Noah Barsky PhD

Growth should be exciting, but, if not properly governed, can generate much apprehension, tension, and noticeable reluctance. The antidote to organizational inertia, unmet goals, and related career plateaus hides in plain view – business acumen. While most employees are adept at tasks and responsibilities, many often cannot articulate why their work is important.

Enhancing business acumen about how the organization competes, performs, and utilizes key resources holds the key to maximizing employees’ talents and functional expertise. Knowing more about the business sparks curiosity, illuminates job relevance, builds a success culture, and can motivate commitment to previously unimaginable levels of achievement. For those who expand, hone, and renew business acumen, results follow and career trajectory soars.

What are business acumen essentials? Senior leaders and executive program participants most often identify and agree on these four fundamentals:

START WITH A CLEAR AND UNIFIED UNDERSTANDING OF STRATEGY

Business strategy can simply and clearly be defined in terms of how a company creates customer value and differentiates itself from the competition. Frequently lost in a buzzword morass, strategic insight starts with clearly identifying the existing and emerging competitors, not only by name, but size, strength, and intentions. Coupling competitive intelligence with insights about existing and prospective customers provides the key elements of credible market presence. Most importantly, strategic clarity reinforces why employees’ work matters and provides an unambiguous reference for business planning, review, and evaluation.

RECOGNIZE THAT RISK IS EVERYONE’S RESPONSIBILITY

Risk is often considered to be solely the domain of compliance, legal, and human resource professionals. While, as a minimum, companies should certainly abide by laws, meet regulations, and honor policies, risk avoidance, and mitigation are insufficient for a lasting, thriving enterprise. Business, at its essence, is a risk-seeking and risk-taking endeavor. Employees must understand the external and internal risks that their organization faces and the necessary actions to manage each (and those that emerge) as the entity navigates its competitive market. The foundation for understanding business risks resides in understanding a firm’s value chain and its purpose in strategy execution. Regardless of the method, good governance stabilizes growth.

REALIZE THAT MONEY IS THE REWARD NOT THE REASON

Employees must, in some way, have a concept of their company’s financial condition and the consequences of (in)actions. Without necessarily becoming a CPA or financial analyst, those with a basic awareness of their employer’s financials relative to prior years, competitors, and budget, have the perspective required for sound economic choices.  The company’s sales growth, profitability, cash flow flexibility, debt service, and overall financial viability either enable or restrict activities and initiatives. Profitability is imperative to reinvest in the business, increase wages, sustain operations, and maintain access to capital.  In top organizations, the finance function stewards scarce resources and works cross-organizationally with informed leaders who must spend and invest wisely for short-term needs and future well-being. Business choices require due financial consideration – from all.

MANAGE THE BUSINESS, NOT THE METRICS

Well-run businesses, exceptional employees, quality offerings, and leading technology score well on any scale. In an era of data abundance, companies need professionals who can focus the workforce on metrics that truly matter – those that drive meaningful outcomes, not simply tabulating quantifiable outputs. Performance measurement is essential to calibrate business decisions,  but should never be an isolated obsession. Those who advocate to make numbers “look good” can descend down a dangerous path of “form over substance” with incentives to manipulate, misreport, or worse. Performance measures, chosen with care and courage, offer candid insight into a company’s progress on strategic priorities, as fulfilled by operational excellence helmed by trusted leaders.

On scales of 1-10, ask yourself and others how well your workplace fares in terms of insight about strategy, risk, finances, and performance measurement. The answers reveal the areas of greatest strength and opportunity. Take action to improve ratings by just one point on each scale and marvel at how employees find more purpose in their jobs, energize the workplace, and perform better. Business acumen is the oft-overlooked differentiator that can enable you and your colleagues to deliver growth that your organization expects and deserves, and, even more importantly, because its future and your career depend on it.

ABOUT NOAH BARSKY PhD

Noah P. Barsky, PhD, is a professor at the Villanova University School of Business. He has also been a faculty member with the Institute for Management Studies since 2001. Dr. Barsky serves on business advisory boards and delivers executive education programs for Fortune 100 companies, global professional services firms, and industry associations. He has authored five books and published over seventy articles in various academic and professional journals. To learn more about Dr. Barsky and view his upcoming IMS programs CLICK HERE.

CONSIDER THIS SCENARIO

ACME Corporation is implementing a new technology. 

  • Executive Eric exclaims, “We need this new technology to remain competitive!  Why is it taking so long?  Why aren’t my managers getting their people on board?”
  • Middle Manager Mary laments, “I’ve been directed to implement this new technology when we haven’t even finished our last major roll-out.  My staff just rolled their eyes at me when I announced the change, complaining about how they don’t have time to learn the new process with everything else on their plates.” 
  • Employee Eddie complains, “Here we go again. Another program of the year. We’ll outlive this change, just like the last one corporate tried to shove down our throats!'”

DOES THAT SOUND FAMILIAR?

Change challenges vary by organizational level. Those at the top, like Executive Eric, usually set the direction of the change and are most convinced of the need for it, but they tend to be isolated from many of the change’s direct impacts. Staff on the front lines, like Employee Eddie, are most removed from the rationale behind the change, but are often most directly impacted by it; an alteration in their behavior is usually a significant part of the change initiative, and they can thus appear most resistant to it. That means that managers like Mary – and perhaps you too – typically find themselves stuck in the middle, squeezed between these two levels, sandwiched between the edicts of their bosses and pushback from their staff.

WHAT CAN A MIDDLE MANAGER DO?

Managers can play a mission-critical role in leading change by helping their organizations overcome these all-too-common disconnects across organizational levels, which result in over 70% of major organizational changes failing to achieve their objectives. Here are ways to exert your influence and emerge as a powerful voice in leading change, which is a pivotal capability for a leader at any level across all industries today:

INFLUENCE UP

What you see depends on where you sit.  It can be easy to vilify senior leaders above you in the hierarchy, but they don’t know what they don’t know – and it’s your job to tell them. Why is the TV show Undercover Boss so popular? Because in every episode a CEO masquerades as a frontline employee and experiences how hard it is for good people to comply with the changes they must wrestle with. How can you step up to help your executives see that sometimes the emperor has no clothes, and that they may benefit from a new way to engage people in and equip people for new directions?

ALSO, INFLUENCE DOWN

At times managers can be as in the dark about the changes they are supposed to drive as their staff! Take control by proactively obtaining the information you need about the ‘they, why, what, who, and how of the change,’ so you are armed to deliver the message to your people. It can be tempting to join the naysayers, especially when you have so many legitimate concerns and such limited information. Remember that behind every complaint is a request, and strive to tease out the wants and needs, communicate what you unearth in a business language that can be acted upon, and challenge your team to step-up and be part of the solution versus the problem.

HERE’S THE BOTTOM LINE

The most important change leadership competency is courage – the courage to say what needs to be said in an authentic, transparent, professional and respectful way to help others up and down the organization appreciate the need for change, understand the barriers in the current state, and collaborate to invent a new path forward.

ABOUT BARBARA TRAUTLEIN, PHD

Barbara is the principal and founder of Change Catalysts, the author of the best-selling book Change Intelligence: Use the Power of CQ to Lead Change that Sticks, and the originator of the CQ® System for Developing Change Intelligence®. For over 25 years, she has coached executives, trained leaders at all levels, certified change agents, and facilitated mission-critical transformations – achieving bottom-line business and powerful leadership results for clients. She is gifted at sharing strategies and tactics that are accessible, actionable, and immediately applicable.

Dr. Trautein will be delivering 11 IMS programs on Developing Your Change Intelligence to Lead Critical Initiatives in 2020. To learn more about Barbara and her IMS programs CLICK HERE.

Julie Winkle Giulioni on employee development

A significant investment is made each year on studies, training, portals, and programs related to career development. Sadly, the return on this investment continues to disappoint organizations, leaders and employees alike. And it’s unfortunate because what’s needed doesn’t cost even a penny. What’s needed to ensure healthy, sustainable career development is creativity.

“Creativity” and “career development” rarely come up in the same sentence. In fact, many organizations have inadvertently wrung a lot of creativity out of career development through the creation of complicated systems, processes, and forms. What many organizations are discovering is, the more sophisticated the individual development planning process, the less creativity is actually allowed. It turns leaders into box-checking bureaucrats, for whom career development is yet another task on a never-ending To-Do list. It’s like completing a paint-by-number career development plan. That’s not creativity, that’s drudgery.

APPROACHES TO CREATIVE DEVELOPMENT

Although many organizations have completely revamped many aspects of the employee experience—from recruiting to compensation—innovation in career development practices have typically remained largely stagnant. There are, however, a few pacesetting companies that are implementing genuinely creative solutions that ensure relevant and sustainable development. 

In general, these companies focus on two broad approaches that cost nothing but can quickly shift mindsets about how to develop employees:

  • Thinking outside of the box—the checkbox on the standard forms, that is. There’s a balance to be struck between the structure (required for manpower/succession planning) and the ongoing, iterative, informal, in-the-moment way people actually learn, grow and develop. Lightening the administrative load of the former frees up energy and creativity for the latter.
  • Rebranding the outdated career ladder. Although the regular, predictable progression associated with the ladder metaphor went missing from many workplaces some time ago, too many employees and leaders alike still hold that image. Progressive organizations are replacing the ladder with more nimble, lateral, and reality-based models including climbing walls, jungle gyms and Tetris-style ways of thinking about how career development really works.

Here are a few examples of creative ways to embed career development into your work team’s daily life:

ASK

This is the simplest route to helping employees grow: ask their opinion. Yet, managers sometimes forget to ask, “Where do you see the need to develop?” or “What would feel like a stretch assignment to you?” As a manager, it’s easy to get caught up in prescribed “development” activities handed down from upper management and take shortcuts. 

EXTRAPOLATE

What tasks/projects does your employee already do that can be extrapolated into a new project that will energize him/her and provide value to your organization. Perhaps she took a financial project and ran with it; what can you help her do to increase the complexity in the task, so she grows in this area?

DELEGATE

You’re probably already delegating, but here’s the twist: give away a task that you love to do. Perhaps there’s a task that you long ago mastered, but you hold onto because you enjoy it. Who on your team would also enjoy it, if only they had the chance to try it? These are just three possible avenues to injecting creativity into your organization’s career development processes. Everyone from the C-suite to the front lines needs to update their thinking about, expectations of, and efforts to support career development. As these examples show, the shift does not require a significant financial investment. Rather, what’s necessary is the infusion of the priceless quality of creativity.

ABOUT JULIE WINKLE GIULIONI

Julie Winkle Giulioni helps organizations enhance learning, engagement, retention, and the bottom line. Named one of Inc. Magazines top 100 leadership speakers, Julie is the co-author of the international bestseller, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want, a respected speaker on a variety of topics, and a regular contributor to many business publications. Julie will be presenting her insights for IMS members in 2020. Learn more about Julie at: https://www.juliewinklegiulioni.com/

Women's Leadership Expert and Author Audrey Nelson PhD.

  1. ACCOUNTABILITY
  2. ACCESSIBILITY
  3. ASSERTIVENESS
  4. AGGRESSIVENESS
  5. ANGER
  6. AFFABILITY
  7. AUTHORITY
  8. ACCOMMODATE
  9. AVOID
  10. AFFILIATION
  11. APPROVAL
  12. APOLOGIZING
  13. AMBITION

The 13 A’s to Ax are critical behaviors that impact women’s leadership style. Before a woman can forge a path to leadership, she must conquer these internal roadblocks. The thirteen behaviors are struggles women experience with their attitude and expression of them; that is, their comfort level and familiarity is problematic and does not serve them well as leaders.

For example, one of the A’s is affability. Women not only compulsively smile more than men, but they smile at the wrong time, which can jeopardize their credibility by sending mixed messages—a contradiction between verbal and nonverbal messages. People don’t know which one to believe. Often a woman will smile when she is making a serious point or engaged in conflict as if to mitigate the situation, to soften the blow. So, I am not saying women should stop smiling altogether, but they need to consider the context and the message. We all like to work with happy people, but we are confused by contradictory messages.

Approval and Affiliation

Another example is approval and affiliation. We are social animals and have a hard-wired need for approval and inclusion in the group. For women, it is paramount that they are liked; men often gauge their prowess by not necessarily always being liked and approved of by others—sometimes a “macho” factor. This is best represented by a remark I heard a middle manager make: “Somebody has to do the dirty work and call out this bad solution and if it means I am not going to be liked, so be it.” Women face the task of monitoring what they sacrifice: their opinions and ideas for the sake of approval.

Approval and affiliation can bring down a teen girl and a senior executive equally.  Friendships are important to women, and they learn young the prerequisite of liking other children in order to play with them; fast forward to a managerial level: Women feel an immense loyalty to their colleagues. It is common for women to refuse to transfer to another department because of the bond they have with existing peers.

In a recent consolidation of research on women in the workplace for the last three decades, Gallop produced a report, Women: Work and Life Well-Lived. The report identifies the “friendship factor.” For women, work not only provides a steady paycheck but also a sense of purpose and an important social outlet; sixty-six percent of women say the social aspect of a job is a “major reason” why they work. Because a woman has a deep sense of affiliation with her team members, it benefits the organization, as well. In other words, her ability to form strong relationships relates to better business outcomes, including profitability, safety, and most importantly, customers’ emotional connection and loyalty to the business. One of the most important realizations women have to learn is how to maintain the positive qualities and attributes of affiliation without compromising their ability to express a conflicting opinion.

New Rules and Realities

There are new rules and realities for leadership in the workplace. Men and women are not the same and have different approaches to how they lead. In order for women to share their work lives as equals, they must learn to tackle simple behaviors governed by internal thought patterns. A woman cannot always control the external environment, what people think or organizational constraints, but she does have control over her internal attitudes and predispositions; she can change the way she thinks and then the way she behaves.

There are many lessons girls have learned from playing cooperatively rather than forming hierarchical groups. Girls generally prefer a flat organization and the premium is on getting along with others and learning how to smooth things over and negotiate to save and preserve relationships. Girls will typically choose reciprocity and intimacy in playing games. These lessons have served women well in developing interpersonal competence, emotional intelligence, enhanced social skills, and the ability to sustain relationships. However, the paradox of interpersonal skill and acquiescence is a tightrope women must walk. It functions as a part of the micro-political structure that undergirds the larger political structure of the workplace. For the larger political context to exist and carry on, there are many actions and interactions that take place during the workday to support it and maintain it.

The 13 A’s to Ax are interrelated issues women have with behaviors that serve to perpetuate the disparities in men and women’s attitudes toward leadership and the willingness of others to follow women. When a woman pursues leadership, whether it is an entry-level leadership position or if she is already in a mid-level management or director position, she becomes frustrated, bewildered, and confused. She begins to mistrust her judgment. She is experiencing a backlash to her leadership style.

Finally, these 13 A’s serve to maintain and convey signals of compliance, control, and dependence that influence us and those around us. Conquering the challenges a woman has with The 13 A’s to Ax will enable her to not only join the ranks of male leadership, but to also surpass it.

Dr. Jeffrey Kuhn

Through my university research on strategic leadership, and my advisory work with senior leaders over the past two decades, I have observed a strong correlation between a leaders’ ability to frame and pose profound strategic questions and their ability to think strategically. In other words, strategic leaders think in the form of questions—the ability to frame strategic questions and engage in strategic dialogue is a key dimension of strategic leadership.

Big-Picture Thinking

In my work with executives, I can generally gauge a leader’s ability to think strategically by the quality of the questions they pose. The strategic questions a leader poses are the outward manifestation of his or her internal thinking process and their general orientation to the business. Strategic leaders tend to be broad-gauge thinkers and wide categorizers. They ask big-picture questions that serve as an early warning system, so the organization doesn’t get blindsided by the future. Well-framed strategic questions help leaders make sense of complex market dynamics and patterns. The questions a strategic leader poses, whether they are spoken or simply reflected upon by the leader, are not designed to be answered on a point-by-point basis per se but are meant to marinate and produce a deeper set of questions that produce deeper understanding into market dynamics.

Types of Strategic Questions

Accomplished strategic leaders tend to have a broad repertoire of strategic questions for recognizing market patterns and assessing the strategic and financial health of the enterprise. 

Here are a handful of examples to illustrate:

  • What are the key trends and patterns in the broad market landscape and what threats and opportunities do they present?
  • How are industry and competitive dynamics evolving?  How is the basis of competition shifting and what are the implications for our business model?
  • How are customer lifestyles, attitudes, needs, and purchase and consumption patterns evolving? How will customer and economic value be created in the future?
  • What are the key trends and dynamics in our distribution channels?  What are the implications for our business?
  • What is the strategic and financial health of our organization?  What is the longer-term growth and profitability picture? What are our next-generation growth engines?
  • What new capabilities must our organization build to sustain its market leadership and capture emerging growth opportunities? How must our culture evolve?

Big-picture, enterprise-level questions such as these are central to the long-term competitiveness and economic viability of the firm and help a leader rise above the operational fray and maintain a strategic perspective.

Industry Disruption and Reinvention

Today, nearly every industry, from financial services to farming, is undergoing some form of disruption, transformation, or reinvention. Low-cost digital technologies have lowered barriers to entry precipitously, giving rise to new types of competitors and business models, creating an accelerating world that has quickened commoditization cycles and shortened corporate lifespans to where they can be measured in dog years. Paradoxically, the digital revolution has brought dramatic growth in strategic complexity—socioeconomic, geopolitical, technological, customer, channel, competitive, and organizational—placing immense cognitive demands on leaders. When scanning the external landscape for disruptive threats and emerging opportunities, leaders are unsure of what they should be looking at in the external landscape, let alone how.

Questions Are the Answer

As Gabriol, the 11th century philosopher noted, “A wise man’s question contains half the answer.” In simple terms, the better you are at framing strategic questions, the better you will be at recognizing the intersecting trends and patterns that create and shape markets.

As an organization matures from a fledgling start-up to industry stalwart, the field of vision often narrows, and the organization finds itself peering at the outside world through a peephole. Individuals undergo similar life-cycle changes as they grow and mature from starry-eyed children with boundless curiosity and imagination to buttoned-up executives who interpret the future through the prism of past experiences. Left unchecked, these perceptual filters become self-limiting and self-sustaining, suppressing the

long-term imaginative thinking that is essential to sustained value creation. This explains why, in incumbent firms, most growth opportunities are hidden in plain sight.

You will be amazed at what you can see when you wipe the residue of past experiences from your lens and scan the market landscape with the curiosity and imagination of a five-year-old. Subtle cues that are invisible to the naked eye will become crystal clear when you sharpen your ability to frame strategic questions and develop your strategic eye.

About Dr. Jeffrey Kuhn

Dr. Jeffrey Kuhn is a distinguished thinker, author, strategy advisor, and educator with expertise positioned at the intersection of strategy, innovation, growth, and organizational renewal and vitality—the work of strategic leadership. His work centers on helping senior business leaders develop the capacity to think and lead strategically in dynamic market environments undergoing profound change. He holds a doctorate from Columbia University and has served on the faculty of Columbia Business School and Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a founding member of the Strategic Management Forum and is a Fellow at the Royal Society of Arts. In 2017, Dr. Kuhn was inducted into Marshall Goldsmith 100 Coaches.

Dr. Kuhn is doing three more IMS programs this month. Learn more about them HERE.

leadership body language with Carol Kinsey Goman

You may have a leadership title – or tremendous leadership potential — but do you look like a leader? Influencing people’s perception of you is called impression management, and body language plays a key role.

Here are five body language hacks that make you look like a leader:

1. Start With Your Posture

Try this: Raise your shoulders toward your ears. Now roll them back. Now drop them down. Keeping this erect posture with your shoulders back and your head straight makes you look very sure of yourself.

Power and authority are nonverbally expressed by expanding into height and space. When you want to project leadership presence at a meeting, sit tall and claim your territory. Uncross your legs and place your feet firmly on the floor. Bring your elbows away from your body and widen your arm position. Your expanded body language will not only change the way people perceive you – it will influence the way you feel about yourself.

When you stand, be aware that if your feet are close together, you can look hesitant or unsure. But when you widen your stance, relax your knees, and center your weight in your lower body, you look more “solid” and credible.  

2. Make Sure You’re Present

An up-and-coming manager was being groomed for a leadership position, but after attending a staff meeting, her boss took her aside. “Never do that again,” he said. “You didn’t look like you were fully present. You didn’t make eye contact with the speaker, you didn’t join the discussion, and you certainly didn’t look like a leader.”

Her boss made a valid point. You can’t project leadership presence if you aren’t perceived as being present.

At every meeting you attend, make sure you stay engaged by actively participating, making eye contact with, and orienting your body toward, whomever is speaking,

3. Use Gestures That Signal Leadership

Leadership presence is enhanced by using smooth, controlled gestures between your waist and your shoulders. Warmth and openness are demonstrated by rotating hands with palms up at about a 45-degree angle, a way of indicating that you have nothing to hide.  Moving your hands and arms away from the front of your torso is another way of indicating sincerity and security. The more you cover your body with folded arms or tightly-held hands, the more it appears you need to protect or defend yourself.

Authority is shown by rotating your hands palms-down, a nonverbal way of saying, “Hold that thought.” The steeple gesture (where the tips of your fingers touch, but your palms are separated) is a sign that you’re sure of what you’re saying. As such, it can be very effective when you want to emphasize a certain point.

Gestures to avoid include the “fig leaf.” Most people unconsciously clasp their hands in front of their lower body, creating a protective fig leaf effect. Whenever you use this gesture, especially during a formal presentation, it indicates that you’re insecure or uncomfortable. A better choice would be to clasp your hands at waist level.

Gestures are a key part of how people perceive you. Using a variety of gestures helps you connect with your audience. You’re more compelling and convincing when you talk with your hands – as long as you know what they are saying.

4. Sound Like a Leader

As a leader you can be sure that people will not only be listening to your words, they’ll be evaluating how you say what you say.

Speaking loudly and quickly makes you sound confident – unless, of course, you are shouting, which makes you seem rude and insensitive. Speaking softly can be effective for signaling a confidential or very important message. But always make sure you are speaking with enough volume to be heard. And remember to enunciate and speak clearly.

Put enough emotion in your voice to avoid a monotone delivery that sounds as if you’re bored or detached. I’ve heard leaders praise people in such a flat tone of voice that none of the recipients felt genuinely appreciated.

By the way, when you’re speaking, don’t be concerned with filling every moment with words. Instead, try pausing. It’s unexpected, it’s attention-getting, and it’s effective . . . very effective.

5. Ace Your Business Handshake

In the workplace, warmth and welcome are transmitted by shaking hands, and this seemingly simple greeting may be what someone remembers most about meeting you. That’s because touch is the most primitive and powerful nonverbal cue.

Be aware that people are personality judgments based on the kind of handshake you have. A weak handshake may mark you as “too timid for leadership.” And the “bone crusher” — where s person squeezes too tightly – almost always gives the impression of being overbearing or insensitive. The perfect handshake is firm, with palm-to-palm contact, so that the web of you hand (the skin between your thumb and first finger) touches the web of the other person’s hand. The more skin you can contact, the more you come across as trustworthy and reliable.

Remember to offer your hand with your palm facing sideways. If you extend your hand with the palm up, it makes you look submissive. When you hold out your hand with the palm down, or if you twist your hand downward during the handshake, it sends the message that you feel superior. But when you offer your hand sideways, it sends a message of equality and self-confidence.

Try these five body language hacks. You may be surprised to find that these simple nonverbal cues can give a powerful boost your leadership presence by positively influencing the way others perceive you.

About Carol Kinsey Goman Ph.D.

Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. is an international keynote speaker on Leadership Presence and Body Language for Leaders for corporations, conventions, universities, and government agencies. She will be doing two IMS programs this November in Kansas City and Los Angeles. You can learn more about the program HERE. Carol can be reached through her website: https://CarolKinseyGoman.com.

Dr. Jeffrey Kuhn

Aspiring young leaders often ask me, “How can I learn to think and lead strategically?”  Normally, I smile and reply, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”  The answer is, of course, practice.  Lots and lots of practice.  That’s how you get to Carnegie Hall, and that’s how you learn to think and lead strategically.

Strategic leadership is a form of leadership that is future-oriented and broad in scope. It emphasizes building the organizational capabilities and culture that strengthen a firm’s competitiveness and its ability to create customer and economic value on a sustainable basis. Strategic leaders speak a language of growth and value creation, rather than cost-cutting and downsizing.

Role of Strategic Thinking

Strategic thinking is the engine room of strategic leadership. It’s impossible to lead strategically without the ability to think strategically. They are two sides of the same coin. Strategic leaders have an innate ability to recognize patterns and seize emerging growth opportunities in dynamic market environments and tend to have strong conceptual skills and immense creative capacity that is fueled by an insatiable curiosity, openness to new experiences, a vivid imagination, and eclectic interests.

Many leaders struggle with strategic thinking and regard it as an inborn trait possessed by members of the lucky gene club rather than a cognitive capability—a mind-set and muscle—that can be developed.  It’s is my belief, however, that with the right development experiences, working under the watchful eye of a master teacher/coach with expertise in enterprise-level strategic thinking and transformation, operationally oriented managers can develop the capacity to think and lead strategically in dynamic market environments that are undergoing profound change. I have watched scores of operationally oriented managers develop the capacity to think and lead strategically in my executive development programs.

Building Your Strategic Muscle

Here are some tips and development activities for developing your capacity to think and lead strategically. 

Read Business Journals to Develop a Repertoire of Patterns

Strategic thinkers are expert pattern recognizers. A leader learns how to think strategically one pattern at a time. Commonly recurring patterns in business include a disruptive threat from a new entrant, organizational decline and renewal, growth spurts and growth stalls, industry maturation and commoditization, and price wars that create a death spiral.

A great way to develop a repertoire of patterns is through reading business journals and case examples in business books. Most of the strategic leaders that I have worked with are voracious readers and lifelong learners. Reading periodicals like Businessweek or the Wall Street Journal is a great way to develop broad, cross-industry business acumen and a repertoire of patterns.

Develop Eclectic Interests

It’s also important to develop eclectic interests outside of your work environment to develop your creative capacity. It doesn’t matter what you pursue, whether it be music, art, or birdwatching. The key is to pursue an interesting activity outside of work that brings your innate creativity out of hibernation and allows you to look at the world from different perspectives.

Develop Networks Outside Your Industry

It’s also vital to cultivate professional relationships outside your industry in order to develop a broad, cross-industry perspective. Thinking outside the box requires spending time with people in different boxes. Industries become inbred over time, so it’s important to connect with “switched on” leaders outside your industry to gain fresh perspectives that you can apply to your organization.

Participate in Strategic Projects

Experience is by far our best teacher. One of the best ways to develop your strategic thinking skills is by participating in enterprise-level strategy projects at your organization. You can also ask a senior-level mentor to shadow and/or support he or she on a shorter-term strategic project. During my doctoral studies, I worked with a retired CEO on strategy projects in an apprenticeship-type arrangement to hone my strategic thinking skills. The experience accelerated my development immeasurably and continues to bear fruit.

Maintain a Strategic Thinking Journal

Finally, it’s a good idea to maintain a strategic thinking journey to capture your insights, observations, and reflections.  Nearly all the executives I have worked with over the years maintain a journal to capture key insights.

Enhancing your capacity to think and lead strategically is clearly within your grasp provided you have the passion and drive and are willing to invest the time to hone your craft.  There are no shortcuts in life.

You have to practice, practice, practice!  That’s how you get to Carnegie Hall!

About Dr. Jeffrey Kuhn

Dr. Jeffrey Kuhn is a distinguished thinker, author, strategy advisor, and educator with expertise positioned at the intersection of strategy, innovation, growth, and organizational renewal and vitality—the work of strategic leadership. His work centers on helping senior business leaders develop the capacity to think and lead strategically in dynamic market environments undergoing profound change. He holds a doctorate from Columbia University and has served on the faculty of Columbia Business School and Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a founding member of the Strategic Management Forum and is a Fellow at the Royal Society of Arts. In 2017, Dr. Kuhn was inducted into Marshall Goldsmith 100 Coaches.

Dr. Kuhn is doing four IMS programs in October. Learn more about them HERE.

Author Michael Roberto

Imagine that your organization faces a complex problem, and your team seems to be stuck. People appear to be fixated on a narrow range of potential solutions, none of which seem particularly innovative. How can you encourage divergent thinking and help your team generate more creative options? Let’s examine three techniques for broadening perspective and uncovering novel solutions.

Find Analogous Experiences

First, encourage your team to search far and wide for analogous situations and experiences that might offer useful insights. Too often, we search narrowly for solutions, looking at our past experiences or at our competitors’ best practices. When we benchmark our rivals, we often find ourselves imitating them, rather than innovating. Rampant benchmarking can lead to herd behavior and strategy convergence in many industries. Instead, encourage your team to think about how people in other industries or fields must approach this particular problem. Ask yourself: Who else has had this type of problem and how have they addressed it? Research shows that we tend to generate more novel solutions when we mine analogous contexts for inspiration. For instance, a pediatric hospital in the United Kingdom wanted to enhance patient safety. They knew that errors often occurred during “handoffs” – i.e., when patients were transferred from one clinical team or unit to another. The doctors asked themselves: Who is world class at executing handoffs? That question led to them to study Formula One Ferrari racing teams. Errors decreased dramatically thanks to ideas sparked by examining this analogous context. Similarly, firms from a range of industries have developed novel solutions to customer service problems by studying firms such as Ritz Carlton Hotels, a firm known for delivering an exceptional customer experience.

Become Unfocused

Second, ask your team to step back and “un-focus” for a moment. We all know that multitasking proves highly counterproductive in many cases. However, complete focus has its limitations too. We can get trapped into a particular way of thinking and too mired in the details. Sometimes, we simply need to step back and gain some distance from a problem to achieve a breakthrough. How can we encourage our team to detach from their work in a constructive manner? Achieving distance means more than simply taking a break or going for a walk. Creative ideas often emerge when we embrace a bit of “time travel” as a means of gaining fresh perspective. We look forward and reason back. For instance, Amazon asks software developers to imagine what the press release and frequently asked questions document will look like before they start a project. After leaping ahead in time, they work backwards to re-imagine their proposed solution. In the military, teams conduct pre-mortems as a means of sparking new ideas. In this technique, we imagine that our concept has been implemented and has failed at some point in the future, and we ask ourselves how we are likely to explain the failure at the postmortem. Envisioning this scenario can help us see our proposed solution in a whole new light. Achieving some distance in this manner helps us get “unstuck” at times and enhances divergent thinking.

Play Devil’s Advocate

Finally, directing one or two team members to play the devil’s advocate can spark creative solutions, provided that these individuals approach the role in the right manner. Devil’s advocates can quash creativity if they simply act as naysayers, seeking out all the reasons why an idea won’t work. If they lecture the team repeatedly, they can quickly become a broken record. Others will stop listening to them. Moreover, they can discourage people from proposing novel solutions for fear of facing withering criticism. The best devil’s advocates help the group reframe the problem when people are thinking too narrowly about a particular category of solutions. They can enhance divergent thinking if they ask thoughtful questions, rather than pretending that they have all the answers. Constructive devil’s advocates enhance creativity if they help a team generate new options rather than simply criticizing existing proposals. Simply, the right kind of tension, applied with care, tends to unleash the creative juices. The most successful leaders do not always generate novel solutions to perplexing problems themselves. They often enable others to develop creative ideas. They marshal the collective intellect of their teams. To accomplish that, leaders need to apply the right techniques to help their people get unstuck, broaden their perspective, and look at problems in a whole new light.

About Prof. Michael Roberto

Michael Roberto is the Trustee Professor of Management at Bryant University in Smithfield, RI. He joined the tenured faculty at Bryant after serving for six years on the faculty at Harvard Business School. His research focuses on how leaders and teams solve problems and make decisions. The Case Centre ranked him #25 on their list of the 40 best-selling case study authors in the world. He is the author of three books including Know What You Don’t Know: How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen, Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes for an Answer: Managing for Conflict and Consensus and his latest book, Unlocking Creativity: How to Solve Any Problem and Make the Best Decisions by Shifting Creative Mindsets.

Author and coach Bill Hawkins

In 20 years of conducting leadership seminars and one-on-one coaching with executives, what would you guess to be the most common complaint I hear?

It sounds something like this:

There’s just so much on my plate. The amount of work that needs to be done can be overwhelming. There are meetings, conference calls, administrative requirements, not to mention routine emergencies that suck up all my time. It seems like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done.

And what advice does our busy leader get? “You need to delegate more.” 

Surprisingly, the answer for the “not enough hours in the day” boss isn’t to delegate more but to delegate more effectively.

Delegation is not a quality like “demonstrating integrity.” Honest, ethical, and legal behavior is always appropriate―delegation isn’t. Inappropriate or poorly executed delegation can do more harm than good.

Criteria for Delegation

A good place to start is to review the criteria for delegation. Why do it? There are 3 good reasons a leader should delegate work:

  1. To ensure the work is done at an appropriate level (closest to the customer, at the lowest cost, with access to the needed information, etc.).
  2. To free up your time to do other more important activities.
  3. To develop the people on your team.

Ideally, you want to include all 3 criteria. So, how do you know what to delegate and to whom?

Steps to Delegation

Step 1: Every job (no matter if it’s the CEO or the person greeting at the front desk) can be broken down into 3 to 5 major components. There are no exceptions to this rule! Identify the key 3 to 5 areas of your responsibility, and then list several activities you do to achieve success in each of these key areas.

For example, one area of responsibility for a customer service manager might be: Train new customer service representatives.

Activities to support that responsibility might be:

  • Orientation on email and voice mail communication
  • Dealing with angry customers
  • Researching information on shipment and delivery questions
  • Handling quality issues

Step 2: Look at each activity and ask yourself, “Is this developmental for me? Am I building skills that will be useful in the future? Am I learning more about this business or industry? Is this increasing my business acumen, building my skills, and expanding my understanding?” If the answers are all “No,” even if you enjoy doing these activities, it is not necessarily a good use of your time.

Step 3: I can assure you there are people on your team who think your job is more interesting than theirs. Some would like to have more responsibility, earn a larger raise, or maybe get a promotion. Is there anyone on your team you could delegate all or some of these tasks to and it would be very developmental for them? If so, this is an appropriate opportunity to delegate work.

No Dumping Allowed

Step 4: There is a difference between delegating and dumping work on people. Effective delegation requires orientation to the new assignment. To the person assuming the new responsibilities:   

  1. Communicate why he or she has been selected for this assignment.   
  2. Discuss how much time it will take and how to structure their schedule so there is time available for this additional work.
  3. Make sure they have access to needed information or know where to find it.
  4. Confirm that they feel like they have the authority to do the job.

If you follow these simple steps, you’ll free up time for yourself and you’re also engaging and developing people on your team.

That is a Win / Win.  And that is effective delegation.   

leadership body language with Carol Kinsey Goman

He’s the boss, she’s bossy. He’s assertive, she’s domineering. He strategizes, she schemes.

He’s powerful and likeable, she’s powerful or likeable.

As males rise in rank and status at work, they retain (and often increase) their perceived likeability – so they can be both powerful and likeable. The Double-Bind Paradox states that women must project authority in order to advance in the business world, but the more powerful they appear, the less they are liked. Catalyst, an organization that studies women in leadership, calls this the “dammed if you do, doomed if don’t” dilemma. Their research shows that women in power can be seen as capable or likeable — but rarely both.

Blame it on the stereotypes we hold of women as nurturing, sensitive and collaborative, When their behavior is congruent with these traits, women are liked, although not seen as especially powerful. When their behavior runs counter to the stereotype, they are perceived more negatively. A frequently cited Harvard Business School study, the Heidi/Howard case, shows that when the same highly assertive and successful leader is described to grad students (of both genders), that person is seen as far more appealing when given a male name instead of a female one.

Does that mean that female leaders are indeed “dammed or doomed” as Catalyst suggested? Well, maybe not.

One encouraging possibility that addresses this bias comes from another study at Stanford Graduate School of Business that found businesswomen who are assertive and confident, but who can turn these traits on and off depending on the social circumstances, get more promotions than either men or other women. This research suggests the most successful women have developed a strategic ability to read a situation and alter their behavior accordingly.

Here’s where body language comes in.

When working with a leader, followers continuously and unconsciously assess her nonverbal signals for warmth (empathy, likeability, caring) and authority (power, credibility, status). So knowing how your body language cues are most likely to be perceived can be the first step to being able to move successfully from making one impression to the other.

Take head positions, for example. Head tilting is a signal that someone is listening and involved — and a particularly feminine gesture. As such, head tilts can be very empathetic and warm, but they are also subconsciously processed as submission signals. (Dogs tilt their heads to expose their necks, as a way to show deference to the dominant animal.) Remember to use head tilts when you want to demonstrate your concern for and interest in members of your team or when you want to encourage people to expand on what they are saying. But when you need to project power and confidence — when asking for a job promotion or giving a presentation to senior management — keep your head straight up in a more neutral (and authoritative) position.

Then there is the matter of posture. Status and authority are nonverbally demonstrated through claiming height and space. Watch the high-status males in your organization. They almost always expand into available space and take up room. So, when you want to project status, remember to stand tall, pull your shoulders back, widen your stance, and hold your head held high. On the other hand, when you want to display empathy or increase collaboration, you’ll also want to minimize your power signals, and replace them with warmer ones — forward leans, head nods, and aligned shoulders, torso, legs pointed toward whomever is speaking.

Gestures Send a Message

Gestures, too, send their own messages, and by paying attention, you can make sure they are sending the right message. Since early history, people showed their palms to one another to display the fact that they were unarmed – and therefore friendly. Open arms with palms showing indicate candor and inclusiveness, so they are very effective when you want to proclaim your sincerity or build trust in a group. Projecting confidence and certainty is achieved by “steepling” (finger tips touching, palms separated) or rotating your hands palms-down. Both gestures indicate that you are absolutely sure of your position. (Just watch that you don’t overuse them and weaken the impact.)

It’s a similar issue with physical animation. When you want to pull people into a discussion, stay animated in your facial expressions and use your hands as illustrators to make what you are describing more vivid. But when you want to maximize your authority, maintain more of a “poker face” and minimize your gestures by keeping them smaller and displaying most of them at waist height.

The obvious implication of the Stanford research for women who want to advance in their organizations is to master the ability to display competence and power when the situation requires it, and to signal warmth and empathy when it is most effective to do so. That’s how body language can help you defeat the Double-Bind Paradox.

Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., is the president of Kinsey Consulting Services. She’s an international keynote speaker and an authority on the impact of body language on leadership effectiveness, and her passion is helping talented women build their leadership presence. Carol’s clients include over 200 organizations in 25 countries. Her programs for women leaders have been presented at events including European Women in Technology, Amazon, Women@Google, Expedia – Global Women’s Conference, Executive Women’s Forum, Stanford University, and UNC School of Government – Engaging Women in Public Service.

Carol is a leadership blogger for Forbes and the author of twelve business books including The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt – How You Lead. She has been cited as an authority in media such as Industry Week, Investors’ Business Daily, CNN’s Business Unusual, PBS Marketplace, the Washington Post’s On Leadership column, MarketWatch radio, and the NBC Nightly News.

Dr. Carol Kinsey Goman is presenting two programs for IMS in November in Los Angeles and Kansas City. Sign up to experience these highly interactive sessions.