Strategic Thinking as a Teachable Skill

Thinking strategically adds value – we know that – but there isn’t some magical class Chess pieceof “strategic thinkers.”

Strategic thinking can be learned – I’ve seen it happen often, sometimes developing from the simple discipline of considering TPG Companies’ 4 questions  of Think/Feel/Know/Do.

David Wilsey from Balanced Scorecard Institute makes a good argument for the teachability and learnability of strategic thinking in his thoughtful post, Identify Strategic Thinking with One Simple Question.

There are plenty of ways to build the strategic thinking muscle, and Wilsey offers his Institute’s certification program as one of those. I’m right there with him on his culminating statement, though: “The transition for many teams from always focusing on tactics and actions to always starting with the big picture and working down can be quite profound.”

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Revisiting – and Appreciating – Level 5 Leadership

Over the years, we’ve been asked for leadership help by executives, managers, investors Level 5 Hierarchyand owners, as well as by groups developing leadership training programs. Time and again, one foundational resource we – and they – find helpful is Level 5 Leadership: the Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve, by Jim Collins (first published by Harvard Business Review in 2001).

It’s worth revisiting.

Collins’ Level 5 Hierarchy is as practical and actionable today as when he introduced it over a decade ago. Brilliant in its seeming simplicity, the Hierarchy’s pyramid shows the indispensable Highly Capable Individual at its base, then articulates additional capabilities that – when added to the base – move that individual into increasingly valuable contributing and leadership roles in an organization.

Two traits, in particular, are core to defining Level 5 leadership:  deep personal humility, and unwavering, fierce professional resolve.

Deep personal humility continues to surprise people as a central quality of the Level 5 Leader. It’s an idea that goes against our prevailing cultural understanding of what it means to succeed, especially in business. Many falsely believe that personal ambition and ego are key to driving success – it’s in most of the messages (both overt and subliminal) that come at us from all directions.

Yet Collins makes a powerful argument for the effectiveness and impact of a leader who “channels ambition into the company, not the self,” and “looks in the mirror, not out the window, to apportion responsibility for poor results.”

Unwavering, fierce professional resolvenow that’s a quality that doesn’t surprise us. With this trait, a Level 5 Leader doesn’t back down, finds a way to get results, and sets a standard and expectation for superb quality.

It’s the marriage of these two seemingly opposite qualities that creates real impact for the Level 5 Leader.  When that marriage is there, everyone around him or her can see and feel it.

A lucky few seem to have been born with both that deep humility and fierce resolve – but in our experience, it’s more common for individuals to need to learn and develop at least one of the two. Sometimes they come about through experience (either accumulated experience or a single life-altering occurrence can do it), and sometimes through coaching or mentoring – and sometimes it takes all of the above.

Has Collins’ Level 5 Leadership impacted you? What are your other go-to resources on leadership?

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4 Questions to Focus Your Strategies (and Messages)

Competing priorities, side distractions, and disparate audiences can make it difficult toDeathtoStock_Desk7 maintain a clear focus in strategy development. How do you work through the divergence to bring your strategy (and the messages you use to communicate that strategy) into sharp focus?

Whether your strategy and messages are directed to shareholders, clients, a single employee, or another party in a negotiation, consider these four questions for effectiveness, outcomes, and impact.

  1. What do you want people (your audience, those who will be impacted by your strategy, etc.) to Think?
    – For instance, as you read this blog post, my objective is for you, the reader, to think about the ways Think-Feel-Know-Do make sense in guiding strategy and message development.
  2. What do you want them to Feel?
    – In this post, my aim is for you to feel empowered as you approach strategy and message development (and to feel impressed, of course, at my ability to boil it down like this for you).
  1. What do you want them to Know?
    – My objective here is for you to know these 4 questions and remember them.
  1. What do you want them to Do?
    – I’m hoping that you will use these 4 questions to guide your strategy and message development.

Think – Feel – Know – Do.
People act and respond on all these levels.

Try it out. Let me know how it works for you…it has worked for dozens of my clients and their leaders.

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Who’s Your First Team?

Business Unit or Corporate Division and Department leaders fall into this trap regularly: by competing to be “top dog” among the other units or divisions, they think they’ll be seen as Chain Links-croppedstrong leaders, huge assets to the Company. They see “their” division/department/unit as the priority, and all their effort goes into making “their” team (themselves and their subordinates) First.

And maybe they will “one-up” the other departments, in the short term. They get awards for strong sales, they get attention and accolades, and they get the admiration of their team members (and the envy of other teams). For now.

But what’s happening to the Company in the meantime? Especially if their “success” is at the expense of others?

Silos. Divisiveness. Secrecy. Protectiveness. Building resentments. One-upmanship at the expense of Company goals. Language like “my team,” and “my people,” instead of language emphasizing the Company’s work and what’s best for the Company.

And suddenly the Values the Company lists on its web site – values like integrity, trust, honesty, respect – start to seem like wallpaper, covering up a creeping mold underneath.  As that mold creeps through the Company, it sickens what it touches: employee passion and loyalty, client relationships, performance, decision-making, and ultimately the bottom line.

There’s a better way.

Your First Team is your peers, not those reporting to you!

Business leaders, managers and supervisors who build Company profitability and long-term success are those who see their own peers – those who lead other departments/divisions/units/teams in the Company – as their First Team.

Attending to your First Team means opening those silo doors and communicating. Finding out and supporting their priorities in context of what is best for the Company. Aligning the goals of each division with the Company’s mission, vision, and marketplace strategies. Building bridges of inter-reliance and inter-dependability. Challenging one another to improve together. Sharing knowledge and resources to make the WHOLE Company successful.

When you attend to keeping your First Team in sync and working together toward Company goals, then your approach to leading your business unit naturally changes. It becomes about everybody – across all roles — doing their best work to make the Company and each individual become great: strong and resilient.

Meeting that challenge is when you really become a huge asset.

Want to see more of what we think and talk about at TPG Companies, Inc.? Click the “Follow” button at right to deliver new posts to you as soon as they’re published.

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4 Ways for Leaders to Communicate with Honor

Good communication isn’t the only thing that makes a leader. But boy oh boy, bad Watch your thoughts -quotecommunication can sure sink a leader.

Whether it’s writing, tweeting, texting, speaking, or eye contact, communicating honorably will always stand a leader in good stead.

Where there is a relationship, there is communication. And honorable communication starts with believing that the relationship matters.

  1. Write as if the relationship matters.
    A former colleague sometimes responded to email inquiries with single-word email responses: “Yes.” “No.” “OK.”  Clients and colleagues sometimes felt a bit put off, without quite knowing why. Yes, the question had been answered – but the response felt curt, impatient, possibly even grudging. As if they didn’t matter.What a missed opportunity! Every interaction, in person or electronic, is a chance to develop the relationship. No need for long, wordy, flowery messages/answers/explanations – but if you can’t even bother to compose a single complete sentence, is it any surprise if the other person feels dismissed?Consider: any written communication could be read in a way you don’t intend. Take a critical look at what you write: does it express to its readers that they matter to you?
  2. Speak as if the relationship matters. (It’s not only about you.)
    Harvey Mackay said that the sweetest sound in the world is “the sound of your own name on someone else’s lips.” Mackay was talking about salesmanship, but the implications for leadership are right there. You honor people and draw them to you when you, the leader, make sure to notice, acknowledge, and listen to the input of others.And it’s not just words or subject choice. Your message changes infinitely as you change your tone of voice, volume, pace, context, timing, level of tension, attitude, gestures, stance, facial expression:  all these and more can build up or tear down a relationship.
  1. Listen as if the relationship matters.
    “You’re not listening to me!”Hoo boy, how many times have you heard that? Was it from your teenager? Your spouse? A sibling or a friend? Or maybe you were the one to say it – or feel it. People don’t just want to be heard – they want to be understood. Listened to. As if they matter. And when you listen, you may learn something.

When you as a leader listen to me with focused attention, and even a spirit of curiosity, you are letting me know that you believe I’ve got something to say. That you are not above learning something new. That I matter.

Respond as if the relationship matters.
Honorable communication includes responding honorably. “Thanks for taking the time to bring that up.” “I appreciate your perspective.”

Want to see more of what we think and talk about at TPG Companies, Inc.? Click the “Follow” button at right to deliver new posts to you as soon as they’re published.

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Industry Dematurity – Are You on Top of It?

How do longstanding, established industries regroup and make change that brings them front and center with today? New customer habits, new production technologies, new lateral competition, new regulations, and new means of distribution — these are all signposts when an industry is going through the major change called “dematurity.” 

John Sviokla discusses these five factors in his smart, important strategy+ article, How Old Industries Become Young Again

Dematurity, like disruption, can catch a business off guard. And businesses that aren’t on board with the changes risk being left behind. As Sviokla says, “Half the task is recognizing the facets of impending change early enough to prepare.”

Where do you see the signposts of dematurity in your industry? Is it coming? Are you on it?

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Leadership Learning: Practice, Practice, Practice

Another in TPG’s periodic series of posts on Leadership.Sax

Ouch. There are few memories quite so painful – literally – than remembering the squeaks and squawks, bleats and brays endured by the rest of the family while Simon was first learning to play his beloved saxophone.

That first school band concert has become a legendary family story – when poor Simon struggled so hard to make musical sounds come from an instrument that was nearly as big as him. The sax won the battle, that time. But not forever.

We don’t think of playing an instrument as a skill that comes naturally. It has to be learned. Lesson books and videos can help to an extent, but in order to really learn to play music, we have to do it.

Practice it. Learn from others. Practice more.

It’s true for leadership, as well. Few people are born leaders; they’ve learned how to be leaders. Practiced. Learned from others. Practiced more.

Some of the learning came about through the School of Hard Knocks. Some came from great mentors and models, ranging from parents to presidents. Leadership workshops and training seminars have boosted some leaders as well.

But we don’t fully learn leadership by learning about leadership. Like Simon learning to play the sax, we learn leadership best by doing leadership.

Practicing it. Learning from others. Practicing more.

Here’s what practicing and learning leadership might look like:

  • Taking on challenging new tasks.
  • Putting ourselves into situations that will stretch us.
  • Stepping up when a leadership role needs to be filled.
  • Watching and analyzing leaders we admire: How do they make decisions? How do they talk to others? How do they turn vision into reality?

Leadership learning is a lifelong thing. It’s not something we learn once and then know forever. New situations, new challenges will always require new leadership approaches. And new thinkers will continue to come up with new models and insights about how leadership happens.

In The Leader’s Lifelong Learner’s Permit, Sangeeth Varghese says that great leaders keep learning in three ways:

  1. They learn constantly. Every day, all day, they’re collecting and digesting information that could be helpful to them as leaders.
  2. They learn continuously. They commit the time that’s needed to focus in and closely attend to what needs to be learned.
  3. They learn cyclically. The cycle of learning keeps going and going – there’s always more to learn.

Like Simon with his saxophone, the practicing and learning do make a difference – and they keep making a difference over time. The music gets better and better, and there’s always more to learn.





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Healthy enough to tap into the intelligence you have?

Healthy enough to tap into the intelligence that you have? Be Smart – but without Healthy, you lose competitive advantage. Lencioni tells it!

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10 Principles of Leading Change Management

10 Principles of Leading Change Management: An excellent list from Strategy+Change Management.

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Lessons from the Way of Tea, Part 1: Navigating Change

Navigating change – whether it’s a wholesale realignment of company practices and behaviors, or agreeing on new Terms & Conditions with a supplier or client – cTeaan feel like a minefield. A particularly unyielding employee, a supplier with a thousand arguments against your plan, or an overly demanding client can make it especially difficult.

And the bigger the change, the bigger the minefield. Tension builds. Apprehension and arguments abound. Misunderstandings develop.

Danger, Will Robinson!

What do you do? Paste a plastic smile on your face, tell everybody it’ll all be fine (just trust me), and move forward? Fire the employee and find another supplier?

We’ve found inspiration in the Way of Tea.

Originating in China, tea traditions have developed in many countries – and they have plenty to teach us about leading and working with people.

You don’t just sit down and start drinking tea. The tea must be prepared. And to prepare tea, what do we do first?

We boil water.

We bring the water to the right temperature, in a controlled setting.

In navigating change, that can mean knowingly allowing things to get complicated, knowingly allowing some tension to build. Bringing the water to a boil. That churning, boiling water is necessary to good tea, and to a good change process. Questions need to be asked, challenges need to be posed.

And then we let that teapot whistle a bit. As the tension builds, we – safely – let off steam. We allow for venting.

We’ve noticed that when an idea’s worst critics are finally convinced of its merits, they become its most powerful advocates. When people really wrestle with an idea – a change – they have a deeper connection to it. Allowing – in fact encouraging – people to raise their objections and vent their frustrations, and openly discussing them in a non-threatening way, can help ensure that the tea you’re making is richer and more satisfying.

And allowing for venting gives you the heads-up about where the stress points are, what the questions are, what the challenges will be. You want those brought out into the open so they can be studied, recognized, incorporated into your planning – or acknowledged and shelved, if appropriate.

Your own venting can be important as well. As consultants, sometimes our role is to provide that controlled setting for the Changemaker in Chief to vent, to help his or her own thinking process. We’ve been told, “I know sometimes if I just talk to you it helps me deal with it, and I don’t have to do anything else.” Exactly.

Once the water has boiled and the steam has been vented, you’re ready – and we can all sit down together and have tea.

There are more Lessons from the Way of Tea. Watch this space for Part 2!

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