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Friday, December 30, 2011

4 New Year’s Resolutions for Strategic Leaders

In the spirit of a New Year and new beginnings, here are 4 New Year’s Resolutions for strategic leaders. I know I plan to put them into practice in my own business. What about you?

Resolution #1 - I will Look Forward!

Back in my high school years I did everything humanly possible to skip history class. There was just something about having to memorize specific names, dates, events, locations and other such details that turned me off and led me to wander the hallways in a desperate search for something (anything!) more interesting.   

It’s not that I don’t value the past and its many lessons. Human history is a wonderful teacher both on a global and a personal level and I now read history more than anything else. 

One of my favourite books. (I still don’t remember specific names, dates or events).

But here’s the thing about history…it occurs only in the past. You can’t change it. It offers no OPPORTUNITY, only lessons.

Read history. Study the lessons of the past. Listen carefully to the wisdom of those who lived it and the wealth of knowledge they have to share. But make it your #1 New Year’s resolution to look forward! Seize the opportunities that are in front of you instead of crying about those that have passed you by.

This man could have spent his time lamenting mistakes. Instead he looked forward to new opportunities. How many people do you know who say “I should have invested in Apple in the 80s” instead of looking forward to the opportunities in front of them today?

Resolution # 2 - I will define ACTIONS to move me forward.

Now that we’ve decided to look forward, let’s talk about how to move forward.

From my previous posts, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of goals and objectives. However, in my experience as a strategic consultant, I can tell you that goals and objectives are often expressed in a way that keeps people looking backward instead of moving forward. Let me explain…

Compare the statements in the two columns below. The first column expresses a goal as an outcome to be achieved by a certain time. The second expresses a specific ACTION to be undertaken.

Outcome Statement
ACTION Statement
Lose 5 pounds by March 31, 2012.
Starting January 2, schedule and complete five 45 minute exercise sessions per week.
Cut our spending by 10% by December 2012.
Find and hire an efficiency expert to undertake an independent review of our programs/activities and work with our management team to develop options and detailed implementation plans. Recommendations to be delivered by March 31, 2012 and work to commence immediately thereafter.
Get 10 new clients for my business by June 2012
Starting January 2, start the daily discipline of identifying and reaching out (calling, emailing, mailing brochure, etc.) to 3 new contacts. Use Prospecting/Sales tracking spreadsheet to monitor status and manage relationship.

The outcome-oriented statements in column 1 make for good soundbytes. That’s why politicians like using them when speaking to voters and CEOs like them when speaking to shareholders. It makes them sound decisive and in control. But the problem with outcome-oriented goal statements is that outcomes can only be measured at the end of the time period stated, after the politician’s soundbyte has been long forgotten (see example below), or the CEO has already raked in millions in bonuses.  In contrast, ACTIONS can be evaluated and adjusted or refined on an ongoing basis. 

One of his team’s outcome-oriented goals…"As President, Governor Bush will pay the debt down to a historically low level."
[Source: Bush-Cheney 2000 website]

The actual outcome…As of July 30, the national debt stood at $7,316,567,571,232.89, a record high.
[Source: Treasury Department, 8/3/04, Reuters, 7/31/04]

The point is not that Outcome-oriented goal statements are ineffective. They’re just incomplete. They need clear actions. Once you've defined your goals, make it your second resolution to spend time on defining the specific ACTIONS you will take this coming year.

Resolution #3 - I will use blinders…but selectively

I’m not a horse racing expert so I can’t say for sure but my understanding is that “blinders” ( are useful for keeping the horse from getting distracted, scared, or otherwise unfocused from the task at hand – running as fast as they possible can towards the finish line.

This resolution involves ongoing judgment and it’s in two parts….

First I will allow myself to remove my strategic blinders occasionally. By this I mean that I will allow “we should”, “we could”, “what if” conversations and other such brainstorming/creative thinking exercises. Planning is important but religiously following a strategic plan you wrote two years ago is akin to wearing blinders ALL the time and it will lead to missed opportunities. It always does. The world changes too fast and opportunities fly by at lightning speed. Remain open to possibilities and serendipitous accidents no matter how strategic and planned you like to be.

Not convinced that serendipitous accidents and unplanned possibilities are worth your time? History provides a lesson here too...Sticky Notes...Velcro...Google...Twitter...Groupon...Facebook...all involved serendipitous accidents and openness to unplanned possibilities!

However, on the flip side, once you have a clear idea of your direction and goals (i.e. the next finish line), don’t be afraid to put the blinders on and FOCUS. FOCUS. FOCUS. The most frustrating thing a leader deals with is constant talk of “we should”, “we could” and “why don’t we”. At some point, you need to replace those distracting comments with more decisive “WE WILL” statements and then get moving.

Make it your third resolution to figure out right away whether you need to start the year with the blinders OFF (i.e. reconsider your past goals, opening yourself up to possibilities), or to put them ON (i.e. remove distractions and start focusing on actions needed to accomplish the goals you’ve set).

Resolution # 4 - I will have the courage to re-start the band if/when necessary

Back in the 1980s (I can’t remember the specific date…see resolution #1) I went to see Rod Stewart in concert. Yup, that’s what I said. [Insert your own joke here].

Rock legend/Bra magnet. (Was it the hair?!)

There was one point about midway through the concert where Rod the Mod took center stage with all the lights dimmed and a single spotlight on him as he was about to croon a love song to the multitude of swooning gals in the front row.

Picture this global rock star standing centre stage, all eyes on him as he starts to sing one of his classic songs to countless screaming, fainting, bra-throwing fans in front of him (oh to be a rock star…I digress). But there’s a problem. The band starts the song out of sync. For some reason the tempo is off. The drumbeat is too fast. The bass player is struggling to keep up and the song sounds like something you’d hear at amateur night at the local pub. Now, I’m sure the gals in the front row didn’t even notice but I was impressed with Mr. Stewart’s reaction. He didn’t keep singing and hope the band would get back in sync. Instead he stopped and re-started the band. It was quick and decisive. He didn’t make a big deal about it. He didn’t rant and rave about how hard it is to find good people these days. Nope. He just waved his bandleader a signal, gave a quick wink to the crowd, and got things back on track and moving in the right direction.

My final resolution for the year is to have courage to “re-start the band” if and when necessary. Organizations can easily get off track. Teams can too. Entrepreneurs and business owners like myself,  ditto. It’s the job of the strategic leader to recognize when this is happening and to take quick and decisive action to get things back on track. (Unlike for Mr. Stewart however, don't expect any bra-throwing excitement to follow

Wishing you peace and prosperity for the New Year!

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