A Proven Leadership Formula
A proven formula for Excellence In Execution Leadership emerged from research and hands-on Execution work with leaders in the Fortune 500, non-profit sector, government agencies and the military. An especially useful source has been the leadership of the Desert Storm air campaign-one of the most successful campaigns in military history. Because of its size and complexity and the fact that it was such a rapid victory, it contains valuable leadership lessons for today's environment.
When asked this seminal question, "How would you describe the leadership success formula of Desert Storm?", Colonel John Warden, the architect of the air campaign, paused for a moment and then crisply replied, "Think Strategically, Focus Sharply, and Move Quickly."
The benefits of applying these mindsets in your organization are faster, better results in the three interdependent phases of Execution: strategic thinking, planning and implementation.
Leadership Mindset 1 - Think Strategically
A Case Study: Organizations that consistently win in the New Normal have one thing in common-committed proactive leadership that thinks strategically about the organization's challenges and
opportunities and acts accordingly. That was the case with Texas Instruments (TI). For over ten years, during a period when many of its competitors, including Intel and Motorola, were experiencing major growth in their market value, TI's market value was flat. By the mid 1990's, TI's leadership began to realize that the problem was not their tactical capabilities. It was a lack of smart strategic thinking about how to win in the Internet and mobile communications marketspace.
So how did TI's leadership put that insight into practice and what was the result?
They shaped a new vision and new Grand Strategy during a series of strategic leadership retreats that engaged over two hundred of the top leaders from around the world. Big decisions were made and aggressively implemented across the organziation.
One key decision was their target market. Instead of continuing to fight competitors for a share of the memory chip market, TI targeted the explosive market for digital signal processors-DSPs, which are a key component of Internet and mobile communication devices. And, most importantly, they decided to be dominant in the DSP market.
They made other tough leadership decisions, such as shedding their huge defense unit, a long-time sacred cow, in order to pump more money into the DSP effort.
The new TI leadership attitude was summed up by the CEO in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. He declared, "This isn't a market we want to play in; this is the market where we intend to win." And they did win and win big: TI's market value increased six-fold over the next three years.
Leadership Mindset 2 - Focus Sharply
There's a consistent concern among the leadership teams that are responsible for implementing strategies-resource constraints. They wonder if they have the enough resources to get the job done and somehow achieve breakthrough performance.
In today's challenging operating environment, resource constraints are always going be a factor, but there's a proven leadership solution: sharply focus your available resources on the Leverage Points in your organization and market for maximum strategic impact.
What is a Leverage Point?
The trim tab on a boat rudder is a good example of a Leverage Point. Buckminster Fuller, the futurist best known for coining the term "Spaceship Earth," explained it this way:
Think of the Queen Mary-there's a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab. It's a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. It takes almost no effort at all.
Every successful Execution leader intuitively knows the 'People' Leverage Points within their own organizations. That is why, when they want to get something done, they reach out to the key leadership Leverage Points-board members, other senior executives, top customers and the informal leaders that the rank-and-file in the organization tend to follow.
What may not be so obvious are the population, processes and physical infrastructure Leverage Points, such as interest groups (population Leverage Point) strategy making and leadership decision-making (processes Leverage Points) and technology platforms (physical Leverage Point).
The leadership lesson is this: to have maximum strategic impact with available resources and significantly increase your probability of success, sharply focus resources on key Leverage Points and affect a critical mass of them in the right way at the right time.
Leadership Mindset 3 - Move Quickly
There is a fundamental truth about leadership in a world that is operating on Internet Time: laggards lose. Organizations need speed, and the speed of leadership determines the speed of the organization. The world's most successful companies have leadership that moves quickly to spot new opportunities, mobilize resources and bring new products and services to market in a flash.
A prime example of high-velocity leadership is Virgin Group's Sir Richard Branson. You are probably familiar with the Virgin brand from its music megastores and airlines. What you may not know is how rapidly Virgin has launched one new business after another. "Often the window of opportunity is very small," explains Branson. "So speed is of the essence."
In the vast majority of leadership situations, time is NOT on your side - the slower you move, the less chance you have of achieving your objectives. One reason is Murphy's Law, which states that "anything that can go wrong will go wrong." Another reason for speed is the ever-changing environment. No matter how theoretically perfect your original plan may be, as the execution timeline lengthens, its value depreciates because the context changes.
Leadership that operates with a Move Quickly mindset will win for a number of reasons
- External competitors are outpaced.
- Internal opposition to change is pre-empted.
- Key planning assumptions don't become obsolete.
- There are fewer unanticipated consequences.
- Implementation gaps quickly surface and can be corrected.
- Fast wins create a positive psychology in the organization.
- Desired results and benefits are accelerated.
How fast should you move? The answer is simple: move at the speed you need to succeed. With few exceptions, this means moving faster than the rate of change in your environment and faster than your competitors.
SUMMARY - The three leadership mindsets we've just reviewed-Think Strategically, Focus Sharply, Move Quickly-are the keys to faster, better results in the three interdependent phases of Execution: strategic thinking, planning and implementation.
Leadership Mindset 1 - Think Strategically: Organizations that consistently win in the New Normal have one thing in common-committed proactive leadership that thinks strategically about the organization's challenges and opportunities and act accordingly.
Leadership Mindset 2 - Focus Sharply: To have maximum strategic impact with available resources and significantly increase your probability of success, sharply focus resources on key Leverage Points and affect a critical mass of them in the right way at the right time.
Leadership Mindset 3 - Move Quickly: Laggards lose. Organizations need speed, and the speed of leadership determines the speed of the organization. The world's most successful companies have leadership that moves quickly to spot new opportunities, mobilize resources and bring new products and services to market in a flash.
Together, these leadership mindsets provide a comprehensive mental model for Excellence In Execution-three leadership imperatives for winning in the 21st century.