been published supports an entirely different conclusion. Medical research shows that getting rid of drama isn’t necessarily a good thing for humans. In fact, it promotes pathological conditions. 

But you already know this. 

If you get rid of drama in a human group you create a drama vacuum. What do humans do in a drama vacuum? 

If you said, “They create it,” then you’re exactly right, and apparently know more than a lot of management experts. And what they create are all the mini-dramas that frustrate executives so much. You know, the politics, CYA, silos, backstabbing, and other dysfunctional behaviors.

Medical science concludes the opposite of current management theory: Drama-less existence’s are pathological. Why do you think when someone has a drama-less life we send them to hospitals where position-emission-tomography scans show unhealthy brain glucose patterns? And why do we use isolation as a form of human torture?

Medical science is clear, when humans lack drama they become physically ill, and some of them die. 

Why would you want to do this to your employees? 

To sustain motivation and drive a high performance culture, we recommend you don’t get rid of drama, but create it! 

Create a strategic drama. Your drama. In a previous Blog we called this a Compelling Saga: a drama that inspires passion for bonding together and needing each other to achieve a strategic result. Those cultures are unstoppable, and motivational.  

Why Your Employees Will Never Be Motivated, Consistently

Are you finding employee motivation elusive? 

You’re not alone. 

I hear it a lot from my audiences. The challenge of keeping employees motivated and focused exists from Fortune 500 companies to mom & pop shops.

And if you’re like most Executives, you’ve tried addressing the elusive motivational issue by hiring a 5 or even 6-figure management guru in the past.  

But what happened? 

One client described it like this: They came in, completed their training, and left everyone feeling warm and fuzzy inside. But.... 90 days after the training:

THEY REVERTED BACK TO THEIR OLD HABITS!

But why? 

And how can you change this? 

We’ve spent 25 years looking at this and arrived at one conclusion. 

We’re too motivation-centric. 

In other words, we’re spending so much time on motivational methods (speakers, posters, coffee mugs, and coaching), that we miss what really matters. And that is simply, what will drive employees to perform even when they’re NOT motivated. What would inspire them to suffer and sacrifice? 

Because when you have a team that’s willing to suffer and sacrifice, you have an unstoppable team. 

To do this you must have a “cause” that they’re willing to die for. We call it a Compelling Saga (a term we stole from the Nordic tribes). 

Do you have a Saga? What is your language that inspires passion for YOUR strategic results that your people would be willing to suffer and sacrifice for it, and realize they NEED each other in order to achieve it. 

Obviously this is a different approach, but it works.

 

Learning To Die: The Samurai Executive's Guide to Achieving Greatness

For the samurai to learn
There's only one thing,
One last thing –
To face death unflinchingly

Noted swordsman Tsukahara Bokuden

    

Arrogance collapses the biggest companies in the world, and it is but one product of the ego. In fact, when the ego is running the show, it can destroy an organization with dysfunctional, selfish, and dishonorable behavior. 

On average, 50% of human productivity in organizations is consumed by dysfunctional behavior. Ever have a fifteen-minute meeting take an hour? In other words, if individual egos driving the company are not stopped, you’re throwing half the payroll out the window, not to mention the immeasurable lost opportunities. 

Why does the ego dominate?

Well, the ego is part of our biological make-up and has been for 20 million years. It has served a useful purpose, in that selfish genetic strategies are very effective for species evolution. Think of a two-or three-year-old child. You don’t teach them to be selfish; they behave that way naturally, driven by the DNA programming in their cells. So are employees, managers, and CEOs. We are instinctive animals and are influenced by our genetics.

In order to combat the ego, we must look back to the ancient samurais. Their view of “death,” both literally and metaphorically, can teach modern day executives much about leadership, and how to unleash performance.

Look Back to Look Forward

    As much as modern management theories teach us to look to the future—with vision statements and goals and idealistic forward-thinking—the fact is that the old, ego-driven turf wars, back-biting, politics, and hidden agendas never seem go away; until they are effectively dealt with as the ancient samurai did: through death. Ignoring the “junk” and focusing on an ideal will never permanently change the organization’s culture because this impulse to misbehave is actually driven by a deep biological need within us – to defend, to dominate. From the ego’s point of view it is not misbehavior but effective coping mechanisms to deal with perceived threats and selfish opportunities.

    Therefore, you must commit metaphorical suicide to the ego so that a higher cause can drive your behavior and that of your executive team. Even though you won’t ever get rid of the ego entirely, “death” in this sense means overcoming the ego so you can pursue a different reality for the greater good.

    Just like the samurais, executives must always keep in mind that some day they will die. Doing this unhooks the ego (which the samurai called “the evil spirit”), allowing you to deal more authentically with issues and problems. Think about it…Most people who survive heart attacks don’t care about office politics anymore. The threat of physical death brings forth bravery, clarity, and often a total life transformation. Learning to die metaphorically has the same effect as literal death and provides a deeper perspective on life. Unfortunately, modern management has lost touch with the knowledge that people who are taught to die properly can actually execute more bravely in their work and not get consumed by the distractions of office politics, infighting, and other causes of cultural implosions. 

    When you accept the idea of death, you gain power and freedom for action; acceptance gives meaning and offers insights. In fact, many companies that are Fortune 500 today were once on the brink of bankruptcy, only to find that acceptance leads to great decisions, which made them great companies down the road. Accepting death, then, really becomes choosing life. 

    Our fear of death, even metaphorically, leads us to cling on to the junk such as wasteful projects or what we perceive to be our turf. But what we must kill is what never should have been there anyway. The acceptance of this idea leads to detachment, which in turn is the path to freedom. This is a process not of apathy but of release, of letting go of bad attachments. The result is the ability to make powerful choices and brave decisions. 

 

Dead Man Walking

    In order to rid your organization of the ego, which is the root of your company’s challenges, you must follow a proven process. Use the following guidelines to get your company back on track. 

 

1. Decide what must die.

    To implement this process in a company, the executives of a team must first look at what needs to die in the organization. The organization’s leaders must be willing to bring all of the bad stuff up to the surface and put all that dysfunction up on the wall. The team needs to be willing to self-expose: What haven’t they been saying to each other, though they’re thinking it? Or what have they been saying to select people in a power clique? What information is being withheld? What individual agendas must everyone admit to? At this phase, the CEO and the team take the journey through the valley of the shadow of death and expose all of the ugliness that has held the organization back.

Looking at dysfunction can be tough, and it requires the strength of a true warrior. But only when the team has flushed from its hiding place the biological beast that has held the organization back can it then slay it, and begin plans for what is truly possible. Only when the beast is exposed can you focus on the future—when you have turned the lens on the realities of the present.

 

2. Look to the future.

    Once the management team is able to voice the things they think but don’t say, then possibilities arise and true goal setting can begin. Together, they then look at a new destination—the leadership environment and style they want to aspire to and represent in the future. They create a new future that’s more powerful than the bleak one the organization is headed toward.

 

3. Get everyone to commit to endure the pain.

    The CEO must ask the management team to be willing to “die”; to commit enough to endure whatever suffering and pain they must long enough in order to reach the new future they created. However, sometimes the gap is so large between here and there that unless the group is willing to be uncomfortable it is better to stay where they are. If they are unwilling to commit, it is best to find this out earlier rather than later otherwise the process ends up on the pile of other failed programs. This is a dramatic reversal from the typical “touchy-feely” approaches use in training and consulting. The team must be challenged to face the truth and be uncomfortable, to suppress their egos in the service of a greater cause. A good leader can inspire that. 

 

4. Prepare for rebirth.

    Commitment to conquering the ego and enduring the necessary suffering then prepares the team to move the organization through death to rebirth. After the acceptance of death, the team can ask one another, “What are the critical success factors for getting where we truly want to be?” With the freedom to be brave, they can now create viable strategies to do what is critically necessary to achieve success. You can’t execute the greatest of new plans until you slay the beast that’s been stopping the organization from moving forward. Here the team is able to identify those few key areas which will ensure a successful transformation. 

5. Prevent sabotage

    Contrary to what the training industry teaches, the problems of the past are not in the past, they are in our genes. No matter how great the commitment and the planning, the beast will always seek to reassert itself. The group should list how they can sabotage this process in the future, what should they be sensitive to in order to help pick each other up and continue on the path. Eternal vigilance is necessary.

 

    

Radical Methods Deliver Radical Results

    Realize that not everyone is strong enough or brave enough to go through this process. Some will seek to hide out, wait for it all to blow over, and hope they won’t be found out. But they will be exposed, ultimately, by their behavior. They may try to backstab someone, for example, and that person will say, “Wait a minute, you’re violating our code of honor.” They must either join the team of warriors or find somewhere else to peddle their agenda. 

    Though radical, these methods have been proven to work for centuries. And in fact, most people who tackle this process are simply too disgusted or ashamed to revert back to the status quo. They grow increasingly willing to take risks and speak the truth. Examples in our lifetimes abound: Boeing was faltering and couldn’t achieve parity with Lockheed or Douglas through mere goal-setting. They had to accept that they were going out of business. At that point of death they began making different things happen and the commercial jet-age was born. Likewise, Harley-Davidson realized the extent of the threat posed by the Japanese, fired all their consultants, took up the reins themselves, and the rest is history. 

    The point of death can be the point of inspiration. Are you prepared to follow the way of the samurai and face death to achieve greatness?

 

 

Strategic Growth Secrets from Ancient Samurai

What do the Ancient Samurai have to do with business?
At first, you might not see much of a connection.
But in reality, the similarities between the sword and the boardroom are uncanny. 

When I wrote “The Code of the Executive” my intentions were for an historical academic contribution to the work I was doing at Johns Hopkins. The ancient manuscript enabled deep insights into the traditions and rituals that made the samurai one of the longest-running, most honorable organizations in history. 

But something unexpected happened. 

Companies applying the same principles also achieved similar higher performance results. They executed strategy with more speed, and produce higher alignment in their cultures. 

Samurai-like executive teams operating with honor, integrity, and bravery out perform other team structures. Their practices for subjugating the ego unleashes more powerful actions, decisions, and execution speed. And these behaviors are invaluable for increased growth and profitability. 

The problem is MBA programs and internal management training programs fail to provide methods to subdue the ego. But from applying these methods in organizations in multiple industries we’ve found that executive teams emerge consistently stronger.

And companies possessing teams like this outmaneuver even much larger competitors. 

Accelerating strategic growth with ancient, timeless principles principles is a useful option for many leaders. 

Self Inflicted Wounds to Profits -Part 2: Strategic Execution Sabotage

Ever see one of those pirate movies where they engage the enemy on the high seas, cannons aflame, smoke and thunder all around, and explosion tearing in the ships’ hulls? Of course you have. Now, have you ever seen one of those episodes where the captain runs below deck to start cleaning the cannons, organizing the ammunition, swabbing the deck?

No?
Me neither.
Unless we’re looking at you. 

Forgive me for being so blunt, but after training 1,000’s of CEOs annually, and working with dozens of corporations internally, a very common pattern we expose is how the CEO and their executives are opening 80 to 100% of their time below deck. 

Yes, we call it “getting sucked into operations.” 

One of the things we seek to detect in Distraction From Operations: The beast of operations sucks in many executives, most admitting that they spend 80 to 100% there. The reaction to tactical urgencies never gives strategy a chance. The struggle to focus executives on strategy is nothing new. A 700-year-old samurai manuscript, published in the book The Code of the Executive, suggests businesses have had this problem for a very long time. The focus on the immediate eats the possibility of the future. The fix? Stop Getting Sucked Into Operations! Weak teams suck their leaders into operational urgencies. No team can implement a strategic plan without strength and unity. Start monitoring where management is spending its time. 

No Compelling Saga:

For thousands of years the masses were aligned to focused execution with a story of passion and focus. But many executives are taught to avoid the drama, not use it. This is why the many are outrun by the few. Passion is profit. So, make sure you craft a Compelling Saga: Has the winning strategy been captured in a language that inspires passion for a strategic result? 

  1. Confusing Strategy with Tactics: Does your plan show how to out-intuit the moves of your enemy? Does it clearly indicate how you will win?

  2. Limited scope: Missed M&A opportunities. 

 

Execution Agility: Executives must do their utmost to understand the complexities necessary to implement strategy successfully. This requires leadership, intuition, focus, and drive. Mistakes here include: 

  1. No Course-Correction: Many see strategy as a plan, not a way of thinking and moving. No plan survives its impact with reality, so adjustments and adaptations are critical as the real world emerges. Formal planning is only a small part of the journey. Execution without adaptation is a recipe for failure. 

  2. Weak Leadership: A weak management team handicaps strategic execution tremendously. They not only are unable to contribute to a strategic discussion, they are unable to make the critical decisions and take the new actions necessary for implementation. In an accountability-vacuum everyone wonders why nothing is getting done. This is typically due to a lack of bravery and an overabundance of arrogance. Address the by evaluating and reinforcing your leadership. Build a strong team and maintain their strategic focus. Ineffectual leaders breed weak teams. Cowardice, arrogance, and inexperience should be avoided.

  3. Poor Capital alignment: Do you have the capital strategy to implement this strategy

  4. Slow Adaptation: Have you incorporated course-correction into your execution framework?

  5. Missing Recon: How can you adapt if you don’t have a recon campaign to detect market and enemy changes?