Critical Thinking For Leaders

In previous posts we discussed how leaders have a responsibility to create organizational clarity, ensure the organization's identity and direction, create an organizational structure to meet the long-term objectives, to stay above the day-to-day fray and let their subordinates do their jobs, and to learn to say "I don't know." That all still applies. But how can leaders apply critical thinking to achieve these transcendent leadership roles? Leaders must practice critical thinking. That means they engage in a continuing, life-long process of analyzing and assessing their own thinking with the purpose of constantly improving it. Critical thinking requires discipline and [...]

By | March 11th, 2016|Categories: Blog|0 Comments

Truth Doesn’t Change Based on the Rank of the Recipient

I was overseas in 1997, on assignment in a Middle East country in what could only be described as an "everybody-has-to-go-through-it" temporary assignment. My predecessor had told me that the bad guys had slowly, over time, moved a host of military equipment to locations in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. But those movements didn't appear anywhere in official reports. Why, I asked. He responded by saying that nobody wants to make that call. So my colleagues (Todd Kelley and Dan Simpson) and I set about collecting evidence for what so many people believed had happened. We systematically recorded every [...]

By | March 1st, 2016|Categories: Blog|0 Comments

Distilling Senior Leader Responsibilities

In previous posts we discussed the importance of senior leaders focusing on the long-range vision and strategy and leaving the day-to-day “doing” to your doers. But through lots of feedback and discussions in the field, it is time to put out another post on how to do that. Leaving the doing to the doers does not mean being unaware of what is happening. That can work when guidance is clear and there is unequaled trust in the subordinate. One example of this comes from Douglas MacArthur during World War II. When asked by a journalist one day what targets his [...]

By | February 17th, 2016|Categories: Blog|0 Comments

Some Thoughts On Critical Thinking

The benefit of applying critical thinking methodology to all aspects of life is that you are rarely surprised, and when you are, you can more easily adapt. But the hard part is that, at first, you will be nearly universally scorned by those who either can't or won't think critically. Those that listened heard me correctly on my Art of Manliness podcast interview, that you have to very carefully tread the waters by slowly helping your boss come to the realization that asking for evidence is really important. Most leaders think that they got to their jobs by going with their gut. And [...]

By | February 11th, 2016|Categories: Blog|4 Comments

Goodness Breeds Goodness…Really

This is my first Maxim for leaders. It seems strange to many that I speak of goodness before market share or process refinement or the importance of a corporate strategic plan. But I put it first deliberately and not for some pretend altruism. Before all else, goodness can make an organization. No matter your job, no matter your position, no matter your rank, if you show genuine goodness towards all people, they will go out of their way to help you succeed. I have personally observed as well as read about countless cases in which coworkers and subordinates drop everything [...]

By | February 2nd, 2016|Categories: Blog|0 Comments

More is more. You have to make it better.

More is better, right? More food for less money at the buffet; trackers on every shipping container to know what is inside and where it is in the world; more watts for less money per light bulb; more gigabytes of data per month on your mobile phone plan; more surveillance to help stop terrorist attacks. But I'd like to offer an alternative idea. More and more is not necessarily better. More often diverts our attention from what is important and gives us a false sense of security. Hang with me here. The more open, democratic, bureaucratic a country is, the more [...]

By | January 11th, 2016|Categories: Blog|0 Comments

This Week, Review and Renew Your Most Important Truth

Who are you and what do you want to be? Those are the two most important questions any business leader must answer when beginning a new business or job. And it is always important to review what you said when you started and renew your commitment to those answers at the beginning of each new year. When you began this venture or job, you should have, as succinctly as possible, stated who you are and what you wanted to be. Your honesty in this question is vital. It doesn't matter whether anyone else likes your answer. It matters that you [...]

By | January 3rd, 2016|Categories: Blog|0 Comments

This Time of Year, Leaders Should (re)Read This Classic

There are few people who have not read the original or watched a TV version of Charles Dickens's, A Christmas Carol. As a story of a life redeemed, it is one that few people I've ever met can say anything negative about. Sure, we love to go see the play at Ford's Theater or our local town production. For those who have never listened to the Patrick Stewart one-man stage play in which he acts out every character in the story, you owe yourself the small time to be moved as everyone is who has ever heard it. But what does [...]

By | December 21st, 2015|Categories: Blog|0 Comments

Today’s Great Business and Artistic Anniversary – Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody

The Economist highlights today's anniversary 40 years ago of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody hitting #1 on the British pop charts with an article about the iconic song and the level of artistry that went into it. But this article was more than just a commemoration of a great song that nearly everyone, no matter your generation, knows. As a business decision, Queen held the line when EMI strongly recommended that they cut the song to the 3-4 minute range to fit what radio DJs were comfortable playing. After producing three albums (two were Top 10) and touring the world to support [...]

By | November 30th, 2015|Categories: Blog|0 Comments

Why We Don’t See “It” Coming – Mind Candy

The small ethnic European restaurant in the small town in middle America was hurting. The owner/chef made great food, but tables were empty most nights. The reviews on social media were less than stellar with many pointing out that the restaurant sold out of some top menu items more regularly than they should. After meeting with a consultant and some trusted insiders, the owner changed the menu to simplify and hone in on their specific ethnic dishes. They brought in a musician/singer on weekend evenings and advertised their new menu. For the first month, they had full tables most nights and [...]

By | October 19th, 2015|Categories: Blog|0 Comments

Some Dos and Don’ts of Hiring a Consultant

How do you know when it is time to seek an outside view of your operations or to seek advice? And if you do, what should you consider in selecting a partner to give you honest, critical and unemotional feedback and advice? First, allow me to relate an allegorical story that is true in the sense that it happens to multiple consultancies, from small to international, every day:  At their monthly small business breakfast meeting sponsored by the local Chamber of Commerce, a restaurant owner told his group-mates about the really outstanding help he received from a consultant who turned his [...]

By | September 28th, 2015|Categories: Blog|0 Comments

Accept Uncertainty and Thrive

One of the greatest challenges senior leaders face is dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity in all aspects of operations from strategic decision-making to daily tasks. When margins are narrow and your key variables are uncertain, it is naturally understandable to wait for more information before making decisions.  However, the longer a leader waits for information to refine the key variables in the decision process, the less time there is left for the decision to play out and for adjustments to be made if necessary down the road.  In almost all cases, senior leaders recognize this dilemma, but so often those leaders [...]

By | September 21st, 2015|Categories: Blog|0 Comments

Was Huntington Right?

Yesterday's news presented two articles (one by the Washington Post and the other on the blog, Medium) that seemed widely disparate, one about retired general David Petraeus remaining in the limelight well after his ignominious retirement, and the other about xenophobia in Germany against Muslim foreigners. What could these articles possible have in common? Samuel Huntington. In 1957, Huntington wrote the seminal work on civil-military relations title The Soldier and the State. Aside from defining what makes officership a profession, Huntington laid out the responsibilities of senior military leaders. He names them in this order: 1. Tell the civilian leadership what you [...]

By | August 18th, 2015|Categories: Blog|5 Comments

The Dangers of Coddling Our Young Minds

The Atlantic just released a much needed and very important long think-piece titled "The Coddling Of The American Mind".  Just at the time I have been considering withdrawing from the academic game due to the issues raised in the article, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt sound the warning that by stifling all speech - beyond political correctness - to protecting people from getting their feelings hurt, we are not educating our young. Lukianoff and Haidt chronicle what many have passed off as one-off examples but now must be viewed as the absolute norm in education while in parallel discussing the [...]

By | August 11th, 2015|Categories: Blog|0 Comments

There Is No Magic Pixie Dust

The first role of the leader is to develop and maintain clarity of purpose in an organization. That clarity is required no matter the ease or difficulty of the environment or business climate. With clarity must come truth, no matter how difficult it is to accept. Strategic planning is only as sound as the leaders' willingness to accept truth. Truth over ideology; unemotional challenging and validation of assumptions. For all leaders, this means finding the best planners and following the truth, rather than your public affairs or your media team crafting a fictional narrative and trying to sell it. At some [...]

By | August 3rd, 2015|Categories: Blog|0 Comments

Validating Assumptions – The Key to Good Strategy

This past winter, my daughter realized she was driving on a flat tire on a rural road with no place to pull over. She called me and I met her there to show her how to change the tire to the spare and then take it to the shop for repair.  It was a simple objective and required a simple strategy.  Except that I hadn't challenged and validated my assumptions as I should have. When I arrived at my daughter's car, I showed her how to get the spare tire out and placed the jack under the lift point on [...]

By | July 21st, 2015|Categories: Blog|0 Comments

Strategy – What it is and isn’t

So many of our senior leaders in all segments of industry are so mired in the day-to-day minutiae of their companies that they convince themselves they have no time to look out into the future, let alone bring together their directors for long-term planning projects. We have said in past posts that getting out of the daily weeds is exactly the job of the senior leader.  But the reason so many find it difficult to do is that they don't know what to transition their attention to. So here it is: Strategy. Strategy is the link between the high-level strategic objectives [...]

By | July 13th, 2015|Categories: Blog|0 Comments

Compassionate or Jerk…What Makes a Good Boss?

Thanks to Derek Brown of Mortensen for sending me the article from Harvard Business Review on "Why Compassion Is a Better Managerial Practice Than Toughness" (https://hbr.org/2015/05/why-compassion-is-a-better-managerial-tactic-than-toughness/?utm_source=newsletter_leadership&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=leadership010813&cm_mmc=email-_-newsletter-_-leadership-_-leadership010813&referral=00206). Interestingly, soon after Derek sent me the article, I saw in the current edition of the Atlantic an article titled "Why It Pays To Be A Jerk" (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/06/why-it-pays-to-be-a-jerk/392066/). So what is the answer for people who really want to be better bosses? It isn't an insignificant question as the truly good bosses build a brand over time and are known for who they are and how they treat people, whether well or poorly. I [...]

By | June 17th, 2015|Categories: Blog|0 Comments

Why Prepare Your Mind… (Part II)

Last week we talked about preparing your mind daily.  We discussed the importance of staying at your level of responsibility, avoiding the pitfalls of reverting to being a doer if your job is to lead. Discipline in time management, keeping your inbox clean and walking around were key points in keeping your head above the fray. But why? Why not focus on what's happening today? Because your job as a leader is to think about the long haul. Your job is to provide clarity of vision to your organizations, to reinforce that clarity every chance you have, and to design [...]

By | May 19th, 2015|Categories: Blog|0 Comments

Prepare Your Mind Daily

Leaders are best when they provide vision, clarity of direction and reinforcement of that vision to their people. To do so, they need to be shrewd time managers and constant learners, preparing their minds daily for the challenges they will meet the next day, week, or year. Leaders need to keep their organizations focused on the future and that is where they are most different from their subordinates and from whence they came. As a leader in any field, you need to constantly remind yourself that you are no longer a doer. You are in that position to lead the [...]

By | May 11th, 2015|Categories: Blog|2 Comments

What You Do In One Equation

Your Activity = ∫Ax x Bx x Cx… For any activity you undertake in life, from selling a horse, to arriving at work on time, to planning a vacation, to cooking dinner, certain variables interact with each other to determine the outcome. For centuries, many business and government leaders have known this to be the case. Today many more are catching on. Others, however, can hardly keep up with what they're doing to understand how it affects an outcome. The most skilled keenly manipulate their inputs to achieve a specific output. First, just take a look at that equation again on its [...]

By | April 30th, 2015|Categories: Blog|0 Comments

The Power of Idea Connections

The more senior you rise in any field the more important it is for you to be open to changing your mind. Steve Levitt and Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics (http://freakonomics.com/) fame say that the single greatest mistake leaders make is ignoring evidence. Maria Popova, the brilliant thinker and connector at Brain Pickings (http://www.brainpickings.org/) says you should "allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind."  And I have said more times than I can remember that truth isn't good or bad, it just is.  Furthermore, truth doesn't change based on the rank of the recipient. So what does this have to [...]

By | April 28th, 2015|Categories: Blog|0 Comments