Why strategic thinkers leave leaders stranded


In today’s turbulent financial and economic environment, there’s no doubt that companies need strategic thinkers at all levels. However, most do little to develop employees who have this skill, leaving it to chance. What should your firm do differently to prepare itself to face real challenges that possibly threaten its very existence?

Most Jamaican companies are led by strong personalities who are, on average, quicker in mind and speech than their colleagues. The corporate model is summarized as “follow the gifted leader.”

This tactic works… for a while.

Perhaps, unlike others, your company is interested in sustainable growth, handing over a healthy, thriving concern to the next generation. If so, it’s likely to be led by a young employee who shows the right potential for strategic thinking.

Unfortunately, your company may not realize such skills are missing until it’s too late. By the time the recession hits, competitors enter or new technology disrupts, the game is over. In preceding years, you failed to take the small steps needed to develop talent in strategic thinking.

I find it challenging to convince leaders a gap is developing. They can’t empathize, because they came to prominence at a time when they stood out by leading from the front in a decisive manner.

In fact, they make things worse. Now, by hogging all the attention, they crowd out others who show potential. Consequently, some leave, others adapt, but the result is the same. When no-one is left to challenge your strategic thinking, all you have left is one opportunity after another to prove that you are “right.” Every. Single. Time.

When you win each argument and outsmart others in each power struggle, you suppress talents you don’t have, or even recognize. You emerge as the champion strategist, but the organization loses.

I have met only a few local executives who actively restrain their tendencies to be the “Alpha Dog.” They are sensitive to the excesses of the power they yield, admitting that personal “winning” can lead to corporate losing. Instead, they focus their efforts on uncovering talent at all levels, nurturing it along. According to a strategy+business journal entitled “10 Principles of Strategic Leadership,” here are the clues they look for to discover the next generation of strategic leaders.

– These leaders tend to be rare and also female. Ten percent of employees with these skills are women, while only seven percent are men.
– They tend to be easier to spot when they are older than 45.
– They have developed the skill of challenging without being bitter or cynical.
– They can see the small and big picture at the same time, showing a willingness to change course whenever needed.

Unfortunately, these strategic leaders often create trouble for managers who are threatened by their skills. But don’t trust my experience. Gather a number of high potentials of all ages from across your company and ask them: “Are you encouraged to demonstrate strategic leadership skills?”

Once you have them talking openly, go several steps further. The article recommends the following.

1. Conduct “Failure Fests”

These are cross-organizational meetings to discuss decisions that led to poor outcomes. Usually, these episodes are never talked about openly, assuring their repetition.

Addressing these questions makes it much easier to pool theories into a coherent consensus. This inoculates employees from simply repeating the same errors.

Honda and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation both use this approach to great effect.

2. Create Projects with Other Strategic Leaders

Pick out regular opportunities for these high potentials to support each other. If they are given the opportunity to meet and work with their peers to solve problems, you can benefit from their combined energy.

While this activity flies in the face of the military style of leadership – the norm in most organizations – it’s a great way to weed out poor ideas and strengthen the good ones.

3. Give Them Experiences

Most of the skills potential strategic leaders need are learned from actual projects, not in theory. Continuously expose individuals to opportunities which stretch their capabilities, helping them to build mental links between different parts of the organization.

The combination of these three approaches gives new strategic leaders the right blend of challenge and opportunity. It’s a big mistake to think that all you need to do is keep them happy until their moment for promotion arrives. That’s old thinking which may have worked for you, but it certainly won’t work for them.

Instead, assign challenging assignments from the onset which gives them a chance to test their skills in the real world. If this steps on a few toes and disrupts the old paradigm of promotion-by-loyalty so be it. The company will still benefit. Just be ready to step aside at the right time so that you don’t become an obstacle to your company’s future.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free document with links to his articles from 2010-2015, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.



Why Micro-Management is a Bitter Medicine That’s Sometimes Needed


2016-09-11What can you, as a manager, do to rehabilitate the performance of a direct report when all else has failed? Do you issue a written warning to scare up some motivation, or is there a more reliable path to restore results?

It’s a familiar scenario – a person who used to perform well has been faltering for several months. As their manager, you have given all the advice you can but nothing has changed. Now, a trend of poor results is infecting the organisation and you must act decisively. What should you do to turn things around?

One technique I have picked up from others is “Controlled Management.” It’s not an everyday mode. But it’s one which becomes necessary when a slump must be reversed. See it as a last gasp effort to reinstate an employee to a former level of acceptable performance, by following these steps.

Step 1 – Advise the Employee He’s Now in Rehab

Let the employee know that he is entering a special period of Controlled Management intended to restore his performance. As you share the steps, let him know that none of it is personal, even if he doesn’t believe it at first. His feelings of failure or guilt may be very real to him, but explain that this period is not in response to his personality – it’s intended to quickly reestablish a result the organization needs to function.

Also, let him know that it’s not permanent. While it will call for a change in behavior, it’s a unique opportunity for him to focus on his weaknesses and re-tool. Then, explain the following steps which usually take one to three months each.

Step 2 – Close-Monitor His Role

The underlying fact is, you have lost faith in his ability to turn things around alone. It requires a significant investment of time and energy on your part. Now, you need to transform his daily activity, using two heads to plan rather than one.

After you have clarified and separated the area of weakness, develop a new reporting mechanism. He reports to you twice per day. In each morning report (better done via a conversation at first) he outlines his plans for the day. By contrast, the closing report is the last thing he does before leaving the office, describing his results.

As you have these conversations, there’s usually not much coaching required. Instead, allow the added intensity to do the work. If he’s interested in doing a good job, you should see an immediate shift, but that’s not to say you should sit back and just listen. Be like a rudder that gently steers his performance back in the right direction. However, when a huge error emerges, jump in wholeheartedly… but don’t be overbearing.

After all, he used to be effective. You are trying to nudge him back to adequate performance, not demotivate him. Also, you are looking to restore your own confidence in his ability to produce results, one day at a time.

At the end of the period, evaluate the results and see if your intervention has been effective. If it hasn’t, take a more drastic step.

Step 3 –  Implement Temporary Control

Now, for a set period of time, you need to step in and take over the critical functions he has failed to perform. For example, if the poor performance surrounds the management of a project, become the project manager. If it’s focused on sales, become the sales manager.

Your job is to bring your expertise and authority to produce results, even if you are a relative novice in the area. Don’t shirk the role – you must do what is necessary to become effective in a short space of time. And don’t complain: this is why you are a manager.

If it helps you to pretend that he has just resigned, you may do so, just in order to put yourself in the right frame of mind. Truth be told, in terms of producing select results, he has already “walked off the job” even if he is putting in 20 hour days.

For his part, the low performing manager should keep control of all other non-failing functions. But in the area of weakness, he has now become your apprentice. Let him observe your actions to turn things around. Understand that his biggest Ah-Ha’s won’t come from what you say, but from what he sees you do. As he learns, return his former functions one small step at a time.

To be realistic, these three steps are not guaranteed to work. Sometimes the circumstances are beyond the capabilities of even the most effective manager. Then, you must seek alternate solutions using different talent, or by restructuring the job.

The approach outlined above represents a cold, hard requirement of being a manager. Restoring performance in tough situations involves difficult interactions. The way you execute them makes all the difference in producing the positive results everyone wants.

The original article was published on the Gleaner’s website, here.