Want to Succeed in Business? Invest in a Good Telescope!

Leadership Lesson 4: Seeing the Future

What astronomers can teach us about leadership

In 1919, astronomer Edwin Hubble looked into a state-of-the-art telescope on top of Mount Wilson, just outside of Los Angeles, CA. What Hubble saw would change the field of astronomy—and the world—forever.

The early twentieth century was a time of raging debate among stargazers. Two camps had formed: one side claiming that the Milky Way was the only galaxy in the universe, the other side claiming that there were more galaxies than our own, possibly many more.

On top of Mount Wilson, Hubble—after whom the Hubble Space Telescope is named—settled the debate once and for all. What some astronomers thought were mere gas clouds turned out to be entire galaxies. Today, due to the work of Hubble and those who followed in his footsteps, we know that there are over 100 billion galaxies in the universe!

With a quality telescope lens and persistence, Edwin Hubble could see what no one had seen before. The same can be said for revolutionary business leaders.

Whether it was Jeff Bezos realizing the Internet’s capability to connect retailers with consumers, or the founders of ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft realizing they could gain market share from the transportation industry, visionary leaders have their eyes on the sky.

What separates a Visionary Leader from an Operational Leader is the ability to look into the “cosmos”: to look at market trends, new technologies, and new markets.

For a leader to become a true visionary, he or she must do two things:

1. Get a better telescope

Ask yourself how you are tracking market trends. Do you subscribe to industry publications? Are you aware of the most current technologies or changes in market trends? Are you actively seeking out new ventures? Are you sensitive to potentially disruptive new products, processes, or markets?

2. Spend more time stargazing

Strategic decisions based on a solid understanding of your industry’s “cosmos” are the most important drivers of organizational profit and success. If you are not spending sufficient time understanding the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead, you cannot formulate optimal strategies. Think about which of your tasks can be delegated to free up strategic bandwidth.

If you can upgrade your telescope and keep your eye on your industry’s sky, you have a chance of becoming a truly visionary leader. Who knows, you might just discover new galaxies!

How Organizational Leaders Are Like ER Doctors

Leadership Lesson 3: Calibrating Your Work

The 200-year-old medical technique that could save your organization

According to the National Institutes of Health, it was Baron Dominique Jean Larrey, Surgeon-in-Chief to Napoleon’s Imperial Guard, who originated the notion of triaging in the late eighteenth century. This practice allowed the French army to use its resources efficiently and effectively by treating wounded soldiers based on needs.

The technique of triaging, still in use today, allows medical professionals and ER doctors to prioritize patients who have the most urgent needs, while waiting to treat patients whose injuries are minor or less urgent.

Triaging can serve as an excellent model for those of us outside the medical profession. Even if we are not in the business of saving lives, the technique of triaging might just save our business.

The higher you rise in an organization, the more inundated you become with tasks and requests. On any given day, you may receive dozens of emails, phone calls, and requests for meetings—all before lunch!

This wall of noise can be a distraction; if you try to fulfill every request that comes across your desk, you will almost certainly lose sight of the most important thing: your organization’s core goals.

This is where Baron Dominique comes in. For each item that comes across your desk or into your mailbox, you must triage it into one of three categories:

  1. Only I can do this work
  2. This work can be delegated
  3. This work is not worthy of my time, or of being delegated, and can be eliminated

Many executives reach their positions through rigid perfectionism; not completing each and every task or attending each and every meeting can feel strange or unnatural. But you must be ruthless in deciding what you will (and will not) take on.

Indeed, the time you spend on unimportant or redundant tasks is time you could have spent creating the visions and pursuing the core mission of your team or organization.

THE TAKEAWAY: Challenge yourself. For the rest of this week, triage each task or request that comes across your desk into one of the three categories above. After a few days, you might start to find that you finally have time and bandwidth to address and accomplish what is most important.

The Awkward Thing About Being Promoted That No One Wants to Tell You

Leadership Lesson 2: Negotiating Relationships

… and how to conquer the discomfort.

You finally got the big promotion you have been working toward. Welcome to your spacious new office, your sizable salary increase, and a stack of freshly printed business cards you can send to your parents to show them you have finally made it!

Only one problem: Suddenly everything has gotten a little … strange around the office.

There is an old joke in the consulting world:

Q: What’s the best way to lose your work friends?

A: Get promoted.

Gore Vidal famously nailed the same sentiment when he cheekily said, “Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little.” While Vidal said this partially in jest, the sentiment is not far off the mark.

There will always be friction when you enter a new position, but when you enter the position through an internal promotion, that friction can double. A couple years ago, I witnessed this phenomenon first hand at a mid-sized construction company for whom I was consulting.

A beloved construction worker who had been at the company for nearly a decade had just been promoted to project manager. The problem was that even the most well-liked employee is not immune to jealousy and resentment by former colleagues who have suddenly become direct reports.

Within a couple of weeks, the project manager was faltering, tripping over himself in an effort to not alienate his former colleagues. By continuing to go out for beers with his crew, and kowtowing to their requests on the job site, the new project manager was not able to successfully lead his team, nor fully step into his new role.

Fortunately, I was there to coach the newly minted manager through the tricky transition from colleague to boss. Here are the four steps I recommend in situations like this:

  1. Acknowledge: It is important to acknowledge the discomfort or awkwardness that may arise due to an internal promotion. This acknowledgment should be done unapologetically and should be coupled with the affirmation that a unified team is crucial for success moving forward.
  2. Leverage: Point out that no one knows the team’s skills better than one of their own. This recognition will help your team members feel assured that their skills will be valued moving forward, and help you realize that you are in a unique position to leverage their skills for the good of the organization.
  3. Reset: The most difficult part of a promotion to a leadership position is resetting boundaries with former colleagues and social friends. Maintaining social relationships should be done with your subordinates in a group setting or on a rotating basis so you are not seen as playing favorites. As difficult as this may be, it is often necessary to have private conversations to reset these boundaries. Otherwise, you run the risk of internal dissension that can undermine your team’s efforts.
  4. Run: The quickest way to create a “new normal” in your tenure is simply to focus on running the business and exercise regular and clear authority. Ultimately, people appreciate routine and stability. The sooner a clear routine is established, the sooner productivity returns and negative energy is reduced.

By following these steps, the project manager was able to get things back on track with his team. Though the transition was not easy, the project manager later confided to me that working his way through those tricky first months was one of the most rewarding experiences of his career.

He beat the awkward promotion blues, and so can you.

The Surprising Reason That NASCAR Is Like Business

Leadership Lesson 1: Broadening Your Vision

And no, it is not because each win is accompanied by bottles of champagne

Whether or not you watch NASCAR, you are probably familiar with some of the sport’s biggest names. Hall of Fame stars like Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon helped propel NASCAR into its current position as America’s second-most watched sport. Today, household names like Danica Patrick and Kevin Harvick help keep the sport relevant as drivers white-knuckle their way through left turn after left turn.

But there is one surprising thing you may not know about these celebrity drivers: they are not the most important people on their racing teams. And, no, it is not the pit crew, either!

The most important member of a NASCAR team is the spotter. Each NASCAR driver has his or her own spotter watching from the top of the grandstand. Unlike drivers, spotters are able to see the whole race track, and can “spot” opportunities and challenges that the drivers will have to face. Aware of what lies ahead, a spotter coaches the driver through the turns of a NASCAR race.

So, how does this relate to your organization?

An average corporate leader is like a NASCAR driver without a spotter. Able to only see the cars nearby, the average leader has just moments to respond to changes in racing conditions. An average leader is always responding to changes rather than anticipating them.

A great leader, on the other hand, serves as his or her own spotter. Sometimes, you must get out of the cockpit and find a space high up in the grandstand, from which you can view the whole race. After all, knowing what lies ahead can mean the difference between a champagne-laden celebration and a fiery crash.

In business terms, this means staying focused on large-scale opportunities and challenges, rather than merely “putting out fires” or focusing solely on production. Such opportunities and challenges include, but are not limited to:

  1. Monitoring company and industry trends
  2. Integrating new technologies or systems
  3. Adopting new products or services

Take a minute to think about your leadership style. How often are you merely “driving”? How often are you seeing your organization’s situation from the grandstand and “spotting” obstacles ahead?

THE TAKEAWAY: If you feel that you are not in the grandstand enough, now could be the perfect time to leave some of the driving to a trusted colleague and start leading your company with a view of the whole race track.

Happy spotting to you. Just be sure not to drop a sandwich off the grandstand!

Creating Great Leaders

Creating Great Leaders

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Research by the Corporate Executive Board found that an astounding 50 to 70 percent of executives fail within 18 months of being hired or promoted. Not unique to any single industry, this high rate of failure occurs even though these new executives are hardworking, hold high values, and have the best of intentions to lead their organizations to success.   

Why do leaders fail? Why is their best not enough, and what can be done to ensure their success? 

Our research finds that individuals promoted into more senior positions continue to do the same work in the same way as the work they were doing in previous positions—but working harder, longer, and more intensely. The work patterns that previously brought them success cause them to fail in their new position. 

Along with a promotion must come a change in the way the new executive views and thinks about their work. Typically moving from a role that is largely focused on tactics to one that is more strategic, the new leader must be less hands-on and instead learn to develop and delegate the work to others. 

Watch our video, Creating Great Leaders, an introduction to our upcoming series of blogs on the subject. Topics we will cover include:  

Leadership Lesson 1: Broadening Your Vision

An average corporate leader is caught up in always responding to changes rather than anticipating them. You need a vantage point from which to see the bigger picture and spot opportunities and challenges.

Leadership Lesson 2: Negotiating Relationships

There will always be friction when you move into a new position; when that happens through an internal promotion, that friction is doubled. How can you gain respect for your new authority and keep friendships with your coworkers intact?

Leadership Lesson 3: Calibrating Your Work

The higher you rise in an organization, the more inundated you become with tasks and requests. Using a triage model can help you determine what you should (and shouldn’t) take on yourself, affording you the time to do what you MUST do: focus on pursuing the mission of your organization.

Leadership Lesson 4: Seeing the Future

The difference between a visionary leader and an operational one is the ability to see and interpret what’s on the horizon. A solid understanding of market trends and new technologies is the basis for strategic decisions that drive organizational profit and success. Give yourself adequate time to think about the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.

Beard Executive Consulting can help move your executives from good to great through our webinars, seminars, consulting, and executive coaching. Learn more about our executive training webinars that focus on strategies to address the unique issues that leaders in your organization face on a daily basis.