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Leadership Thought #466 – Do You Have A Plan?

I am regularly surprised by how many business owners/leaders operate without a plan.  They simply make it up as they go along.  I guess if you don’t know where you are going; any road will take you there.  I sometimes wonder if this mindset is purposeful.  It’s hard to hold someone accountable (including yourself) if there are no real markers for success.  You can also apply any possible excuse to explain why the business isn’t more successful. 

Without a plan your business is a like a tumbleweed blowing in the wind. You don’t know where it will end up and the course it takes to get there is subject to the whims of other forces.  Unfocused effort only ever leads to frustration, miscommunication, wasted effort, poor financial decision making, unnecessary stress and less than optimal results.

As a leader, you need to plan for the following:

  • How you will stay on top of industry trends and changes;
  • How your business will compete in your market in both the short and long term;
  • How you will stay connected to your existing clients and anticipate/meet their needs;
  • Who you will target with your marketing and sales efforts and how you will make this happen;
  • What constitutes financial success and how you will manage to these outcomes;
  • How you will manage the natural risks inherent to your business/industry;
  • How you will manage growth while maintaining consistent effective operations;
  • How you will attract and retain the talent required to staff your business;
  • How you will plan for contingencies should you greatly exceed or fall below your business expectations.

Leadership is hard work.  You are paid to think not just do.  Your people look to you for focus and direction. Without a plan they will stumble about and fill in the blanks on their own.  Each person will have their own definition of what’s important and don’t be surprised if this is often different from what you want.  The first person you need to hold accountable is yourself.  Success is rarely ever an accident.  You need to have a plan on where you want to go, if you want to have a decent chance of getting there.

Leadership Thought #347 – You Must Have A Vision Of The Future

It is surprising and frustrating how many business leaders simply make it up as they go along.  Entrepreneurs typically start with a core idea and then if they are lucky have some initial success which requires them to actually build a business delivery model.  Many of them then get bogged down in the day to day operation and fulfilling their product/service promise to their customers.  Since most companies typically start out undercapitalized and growth eats cash, they also get caught up in basic financial issues which can be a major leadership distraction.  Next thing they know they have a company on their hands and employees who expect to have a boss with a clue about the future and a strategic plan of action.  It can all be very challenging and easy to fall into a survival rather than success mode.

However, successful companies don’t get that way by accident.  They live in three horizons: the present, tomorrow and the future.  In my opinion it is always preferable to work from the future backward.  You need to have a clear picture of where you are going (and why) and a roadmap on how to get there.  Today is for managers.  Leaders need to think bigger and longer term.  Leadership without vision is like trying to navigate a dense forest without a compass.  It’s easy to get lost and lose your bearings. The road may be bumpy at times and the route can change but the destination should remain fixed and constant.  Everyone should know what success looks like in granular terms today, but they also should have a broader understanding of the overall impact of their work towards creating a better more secure future.

Tomorrow will not take care of itself.  If you take your eye off the ball, then you leave your company vulnerable to the vagaries of the marketplace.  You end up in reactive mode and yield the future to more proactive and thoughtful competitors.  Markets have a cruel way of weeding out non-performers and/or myopic thinkers.  Talented people also usually know when to jump ship.  The historic business landscape is littered with once high flying companies who became complacent and too deeply mired in the past or present.   On the contrary, the future is open to interpretation and ripe for initiative.

The best leaders instinctively know that it’s not just what they do but where they are going that matters.  You should constantly be in a design and build mode.   Never rest on your laurels or assume the solutions of the past will solve the problems of tomorrow.  It’s important to be responsive, agile and flexible but only as it serves your vision of the future.  Try your best not to get sidetracked by the urgency of now or obstacles of tomorrow.  Get the operational and financial fundamentals right, keep true to your core values, hire good people, and let them do their job.  Leadership destiny is rarely a matter of chance and almost always a question of choice. You create your future or it ultimately defines you.  Make sure you keep your eye on the road and what lies ahead not just what you’re driving and whether or not you have enough gas to get there.

Daily Leadership Thought #173 – Twelve Mistakes Of Well Intentioned But Flawed Turnaround Leaders

I am worried that many of our leaders have become way too tactical and reactive these days.  Instead of seeing the big picture they are getting mired in the details and forging ahead with actions that will have less than optimal impact on the problems/challenges they are trying to address.  Actions should never drive strategy.  Strategy should drive action.  There are also rarely simple solutions to complicated issues.  Sometimes you need to step back and actually think through what you are doing before you do it (especially in times of crisis).

I’ve been involved with many business and nonprofit turnarounds over the years and witnessed the following 12 mistakes by many well intentioned but flawed leaders:

1) Letting personal ideology trump common sense thinking – ideologues only ever take you off a cliff because they are unwilling to confront reality when it challenges their beliefs (and reality has a way of humbling everyone);

2) Spending time blaming others or rationalizing their circumstances rather than taking personal responsibility for what has happened;

3) Substituting confidence for intelligence on important issues where your experience may be limited – acting boldly is dangerous if it isn’t grounded in some level of wisdom;

4) Isolating themselves and narrowing rather than broadening their feedback loop – seek out help wherever you can find it;

5) Acting aggressively more quickly then they need to – you should use all the time available to make the best possible decision;

6) Driving away you most talented people by fear mongering or overzealous cost cutting;

7) Cutting expenses to the extent that it erodes the organization’s ability to function properly – every organization needs certain about of capability and capacity

8 ) Not differentiating between cost centers and profit centers and failing to make the appropriate investments in revenue creation- you must fertilize the tree not just prune it;

9) Clamping down on disagreement and stifling opinions that differ from their own – the best decisions almost always come out of rigorous discussion and debate;

10) Trusting the opinions of consultants and other outsiders more than the viewpoints of their own people – have you ever noticed how it’s easy to seem knowledgeable about someone else’s problems when you don’t own the consequences;

11) Failing to rally their people around a common goal and higher purpose – turnaround work is stressful and hard on people so they must believe what they are doing is meaningful and will work;

12) Thinking their job is just short term and walking away from the consequences of their actions before the full impact is felt – anyone can make a mess, but few people will actually take responsibility for cleaning it up.

Whether it’s on Capitol Hill, Wall Street or Main Street our leaders have a responsibility to act prudently and make sound decisions.  They need to be thinking both long term and short term and not get too caught up in the urgency of now.  It’s also critical that they pay considerable attention to how their actions ultimately affect others because all actions have consequences.  And, while it may be hard for people with high ego needs, their own needs and self-esteem issues must become secondary to what’s best for the organization as a whole. “Pride does goeth before the fall.”

Daily Leadership Thought #82 – You Are Paid To Think

In our society too much value is placed on action.  It’s almost as if time spent not actually “doing” something is time not well spent.  Hyper activity is celebrated and we marvel at people who manage to fit even more on an already full plate of responsibilities.  While hard work is certainly to be valued, it is not and end in and of itself.  Working hard or piling on activities is actually non-productive if not preceded by a thoughtful analysis of what SHOULD be done.

Many leaders I know struggle initially with the idea that the most value they bring to their company or organization is their ability to think not act.  Of course, thought without action is meaningless.  However, the top people in any organization need to regularly step back and reflect on strategic implications, priorities, etc.  They also need to grasp both the external and internal dynamics affecting their organization and chart the most effective course given these variables (navigating changes along the way).  Moreover, they need to continually challenge conventional thinking and strive to find new and better ways to do things.   The only way to properly do this is to spend time thinking not just figuring it out as you go along.  Working hard but not smart ends up wasting valuable time and energy and rarely achieves optimal outcomes.

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