It’s been a while since I’ve weighed-in on the political front, and with the recent failure of the Budget Super Committee, I thought it would be an interesting time to examine the difference between statesman and politician. I don’t know about you, but I’m so fed-up with the rhetoric and the gamesmanship in Washington that I’m about ready to give-up on all politicians. Our country was founded by great statesmen, and somewhere along the way we turned our nation over to a bunch of self-serving politicians. While the term political leadership may have become an oxymoron, it is simply impossible to be a statesman and not be a leader…
It has been said that a politician is concerned with winning an election, and a statesman is concerned with future generations. The politician makes speeches and promises motivated by pride, ego, notoriety, power, position, stature, and personal success. Contrast this with a statesman who keeps commitments, is motivated by service above and beyond self, and by making a lasting positive difference. The true statesmen is a breath of fresh air whose only pursuit is to improve the welfare of those they serve regardless of public opinion, or self-interest.
With unemployment still out of control, our nation adding more than $4 Billion dollars a day to our budget deficit, and no hope in sight for true change vs. promised change, it is far past the time for business as usual in Washington. Our nation racked up more debt during the time that the Super Committee was in session than they were charged to eliminate in the first place. Leadership isn’t about creating committees, it’s about making tough decisions, and getting things done that accomplish the mission. Leadership isn’t an absentee business, leadership isn’t about giving speeches, leadership isn’t about placing blame, leadership isn’t about the leader – it’s about those whom the leader serves.
I did something interesting last night which I’d suggest you do as well….I researched the cabinet members of our first 10 Presidents and compared them with our current cabinet members, and what I found simply confirmed the sentiments that I described above. Without listing all 10 cabinets just take a look at the comparison between George Washington’s cabinet and Barack Obama’s cabinet and you’ll see why I’m so frustrated…
President: George Washington vs. Barack Obama
Vice President: John Adams vs. Joe Biden
Secretary of Defense: Henry Knox vs. Leon Panetta
Secretary of State: Thomas Jefferson vs. Hillary Clinton
Secretary of the Treasury: Alexander Hamilton vs. Timothy Geithner
Attorney General: Edmund Randolph vs. Eric Holder
* I only included cabinet positions that existed during Washington’s era for direct comparison purposes.
Do you see the difference yet between politicians and statesmen? Perhaps the most telling failure surrounding the Super Committee was the absence of our president during the process. Rather than leading by attending to the business of the nation, our president was campaigning. Can anyone reading this post truly imagine Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, etc., not being fully engaged in bringing resolve to matter? When our nation’s leader is more concerned about winning a second-term in office than leading our nation forward we all have pause for concern. We simply need to restore principled leadership in Washington. Our nation needs serious people to step-up during serious times. What we need is to send home disingenuous politicians (republicans, democrats & independents alike) and replace them with true statesmen.
In the end, my message to those on Capitol Hill is a simple one – do the right thing regardless of partisanship, compromise is honorable where it serves a greater good, and remember that leadership is about the people you serve and not self-interest. All of our nation’s politicians should take to heart the message that those leaders not accountable to their people, will eventually be held accountable by their people. If there are any true statesmen left on Capital Hill, it would be a great time for them to show themselves…
I welcome your comments below, but let’s try and focus on the big picture and not partisan quibbling.
The difference between good and great often comes down to discipline. So my question is this – how disciplined are you as a leader? Context, fluidity, and other nuanced behaviors are positive traits to embrace so long as they don’t serve as an excuse for a lack of discipline. I’m not suggesting that leaders should be robotic or static in approach – quite to the contrary. Implementing a framework of discipline allows leaders more flexibility not less. While subjecting yourself to the rigor of discipline is not easy, it is essential if you want to maximize your effectiveness as a leader. The best leaders I know are extremely disciplined people – they simply do the things others are not willing to do. Are you disciplined in all facets of your life, or just those which come more easily to you?
There’s a lot of material in circulation about strengths and weaknesses, but the truth of the matter is the mantra of “playing to your strengths” is often an excuse to avoid doing things you dislike or don’t happen to be very good at. It’s much easier for most people to refine their areas of giftedness and revel in the admiration of being a high achiever than it is to be honest about their shortcomings. I want you to take a hard look in the mirror - is it truly an attempt to increase your efficiency that guides you to play to your strengths, or is it pride, ego, arrogance and laziness that precludes you from being disciplined? Remember that being efficient is not always the same thing as being effective. Here’s the thing – you don’t need to observe a leader for long to know whether or not they’re disciplined. Disciplined leaders stand out because they’re the one’s that get things done – the ones you can count on.
The good news for those willing to do the work is you can have your cake and eat it too. By applying rigor and discipline to aspects of your personal and professional life that you normally tend to avoid, your strengths will standout even more. How many times have you put up with, or overlooked certain weaknesses in people because of their considerable strengths in other areas? Wouldn’t it be better to find yourself in a place where others weren’t tolerating certain of your behaviors in lieu of others? It’s been said that “Discipline is the refining fire by which talent becomes ability.” Wouldn’t it be better to be viewed as a complete package – the real deal? Sure it would, so why not apply the discipline it takes to ensure that outcome?
I want you to envision a golfer who is long off the tee - the grip it and rip it type who can out drive anyone on the range, yet never wins a round because of their pathetic short game. Here’s the thing; it’s not that this champion of the long drive can’t master their short game, they just spend more time on the driving range than on the putting green. They would rather receive the accolades that are sure to come from their mighty display in the tee box rather than suffer the chuckles that might result from sculling a chip shot around the putting green. Know the type? The sad thing is they don’t just exist on the golf course…
My bottom line is this…real leaders don’t accept mediocrity - they constantly seek improvement. If you want to become a true standout as opposed to someone who has great potential my message is simple – become very intentional about bringing discipline to every area of your life. Take an assessment of what you do well and what you don’t, and then apply rigor, process, structure and discipline to each of those areas. Hard work isn’t easy, but it does pay huge dividends.
As always, feel free to share any thoughts or tips by commenting below…
“But my business is different!” Well actually, no it’s not. I cannot even begin to count the number of times I’ve had a CEO tell me that certain immutable business principles just don’t apply to his/her business because, “this business is different.” I don’t dispute that all businesses have certain unique characteristics or contextual differences - I don’t even dispute that recognizing and leveraging said differences are important. What I do vehemently dispute is the assertion a particular nuance is reasonable justification for flawed business logic to prevail. In today’s post I’ll share why most businesses have far more in common than most executives and entrepreneurs care to admit…
Marketing, Branding, Leadership, Sales, PR, Advertising, Business Development, Operations, Administration, Finance, Accounting, Information Technology, Human Resources, Innovation and the list goes on…These functional areas are representative of things that all businesses must pay attention to. All business (for profit or not) provide goods, services, or intellectual property/capital to a market (or markets) for some form of consideration. All businesses have competition, serve stakeholders and other various constituencies, and must do certain things to avoid failure while on the path to creating a sustainable endeavor.
Let me give you a great example; It is not at all uncommon for an executive to tell me that his/her business doesn’t really have any competition. If you tell me that your business doesn’t have any competition, I don’t buy it. All businesses have competition at some level. If you don’t have direct competition, you’ll surely have indirect competition. You will also be competing to retain talented employees that other companies would like to lure away. What about competing against the innovation of others that could cause the obsolescence of your product or service? What about competing to maintain key business relationships with vendors, suppliers, partners and the like? How about competing for the attention of your existing and potential clients? I could go with this line of thinking, but I’ll assume that the point has been sufficiently made.
Moving on…Believe it or not, CEO is not always synonymous with all knowing business guru. Even the most savvy CEO may have blind spots in his or her skill sets, core competencies, or voids in the org chart which can also distort perspective. Even in this day and age, I still run into CEOs that don’t understand the value of leveraging technology, utilizing outsourcing to lower costs and improve efficiencies, the tremendous power that comes from embracing the Internet, the benefits of creating multiple distribution channels, the value of building brand equity, or any number of different issues.
Bottom line…Just because a business has a particular advantage doesn’t mean that it can disregard sound business logic. Moreover, just because a business has embraced a certain methodology or practice doesn’t mean that it cannot be improved upon, or perhaps that said business practice or methodology should even be disregarded in totality. Great businesses are in constant search of improvement, innovation, change, disruption, knowledge and other strategic leverage points that lead to a competitive advantage or operational enhancement.
Don’t fall into the rut of allowing your business to be trapped in a perpetual state of static thinking. Great businesses are dynamic, fluid, vibrant and ever changing. Get outside of your old thought patterns and seek out people, technology, collaborative relationships, process enhancements, and any other solutions that can improve your business. Your business isn’t really different, but it can become better…
Those of you who frequent this blog know that I’m not a huge fan of either/or propositions. In most, if not all cases, decisions that are made on this basis simply constitute a lack of depth and understanding. This particularly holds true as it applies to the topic of innovation methodology. Most innovators view innovation from one of two perspectives: those who believe disruptive innovation is superior to incremental innovation, and those who take the opposite side of the argument. In today’s post I’ll share innovations best kept secret - a different argument altogether.
I want to begin by making the argument for incremental innovation. It is faster, easier and cheaper to refine something than it is to create it. Let’s face it, not all oceans are blue. Even if you find a blue ocean to sail in, there is a lack of certainty as to whether you’ll navigate it successfully, and even if you do, as to how long you’ll remain the only ship in the ocean. I think most rational people have concluded it is much more profitable to disintermediate a market than it is to build one from scratch.
The main reason attempts at disruptive innovation fail more often, and don’t happen with more frequency and velocity is that human nature is to make things harder than needed by looking in the wrong places for disruptive opportunities. The real trick, the secret sauce if you will, is to focus on incremental innovation that becomes disruptive. Don’t think incremental vs. disruptive – think incremental and disruptive. This is the option that allows innovators to have their cake and eat it too. This is what levels the field by bringing disruptive opportunities in reach of companies that don’t have the time or resources to create new markets.
Let me be as clear as I can - disruptive innovation isn’t limited to a sole focus on creation of something new. Disruption can occur by disintermediating, refining, re-engineering or optimizing a product/service, role/function/practice, category, market, sector, or industry. The most successful companies combine disruptive thinking with incremental approaches in order to manage risk, gain time to market advantages, add value to core initiatives, and to leverage built-in efficiencies and economies of scale.
The problem with most incremental approaches to innovation is that companies don’t think big enough. Most incremental approaches more closely resemble process engineering/automation efforts with a focus on cost reduction through gaining efficiency, not on revenue creation by causing disruption. Removing self-imposed restrictions on thinking will result in opening up more opportunities to innovate around.
The good news is this: there’s an easy fix to this antiquated way of thinking which is currently crippling the innovation efforts of many companies, and it’s found by adhering to the following 6 step process:
- Define: The first thing that needs to happen is to define what constitutes disruption. Set a standard and then stick to it. I’m not suggesting that any initiative not meeting the definition by halted, but I am suggesting that you don’t fool yourself and label something as disruptive when it is clearly not.
- Identify: Now that you’ve defined what types of projects you’re looking for, aggressively begin pursuing projects that meet the standards.
- Assess: Once a potential project has been identified, put it under intense scrutiny and understand what you’re dealing with before you pull the trigger. Based upon the standards that were set in the definition phase create a scoring/ranking system based on key metrics and prioritize initiatives accordingly.
- Plan: Be strategic. Great outcomes rarely occur when initiatives are under-resourced and/or poorly led. Deploy your best resources against your greatest opportunities. Make sure you set projects up for success rather than failure.
- Implement: Get tactical. The best strategies will end-up facing certain failure unless planning transitions into practice. Without prudent, decisive, consistent and productive forward progress, plans aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. Planning without implementation is an exercise in frivolity.
- Monitor: Everything in business, including the best laid plans, are subject to changes in circumstances and market conditions. Put simply, static plans are bad plans. Make sure that all efforts are measured against milestones, benchmarks, deadlines, budgets, etc. If the plan needs to be nuanced in order to achieve success, then have the flexibility engineered into your plan to allow for such changes.
As always, I welcome your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below…
To restructure or not to restructure? That is the question many a business is forced to ask at some point during their life cycle. The mere discussion of corporate reengineering can cause fear, anxiety, and in some cases even panic. This is so much the case that some CEOs will avoid restructuring initiatives at all costs. There are even some business theorists that warn against undertaking complex restructurings because of the great risks involved. My question is this; since when have fear and avoidance become prerequisites for success as a CEO? Give me real leaders who possess courage, vision, and a bias toward action, and spare me the timidity of mediocre managers posing as leaders. In today’s post I’ll examine the benefits of, and the need for corporate reengineering…
In an earlier post entitled Leadership Is About Breaking Things, I stressed the need to shatter anything that embraces the status quo. Anybody could be a CEO if business were a static proposition. If change and innovation weren’t key contributors to sustainable success, and the enterprise could just run on auto-pilot, you could replace the CEO with a General Manager. The fact is business is not a static endeavor. Quite to the contrary; there are few things that require as much fluidity as effectively growing revenue, increasing profit and driving brand equity. In fact, I would go so far as to say that CEOs who are not consistently reengineering elements of their business fall into one of the following two camps; 1) They have a perfect business, or; 2) They are an ineffective CEO.
What do great CEOs do when the business model, the strategic plan, and the revenue hurdles don’t seem to be in alignment? They make changes. They don’t sit idly by and watch the business lose market share, suffer margin erosion, see their competitive value propositions vaporize, or watch their brand go into decline. Great CEOs are willing to make the tough decisions…that’s what they’re paid for. Facing reality, and being able to make what are often times very painful organizational/structural decisions are the hallmarks of great CEOs. With less than 60 days before we enter 2012, I want you to do a gut-check: who and what are not going to be part of your business next year? And who and what need to be added to your business next year?
In an attempt to avoid confusion as to what I’m speaking about, I put together the following definition of corporate reengineering: “Corporate Reengineering is leadership recognizing, taking ownership over, and acting to correct strategic or tactical business flaws, and/or to realign elements of the enterprise with current or anticipated changes in market conditions consistent with the corporate vision.” This isn’t rocket science, rather it’s just plain-old, good leadership. It is actually the fiduciary obligation of a CEO to make the needed changes to protect shareholder value.
So why is it that so many CEOs shirk their responsibility, stick their heads in the sand, and avoid making necessary changes? It is my experience they either lack the personal skill sets, or haven’t built the right executive team to lead change, they just don’t recognize the need for change, or they just don’t care. The good news is there is a cure for all four of the preceding problems: Items one through three can be solved with an emphasis on leadership development and talent management, and item four can be solved by holding the board of directors accountable for CEO performance and firing an apathetic CEO. Following are six representative tips that will help you recognize the need for a reengineering initiative:
- Unusual declines in revenue, margin, market-share, customer loyalty, or brand equity.
- Even if the above areas are not yet in decline, but you are witnessing unusually slow growth or zero growth you still have a problem.
- The inability to recruit or retain tier-one talent.
- Current or anticipated changes in market conditions that will adversely impact your business model.
- Obsolescence of intellectual property, products, services, solutions, or competitive value propositions.
- Perhaps the greatest reason to reengineer is to exploit an opportunity. Windows of great opportunity are not static, and won’t stay open in perpetuity. If you’re not organized properly to exploit the right opportunity it will pass you by.
The bottom line is this…Bleeding is not a healthy thing. Whether you’re experiencing a slow bleed or you’re hemorrhaging, both instances can be fatal without treatment. If your company is in products, services, or businesses that you wouldn’t enter into if you weren’t in that particular arena today – GET OUT! Stop the bleeding, and reinvest your financial and non-financial resources into more profitable endeavors. I don’t believe corporate reengineering to be evil, but even if it is, it is a necessary evil…Thoughts?