Posted tagged ‘9/11’

A Blueprint for the New Leader to Effect Change

January 18, 2009

The transition from one presidential administration to another is nearly complete and the country is visibly excited.

There is no doubt that part of this excitement stems from public’s sense that Mr. Obama has demonstrated extraordinary effort in planning his presidency. He certainly seems to be working diligently to avoid the consequences of the aphorism, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Our country seems to appreciate the efforts of the President-elect and this is reflected in his approval ratings which are remarkably high.

There have been numerous books written on how a new leader should take charge and this seems like a great time to look at how Mr. Obama should be approaching this important initial period. One of my favorite books on this topic is The First 90 Days by Harvard Professor Michael Watkins.

Watkins’ work is instructive for all of us, but in the context of this “new beginning” one can see the areas that Mr. Obama has been addressing and which ones he will likely be focusing on in the days ahead.

Here’s the short list.

1)     Promote Yourself. Psychologically break from your previous role in order to take charge of your new role. You are likely to need new skills to be successful at this new level.

2)     Accelerate Your Learning. Focus on understanding markets, products, technologies, systems, and structures as well as its culture and polities. Do this systematically.

3)     Match Strategy to Solution. Diagnose whether you are in a start-up, turnaround, realignment, or sustaining success situation. Each requires a different strategy. You may have different parts of your organization in different situations.

4)     Secure Early Wins. Early wins build credibility and create momentum.

5)     Negotiate Success. Figure out how to build a productive relationship with your boss and manage his or her expectations. This means critical conversations about the situation, expectations, style, resources, and personal development. Gain consensus on your 90 day plan.

6)     Achieve Alignment. This is a strategic role. The higher that you rise within the organization, the more that you have to play the role of strategic architect. This means evaluating strategy, developing appropriate organizational structures, and developing the systems and skills necessary to realize your strategic intent.

7)     Build Your Team. Inheriting a team frequently means restructuring it to better meet the demands of the situation.

8)     Create Coalitions. Develop supportive alliances, both internal and external. Identify them now as well as ways to line them up on your side.

9)     Keep Your Balance. Develop a network that can advise and counsel you so that you do not lose perspective. It can be difficult to look out from the inside.

10)  Expedite Everyone. Help everyone accelerate their own transitions to their new roles.

This week, we’ll talk more about the bottom half of this list.

* * *

Now some thoughts about President Bush as he leaves office…

Without a doubt, the Bush Administration left us with far too many challenges. We should, however, also acknowledge that there were no further attacks on American soil after 9/11. At that time, we were shaken and disheartened and scared and whether by intention or good fortune, the Bush Administration did keep us safe at home and helped us to reclaim our sense of balance.

We likely will never know if we were safe by design or by the Good Lord watching over us (or, of course, both) nor will we probably ever know how many plots to hurt our fellow citizens were thwarted.

Still, if we choose to discredit this Administration for the financial situation we find ourselves in today and the war in Iran, for our safety after 9/11, we should express our appreciation. The Bush administration also looks to have worked diligently during this transition period and that will, without a doubt, help the new president in moving us forward. Thank you, President Bush.

Let us also take a moment to remember that we are still blessed to live in a country that has the greatest opportunities and the most remarkable freedoms.

And now on to new beginnings and may the best be yet to come.

The Art of War and the Art of Battle

August 22, 2008

The goal of a business strategy is clear-cut:

Win the customer’s preference and create a sustainable competitive advantage, while providing sufficient return for owners or, in the case of a publicly held company, the shareholders. A strategy defines the direction the business will take and positions it to move in that direction.

A strategic plan outlines how the war will be won. It defines the critical hills that must be taken. With that information in hand, the generals must determine how the resources – people, equipment, finances, timing and focus – will be allocated. If those resources are insufficient or lack the ability to win the war, the leadership must plan to supplement its army.

The allocation of these resources and the timing for deploying them is in essence the art of battle. It is how we will win the war. In business, we refer to this as the tactical or operational plan.

One of former President Dwight David Eisenhower’s favorite sayings was “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

At the World Business Forum in New York City, New York City Mayor Rudolf Giuliani said, “You have to be prepared for the worst things that can happen in order to get people through things. My mentor in the Attorney General’s offices said that I should always prepare four hours for every hour I planned to spend in court. When you’re prepared, the unanticipated is just a variation on the anticipated.”

Mayor Giuliani recounted that at the turn of the millennium, the entire world undertook massive preparations for what was termed the Year 2000 problem. Private and public sector leadership were concerned that all computer systems would no longer function accurately when the calendar turned from 1999 to 2000 because of the way that calendar years had been coded. There was a widespread concern that banks would no longer have access to funds, patient age records in hospitals would be completely inaccurate, traffic systems would cease to work and even prisons would find themselves without secure systems.

Billions of dollars were spent to recode software applications, and still, there was a widespread fear that catastrophe loomed somewhere as certainly, some application must have been overlooked. To be certain, The Mayor challenged his management team to create extensive plans to ward off this possible catastrophe. In effect, he charges his management to plan for an eventuality where New York could no longer function.

On January 2nd, 2000, leadership throughout the world breathed a collective sigh of relief. There was no computer-spawned catastrophe and while there were some inconveniences, these inconveniences were quickly remedied.

Mayor Giuliani might have felt that this massive investment in contingency planning might not have been all that valuable, given the limited scope of the challenges that appeared in January 2000. After all, nothing significant happened. But, as he explained, it was our Y2K preparations allowed us to be ready for September 11th, 2001 when an unthinkable tragedy brought New York to a standstill.

Indeed, it is difficult to anticipate the exact scenario and match the plan to the anticipated circumstance. Yet, the very act of planning provides us with the means by which we can anticipate responses and adjust our actions accordingly.


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