The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead

Anticipate

Business schools, leadership gurus and strategy guides agree — leaders must have a vision. But the sad truth is that most don’t…or at least not one that compels, inspires
and energizes their people. How can something so essential be practiced so little in real life? Vision may sound like a rare quality, unattainable by all except a select few — but nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone can expand their visionary capacity. You just need to learn how.

In Anticipate, strategy and leadership expert Rob-Jan de Jong explains that to develop
vision you must sharpen two key skills. The first is the ability to see things early — spotting
the first hints of change on the horizon. The second is the power to connect the
dots — turning those clues into a gripping story about the future of your organization
and industry. Packed with stories and practices, Anticipate provides proven techniques for
looking ahead and exploring many plausible futures, including the author’s trademarked
Future Priming process, which helps distinguish signal from noise.

You will discover how to tap into your imagination and open yourself to the unconventional,
become better at seeing things early, frame the big-picture view that provides
direction for the future, and communicate your vision in a way that engages others and
provokes action. When you anticipate change before your competitors, you create enormous strategic advantage. That’s what visionaries do … and now so can you.

Part I: Visionary Content

The Groundwork
Creating a vision requires ideas, ideally intriguing and refreshing ideas that trigger people’s interest, curiosity and excitement. It requires engagement with your imagination and an ability to think outside the clichéd box.

Tapping into Your Imagination
Without imagination, you are stating the obvious or holding on to the status quo; your  vision falls flat. With it, however, your vision becomes intriguing, exciting, refreshing.
Suddenly, it has the potential to energize and mobilize.

Part II: Visionary Practices

Developing Your Visionary Capacity
The potential to come up with — and hold on to and cultivate — a brilliant idea or a vision is within all of us. Visionary leadership isn’t a personality trait, although it is sometimes confused with concepts like charismatic leadership. The big question is how. How do you go about developing this crucial leadership competence?

Seeing Things Early
We’re not aiming to become accurate, or even good, predictors of the future. Instead, we’re working to develop an increased awareness of changing realities, building
antennas for the distant signals that might push the future in a different direction from the one we currently and conventionally foresee. We can then become better at recognizing those signals and their potential impact when they present themselves in some early form. Your ability to see things early is at the heart of what leadership expert Warren Bennis calls adaptive capacity.

Connecting the Dots
In addition to strengthening the ability to see things early, we must equally improve our ability to create a coherent story going forward. This coherent story must consist of what we expect, foresee, envision, and anticipate. It needs to resonate, make sense, and be the guiding light into the future for our followers. I call this second developmental dimension of visionary capacity the ability to connect the dots.

Part III: Your Visionary Self

Your Visionary Self
Author Warren Bennis promotes an integrated perspective on leadership, consisting of four essential competencies: vision, adaptive capacity, voice, and integrity. Here we’ll explore the relationship between your visionary capacity and Bennis’ concepts of voice and integrity — the identity-oriented aspects.

Mindful Behavior
Leading with authenticity also means you must practice what you preach. The best evidence of your true feelings and beliefs comes less from your words than from your
deeds. When your words are believably connected to what you do, when you behave in line with your vision, only then do you display integrity and build trust with your followers.

Part IV: Visionary Communication

Igniting Your Followers
You can have great ideas, make the powerful practices second nature, have clarity on your core purpose and values, and exercise the right behaviors for growth. But if you are unable to communicate your vision in a way that engages and energizes others, the Vision Thing still won’t work for you. There are several specific visionary communication qualities that, when done right, will transform your story from something future-oriented but technical and uninspiring to something that invigorates your followers.

 

Is There An iPod Equivalent In Yahoo’s Future?

Marissa Mayer knows how to throw a party. The controversial CEO of Yahoo! once threw a flannel-themed Christmas party at her Palo Alto home (she also has a penthouse apartment in the Four Seasons) that featured not only shipped-in snow but also a backyard ice-skating rink almost large enough for NHL games. At some point during the party, as recorded in Nicholas Carlson’s book Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo!, a pajama-clad Mayer climbed aboard a mini Zamboni she had rented for the occasion, and set out to smooth out the ice that had become cut up by her ice-skating guests. “It was a comical, cheerful scene, and another host might have laughed and waved at her guests as she rode the funny-looking Zamboni in her pj’s,” Carlson writes. “Not Mayer. She was very serious. Sitting on top of the big machine, she concentrated on the ice beneath her. She wanted to smooth over every inch. She was going to get the job done herself and be excellent about it.”

As Carlson describes in his book, the Christmas scene reflects the personality of Mayer: hands-on, serious and driven to excellence — which in the minds of many Yahoo employees and former employees translates, writes Carlson, into “micromanaging, bottlenecking and dictatorial.”

In many ways, the cover of this book is misleading. Despite the photograph of Mayer and her name in bigger type than the rest of the title, this is, surprisingly, more a book about Yahoo than about Mayer. After a brief prologue, readers don’t run into Mayer again until more than 130 pages later, when, in part II of his book he describes Mayer’s early life and career at Google. Part III of the book returns to the behind-the-scenes battles between activist shareholders and Yahoo executives that dominate much of the early part of the book. Marissa Mayer finally enters the Yahoo! building for the first time nearly 250 pages in, giving Carlson less than 100 pages to cover Mayer’s two years (so far) at the helm of Yahoo!

In those 100 pages, Carlson narrates in engaging detail the ups and downs of Mayer’s first two years at Yahoo! For example, Mayer sent shock waves in the progressive hi-tech industry when she abolished Yahoo’s work-at-home policy. At the same time, Mayer replaced employees’ Blackberries with more up-to-date smart phones, and, in a bid to introduce transparency, started staff meetings in which she and her executives answered questions from employees. Mayer bet heavily on mobile apps and on digital magazines, hiring Katie Couric and others to create momentum that never materialized. On a more positive note, she acquired Tumblr for $1.1 billion, a record for a social media company at the time and an acquisition that in some ways has helped keep Yahoo! relevant.

Self-Inflicted Problems

A number of Mayer’s problems seem self-inflicted, including, according to Carlson, her inability to hire effective executives and her unfeeling interactions with her subordinates. The dictatorial, micromanaging style, as many employees see it, can demoralize a workforce whose morale, according to Carlson, is already badly hit by another Mayer initiative, the quarterly performance reviews (QPRs) that have echoes of Jack Welch’s infamous rank-and-yank employee policies at GE. Inevitably pitting employee against employee, the QPRs discourage collaboration and encourage cut-throat competition: it’s better that your colleague looks bad and gets the bad reviews; otherwise it will be you.

Mayer had an enormous advantage as she began her new position as CEO: a guaranteed two years in which the company’s financial health was assured by Yahoo’s prescient stake in the groundbreaking Chinese company, Alibaba, whose anticipated IPO in the fall of 2014 netted Yahoo a cool $8.3 billion windfall. (Yahoo’s stake in Alibaba, now worth $39.5 billion, was spun off into a separate company in January 2015, after the book was published.)

The question remains whether Mayer can make Yahoo! into the dominant Internet player it once was. Marissa Mayer, Carlson writes, points to the five years that Steve Jobs took to revitalize Apple, with the creation of the iPod. Is there an iPod equivalent in Yahoo’s future? For Carlson, the verdict is still out. The outcome depends in large part on the patience of the activist shareholders who pushed out several CEOs prior to Mayer.

How to Lead Breakthrough Change Against Any Odds

stackingthedeck

Change is a constant, and leaders must do more than keep up — they must innovate and accelerate to succeed. Yet people are often unnerved by change. As a leader during a time of transformation, you may stand up before teams that are indifferent, or even hostile, and need to convince them that change is necessary and urgent. What does it take to be an effective change leader and increase the odds of success?

Stacking the Deck presents a nine-step course of action leaders can follow from
the first realization that change is needed through all the steps of implementation,
including assembling the right team of close advisors and getting the word out to
the wider group. Based on Dave Pottruck’s experiences leading change as CEO of
Charles Schwab and later as chairman of CorpU and HighTower Advisors, these
steps provide a guide to ensure that your change initiative and your team have the
best possible shot at success.

Leading an organization through major change — whether it’s the introduction
of a new product, an expansion to a new territory or a difficult downsizing — is
not for the faint of heart. While success is never guaranteed, the right leadership,
process, and team make all the difference. For all leaders facing major change in
their organizations, Stacking the Deck is an indispensable resource for putting the
odds in your favor.

The nine crucial steps for creating breakthrough change in your organization:

Step One: Establishing the Need to Change and a Sense of Urgency

In leading breakthrough change, we must first convince others — those to whom we report and those on our team — that our proposed change has a positive, necessary
and urgent purpose.

Step Two: Assembling and Unifying Your Team

Leaders must rely on a well-balanced leadership team. It’s your job to actively develop and unify a group that will guide the organization in making your change a reality. You are looking for pioneers, for people who are comfortable with a greater degree of risk than
the average person.

Step Three: Developing and Communicating a Clear and Compelling Vision of the Future

Once you have your leadership team in place, you and your team need to be ready to envision and communicate the future in such a vivid and irresistible way that everyone
around you understands your vision and shares your passion for it.

Step Four: Planning Ahead for Known and Unknown Barriers

The fourth step in the Stacking the Deck process is all about anticipating problems as you are planning, and confronting these problems before they derail your efforts.

Step Five: Creating a Workable Plan

Now you need to translate the inspiring vision of the future that you and your team have developed into a workable, real-world plan.

Step Six: Partitioning the Project and Building Momentum With Early Wins

Leading breakthrough change often means working toward an end that seems distant and out of focus. If your people can’t visualize the future in real terms, they’ll find it difficult to muster the urgency to undertake the journey. You therefore need ways to make the immediate steps clear and to help people — particularly those who may not have been involved in developing the vision but who will be crucial to its realization — see the path to the future in real, concrete terms.

Step Seven: Defining Metrics, Developing Analytics and Communicating Results

To define success for your initiative you need to focus on measurable outcomes. People need to see the end result with such clarity that they can act on their own.

Step Eight: Assessing, Recruiting and Empowering the Team

This builds on the work you did in Step Two. At this point, you might want to revisit and repeat some of those initial team-building actions.

Step Nine: Testing with Pilots to Increase Success

Defining a precise set of rules about how to roll out your next breakthrough initiative is impossible: the potential projects are simply too diverse. Nevertheless, appropriate
and careful use of pilot projects is a consistent thread in successful rollouts; pilots can dramatically enhance your prospects for success.

Book Review: Bringing Strategy Back

BringingStrategyBack

by Jeffrey Sampler

When the world of business is so chaotic, leaders need strategy more than ever. However, the business environment is changing too quickly for conventional strategic planning processes. In Bringing Strategy Back, Sampler explains why strategy is more important than ever for your business. Strategy expert Jeffrey Sampler introduces four “strategic shock absorbers” that enable leaders to build resilient organizations that can withstand even the most unexpected global turbulence.

With four “strategic shock absorbers,” leaders all around the world at organizations of any size and type can build strong organizations that withstand chaos and instability. Based on the Sampler’s in-depth research into the world’s most unstable markets, these strategic shock absorbers work together in an ongoing process that can be applied to any organization: Accuracy, Agility, Momentum and Foresight. Of the four, agility helps leaders deliver with speed and flexibility in terms of strategic options. Leaders need to be able to act quickly using agility in unpredictable markets.

Businesses can’t afford to become stagnant in their strategic process in order to survive and thrive. Sampler says that giving up the old way of strategic planning can seem risky; however customizing the best approach for your business will make a positive difference. With this new framework, Bringing Strategy Back shows how to be prepared and proactive, rather than reactive, even when the future is uncertain.

Book Review: Good Leaders Ask Great Questions

Good_Leaders_Ask_Great_Questions

by John C. Maxwell

Once leaders assume their positions, they tend to stop asking questions of themselves and others. However, John C. Maxwell believes that asking the right questions can be advantageous. In Good Leaders Ask Great Questions, Maxwell explains why questions are so important and what questions you should be asking yourself and your team. This book is now available as a Soundview Executive Book Summary.

“Never forget: good questions inform; great questions transform! What questions have others asked of you that have made a positive difference in your life? What questions have you asked others that are helping you even today? Become intentional from this point on in being a questioner. You should even ask questions of yourself,” writes Maxwell. He invited people from around the world to ask him any leadership question and he answers 70 of them throughout the book. He shares leadership questions he has gathered from others and from his own experience that will inspire leaders to ask great questions that will improve their leadership skills and career in a simple and straightforward way. Executives may particularly benefit from “What Must I Do to Lead Myself Successfully?” and “How Do I Resolve Conflict and Lead Challenging People?”

Whether you are a seasoned leader or new to leadership wanting to take the first steps, Good Leaders Ask Great Questions will change the way you look at questions and improve your leadership life. You will know the key questions to ask and overcome poor leadership to develop your talent within your organization.