How to quickly assess a leader

Leadership effectiveness at all levels is an important component of successful strategy implementation.  I’ve worked with hundreds of corporate leaders and I’ve seen all kinds.

Weak leaders are driven by insecurity.  They try to get their subordinates’ respect by being likable or controlling, neither of which engenders respect.  They blame others for failures, take all the credit, and surround themselves with weak subordinates.

Strong leaders are focused on seizing opportunities, making difficult decisions, accepting failures and sharing credit.  They continually earn respect by the way they lead, and they surround themselves with strong and capable people.

One of the fastest ways to assess a leader is by looking at how strong the direct reports are.

  • How effective is the leadership in your organization?
  • What are you doing to continually improve leadership skills?
  • Do your leaders get candid feedback to help them improve?

Kodak and strategic change

One of the lessons of Kodak is that getting really good at what you do can have a severe drawback, especially in our age of rapid change. There is danger in being so good at one thing that you cannot adapt quickly enough to changing environment. In Kodak’s case “quickly enough” was more than ten years.

It is the responsibility of every organization to constantly improvise and innovate just to keep their current position in the market. But remember two key points: First, if you “stick to your knitting” and entirely focused on continuous improvement, you don’t have business strategy – it’s not creating a distinctive competitive advantage. Second, an organization that has ossified around continuous improvement isn’t nimble enough for strategic change. Both are warning signs.

Six key questions to ask yourself:

  1. How is your industry changing?
  2. Are you actively looking for trends and inflection points that may change your industry?
  3. So you have a good way to focus your best minds, with dedicated time, on your future strategy?
  4. How adaptable is your organization?
  5. Are you building innovation and change readiness into your organization?
  6. Have you done a change readiness assessment?

Why Apple is so Profitable

Steve Jobs leapfrogged the competition in computers, music, animated film, cell phones and tablets by developing a distinctive strategy, not by focusing on improving operational effectiveness.

Business strategy is all about strategic positioning, providing something unique, and delivering distinctive value to your customers. Once the strategy is formulated, then you work backwards to determine how to achieve it.

This is very different from how most companies do strategic planning. They begin with the current situation and extrapolate it into the future. That approach inevitably ends up with a focus on operational improvement and a “me too” market approach, not a distinctive strategy.

There is a clear difference between operational effectiveness and strategic positioning. You need to be good at operational practices, or strategy doesn’t matter. But operational effectiveness without a distinctive strategy is a commodity approach and results in competition based on price. In contrast, a distinctive strategy enables either higher prices or structurally lower cost. And both result in better profits.

Do you have a distinctive strategy?

Is Your Team on the Same Page?

It’s a new year and a good time to assess your team’s engagement. A periodic check to make sure that your people are focused, challenged, stimulated and feeling good about direction is a good thing to do. Involve the team in both assessment and improvement. One approach I use with my best clients is a series of questions that you ask people to answer and then have discussions, either individually or as a group, to identify gaps in perceptions and improvement opportunities. Some of the questions address these statements:

  • My communications with my manager are candid and open.
  • I understand my role in supporting and delivering the business strategy.
  • We build trusting relationships at work.
  • I value my team members and the work they do.

If you’d like a free copy of my 15 question tool, send me an email ( and I’ll send it out to you. All the best in 2012!

The Crab Pot

It’s been interesting to watch the rise and fall of various candidates in Iowa this Fall. One candidate will soar in the polls only to be attacked by the other candidates and the media who pull the leader down. It reminds me of ‘the crab pot’ – a phenomenon I learned about from the superintendent of a large urban school district. When crabs are collected and put into a bucket, they climb all over each other. Eventually the pile of crabs grows up the inside of the bucket so that the top crab can crawl over the top and escape. But the other crabs invariably reach up and pull that top crab down, and the cycle continue, it’s normal in a political campaign, but when it happens within a company, it’s dysfunctional. While some internal competition can be productive, you need to ensure that your people, especially your top management team, are collaborative, supportive, and on the same page regarding your business strategy and priorities.