In the last decade or so, business leaders have experienced a dizzying rate of economic, technological, social, and environmental change. In response, business scholars and writers have generated a staggering amount of research, articles, books, and programs discussing countless methods for driving change and exploiting new capabilities and circumstances.
A couple of years ago a team of academic researchers stepped back and reviewed all of the challenges in achieving productive change. They learned that while most leaders do a fairly good job in isolating the problem area or opportunity, the major stumbling block is developing an impactful plan of attack and executing it well.
A current example that comes to mind is IBM; a company I discussed in my blog of a few weeks ago. Revenue at this struggling giant has now declined versus year ago for thirteen straight quarters and the CEO seems to name a new major focus area each quarter when she is questioned by the financial community as to how IBM is going to get out of the negative tailspin. First, the CEO announced that the IBM supercomputer called Watson, who beat a human in playing Jeopardy, was going to save the company. Then a couple of quarters later it was their cloud computing services that would solve their problems. Recently she claimed it will be their “Internet of things” services. But…all this rhetoric has generated minimal marketplace impact and revenue continues to spiral downward.
So…what are the specific mistakes that leaders make in this area? The researchers referenced above believe the following three are the most common:
1.) All bark and no bite – We have all seen the manager who rants and fumes about how dissatisfied he or she is regard something, but nothing ever comes of it. And hence the problem continues to fester.
2.) Superficial or flawed thinking – Here the manager fails to get knowledgeable people involved, or doesn’t provide the tough standards that require a high quality and thorough analysis. He or she may instead simply reach for the most commonly held and broadly acceptable opinion of what to do and little impact is achieved.
3.) Weak implementation – A fairly decent job may be done in analyzing the situation and developing appropriate plans, but then there is neither the specific accountability nor the selection of quality talent to drive the effort to completion.
Strong leaders know that their primary task is to continually spot problems or opportunities, analyze them thoroughly involving the right people, develop clear action plans, organize to achieve success, and then closely follow the implementation to completion. That is the essence of leadership.