Friday, March 25, 2011

Thought Time

“I wish I had more time to think about my business. I’m so involved in running this place, it’s hard to find time to deeply consider where we're going.”  If this sounds at all too familiar, you're not alone. 

For the senior executive, there never seems to be enough time.

Business is a contact sport and without action (execution) nothing happens. But opportunities can be missed when you don’t deliberately put aside personal time to think about your business.

The Wall Street Journal ran an article a few years back about Bill Gates describing how he deliberately carved out two weeks each year for this singular purpose. These “Think Weeks” involved seven days of self-imposed seclusion to “ponder the future of technology and then propagate those thoughts across the Microsoft empire.” He devoured journals, papers and most importantly, the many ideas submitted by Microsoft employees. 

This was no vacation.  He worked up to 18 hours each day. “By the week’s end Mr. Gates would read 100 papers, send e-mails to hundreds of people and write a Think Week summary for executives.” The results were impressive.  One Think Week led Microsoft to develop its Internet browser which sealed Netscape’s doom. 

Consider setting aside some dedicated personal time to think about your business’ challenges and opportunities from both your perspective and those of your employees. It will likely pay dividends.

Monday, March 14, 2011

What should you do to ensure your political behavior is channeled positively?

Note: The following is also posted in our LinkedIn Group (as a discussion topic), The Executive Challenge.

Politics are a part of the human condition; so, business affairs are rife with political behavior.  This really isn’t good or bad.   What maters is how we manage this reality. As executives, we need to wade through political waters effectively by leveraging the positive aspects and minimizing the negatives ones. 

Webster’s defines politics this way: Political affairs of business: competition between groups or individuals for power and leadership.  Anyone with kids has seen this play out from the earliest years.  My twins were keeping score from the time they were infants.  They watched closely for signs that they were receiving their fair share of attention and competed for power in simple and effective ways.  They learned and developed as they competed with one another. They were being political.

Let’s look at business executives. A business leader is expected to bring in the best talent, create a high performing organization, and hit the numbers.  In the thrust and parry of competition, there will be winners, losers and a good dose of political behavior.  When managed correctly, politics are healthy.  When ignored, our competitive drives can lead to bad behavior and hurt a business’s ability to execute.  Bad behavior can play out in many ways and most of us can recite our fair share of examples.

So what should the leader do to ensure political behavior is channeled positively?   

In my mind's eye, it’s all about simply and clearly communicating your values. 

Values act as the lighthouse, keeping your team off the rocks, and focusing them on what’s important. Simple values are best and the fewer the better.  

Here is an example of three simple values that during the heat of competition, can keep your team “off the rocks.”

Straight Talk            Lou Gerstner used this effectively at IBM.  
                                    Tell Lou “your truth,” not what you think he wants to hear.

Teamwork                We get there together

Accountability         We must choose to be accountable and not engage in the “Blame Game”.

Values must be communicated simply, concisely, and FREQUENTLY.  In every interaction, you should consciously model them.  With the passage of time, they will become second nature and ever present.  

You may see the rocks, but you won’t hit them.

When you think about politics, think about values. Your team will appreciate it.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Protecting objectivity will increase effectiveness

Webster defines objectivity as “treating or dealing with facts without distortion by personal feelings or prejudices.”  No one can divorce feelings completely from decisions or judgments.  Feelings are part of being human and in fact, having feelings make us human.  However, as a business leader, you need to remain vigilant that feelings don’t over ride facts. 

People issues are fertile ground for distorting objectivity.  When we think about the quality of our people, we often have our favorites.  People we have personally hired are in this category as well as people who have qualities similar to our own.  All of this can lead to a serious leadership trap: overestimating the talent of your organization.

This is a common tendency we often observe, even at the highest levels.  It can seriously impact performance, morale, and succession planning.  One way to avoid this trap is to BE AWARE and honest about your feelings when it comes to people in your organization.  Seek outside evaluations from time to time as well.  A third party can see things that you simply can’t.

Having strong people in the right roles is the surest way to drive high performance.  By accepting your human vulnerabilities, you can protect your objectivity and increase the effectiveness of your team.