Building Your Legacy One Day, One Decision At A Time

How will you be remembered? Few questions delve deeper into global leaders' emotions, self-identities and ambitions. Few inquiries beg the kind of reflection that's required of each of us to sort our personal and professional priorities.

It's been said that time is the harshest critic. The older we get, the more we can appreciate the truth in that simple statement. Yet, as we rise to meet each day, there are decisions to be made about where we will focus our time and efforts. Unfortunately, it seems there is ever more that remains outside our control.

The decisions we make, how we make them, and their impact on others within our enterprises are the very stuff from which our legacies will be built. The time we devote in service to others. Our care and concern for the young and less fortunate. How we act, what we teach and expect of others.

Each of these will fall in the ledger books, either to cast doubt on our abilities as leaders, or in the good column that will magnify our good works and commitments and ethics as examples for future generations, be they in our family or our institutions or workplaces.

The matter of legacy, therefore, really is nothing more than a stringing together by others of the consistent stands we may have taken as business leaders - the things we committed to and the situations that demanded our best and got it when fate fanned the flames of courage and persistence.

We all want to be remembered in glowing terms. When we're gone, we'll each have absolutely no say in the matter. That's why the present is so important.

Today is critical, because it may be the timing of someone else's crucible - one we might help them struggle through and overcome if we make ourselves available to serve others. For some leaders, the best shines through when our respective backs are at the wall. And haven't we all felt that way on more than one occasion over the past year?

It's not too early to consider what our lives and careers will amount to when all is said and done.

Building Lasting Corporate Strategy In A Short-Term World

Too many business leaders are focused almost exclusively on the here and now, the short-term, and the next quarterly report to shareholders.

Too many organisations have little to no institutional memory and further confound that condition by failing to prepare for the transfer of institutional knowledge to a new generation of leaders.

Too few leaders are focused on the long-term.

Yet, while lingering economic uncertainty has forced many short-term decisions, at the heart of corporate strategy is a commitment to do what's right for the organisation - be it measured in financial or human capital terms - over the long run, measured over a period of years. The essentials of organisational culture and consumer value, after all, are measured over decades, not minutes nor even months.

As the question of global sustainability grows ever more closer to corporate balance sheets, corporate strategy must also be sustainable. Given the complex business, societal, government and natural challenges standing in the way of progress and growth, there is no room for short-termism.

Decisions today, if they are made with corporate strategy and sustainable value in mind, should be felt years from now and measured in business gains and investor confidence over the long run.

Balancing Data And Judgment To Achieve Strategic Goals
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It's been said that data provides a view of what's already happened but it cannot inform smart enterprise decision unless it is combined with executive judgment, perspective and experience.

That may be common sense to most global business leaders. Yet if one considers the potential impacts of 'Big Data', crowd-sourcing, AI and viral consumer trends, the threat of being swallowed up in a sea of data is a reality for many executives charged with making big decisions for their organisations.

With the pressure for results more acute than ever before, it would be easy to sit back and let data and data analysis point the way when what's really needed may be a carefully balanced, ongoing and detailed review of data followed by a pause so clear, decisive human decision-making can be engaged.

So what's required of global business leaders in the age of unprecedented amounts of data?

  1. An appreciation of data's potential as a tool for revelation and discovery, and, at the same time, an understanding of data's limitations.
  2. A conscious decision - really, a commitment to oneself as a leader - not to be bound or incapacitated by copious amounts of data, no matter how slick, interesting or sexy it may seem on the surface.
  3. A commitment to focus on time. That is, not to spend too much valuable time overanalysing data or contemplating how one might act in the face of such data points. Rather, to stand ready to invest just enough time to understand the data and just enough time to consider the non-data variables of a given business challenge or market opportunity.

We are living in times in which technology has made our lives, communications and work more convenient and collaborative than ever before. And there are more tools at our disposal to make sense of market trends, consumer behaviours and strategic options.

Let's take those and use them to their full application, while at the same time reminding ourselves that the call of global leadership is a call to step back, digest the data at hand, and apply all that we know and have learned as managers to apply sound managerial judgment to make the best decisions.

Ability To 'Read Between The Lines' Becoming A Critical Leadership Skill

One of the little things that may make all the difference in terms of sorting the winners from the losers in today's global business climate is a leaders' ability to 'read between the lines'.

That is, can the individual leader look at a checklist and see what's not written on paper? Can they sort through a job candidate's resume and interview to determine what's not being said? And can the boss sort through mounds of data, risk analyses and competitive reports to see what's missing?

Seeing what's already apparent to even the casual observer is easy. But thinking about a business challenge from a new frame of mind and seeing the influences on markets, consumers and organisations that others don't is becoming a vital skill for senior management.

Often, as many business leaders will attest, the most interesting thing that comes from an important business meeting is what's not said. So, too, today's culture of information overload may distract leaders from what's essential.

That's why a demonstrated ability to see clearly through the haze of economic uncertainty and beyond the typical data dump that precedes big decisions is a critical competency of senior leadership.

Understanding all the influences on a business decision is key, but seeing the potential of that same decision requires an unprecedented level of business savvy about what's not being said, what's not immediately apparent, and the potential customers and partners a company doesn't already know.

In the world of TMI (too much information), the best leaders appreciate that too little information about the unknown, the uncertain, what's really possible and how to get there can stifle innovation and fail to connect the enterprise to what it can achieve.

A Vital Message For Emerging, High-Potential Leaders

Put a group of ambitious, first-time business leaders in a room together today and the discussion will likely turn on top-line revenue growth, the challenges of entering new markets, risk management and what politicians should do to stimulate economies.

Each of those deserves attention in this especially volatile global business environment, but perhaps none as much as the cross-functional performance lever that is 'talent management'.

No matter one's experience, education, functional expertise or industry, the ability to inspire and lead talented individuals and teams to higher levels of business performance is central to enterprise success, and will be for years to come.

Now more than ever before, talent management is everyone's business. It is the lever of human potential that can most influence organisational results. Yet it is one so often overlooked, or contained within the Human Resources Department or given only lip service by chief executives who talk about "people as our greatest asset" yet who have, at the same time, allowed archaic HR practices to tamp down progress.

If you're a business leader, you are indeed a talent manager, and must see yourself as such. This is especially vital for emerging, high-potential leaders who are the next generation of business leadership.

Ours is the epoch when talent, innovation and intellectual property are becoming the prime competitive resources through which business goals and growth are achieved.

Great people most often leave their bosses because those top managers aren't connecting the needs of superior talent with organisational priorities. Leading companies excel with progressive talent management practices and policies.

It's time for every manager to commit to talent management as a continuous cycle for renewal and repositioning in a business world whose tectonic plates are shifting faster and with more risk and opportunity at stake than ever before.

A Shared Agenda For Leaders In Sports And Business
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When a certain sports executive recruited from one team to another team was introduced to the media in his new home city, he quickly shared a simple plan to turn around an under-performing team and make it a contender.

The two-part plan was this:

  1. Focus on effective talent scouting and recruitment.
  2. Focus on continual player development and performance measurement.

While these two sporting mandates may at first seem relevant only within the stadium's walls or the plush confines of the players' clubhouse, they actually represent a significant calling for business leaders across every industry and management function.

Business leaders must be skilled at partnering with lots of different people and personality types. Over time, one develops a keen sense of who fits, who's doing great work, and where certain individuals need to hone or acquire certain skill and/or experience sets.

It's this keen view of organisational talent that should move leaders to continually evaluate the talent he or she has and the talent they need. Scouting 'high-potential' prospects from within the enterprise - perhaps in another business unit, or at a lower level - and outside its walls is essential to build winning teams for the business. After all, the team with the best talent and team chemistry usually wins the field.

Of course, once you've promoted or recruited high performers, it's important to evaluate their performance and identify opportunities to stretch their talents so they can make an ever-increasing impact on the organisation. Any promising contributor or leader who is allowed to go 'static' when the task and opportunity ahead of them requires a continual escalation of skill-building will soon lose interest and become disengaged.

The winners in tomorrow's business markets are focusing on scouting and talent development today. Hopefully, these business mandates are on your agenda, too!

7 Rules For Attracting The Best Executive Talent
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Hiring companies that understand the recruitment of senior business leaders is a two-way street will be in the best position to compete in an increasingly global war for executive management talent.

That is because no matter how bright the future prospect for your business, the most exceptional candidates for senior management roles will assess whether it has the right stuff to magnify their performance and thereby bolster their career.

Hiring organisations must offer these seven benefits to attract top business leaders and get them to stay and perform at peak levels:

  • A great story (they want to be part of something special, compelling strategy)
  • Brands/products/services that are admired/profitable/have staying power (they want a platform for long-term growth)
  • An environment that speaks to personal growth (get better at what they do)
  • Work that has meaning (that's makes a difference)
  • Chance to join an inspirational leader (reputation for doing the right thing)
  • Wealth creation (financial security)
  • Effective board governance (leadership that takes governance seriously)

The first proactive step employers can take to spark the kind of gravitational pull necessary when it comes to attracting the best management talent is to develop a talent scouting strategy that can also evolve into a succession risk management tool.

The increasing globalisation of business and of employers both large and small pose significant questions about whether an organisation can leverage the same assets to attract exceptional management talent in other regions of the world. Creating the right compensation framework is a necessity to engage top leaders, but their fit has much more to do with their sense of satisfaction in a new environment.

Companies that assume they can attract great executive leaders are often the ones that can't make their own business case to potential recruits and who fail to attract the highest calibre management candidates in the first place.

The bar on what it takes to attract the best talent is being pushed higher. When and how employers recognise that and whether they stay or get in the game are issues that will surely redraw the competitive business landscape for years to come.

Agility and Speed of Learning

Riding the crest of change

In a world with a significantly heightened level of uncertainty, business leaders have little choice but to forge, to the extent possible, alignment between the organisation's emerging culture and (1) factors external to the business that cannot be anticipated (ongoing disruption), and (2) what tomorrow's customer will be willing to purchase (business model).

To succeed and even survive, leaders must learn how to ride the crest of change, how to use the challenge in inherent uncertainty to propel the business into a successful future, and how to harness the energy drawn out of creative tension and a compelling purpose.

In terms of day-to-day performance, creative tension involves two organisational imperatives - agility and organisational learning. First, agility and with it, by implication, the need to push decision-making as close to the customer as possible. Agility, meanwhile, no matter the form it takes, draws on the abiding quest for simplicity. That being understood, simplicity and, its alter ego, responsiveness are far more about mindset than, essential though it is, process reinvention.

To be agile you have to program yourself to "think simple". But not too simple. The second imperative, organisational learning, is a topic that has garnered a great deal of interest but is poorly applied. Without an inherent ability within the body of the organisation to learn from experience, reframe established practices at critical points on the journey, develop a heightened capacity to act, and, as needed, reinvent how the business does business, tomorrow is destined to be a replay of the past. COVID-19 is many things but, perhaps above all else, it's a wakeup call for society and business alike.

Make no mistake … tomorrow will be different! The pertinent question becomes, "Will you?"

The leadership journey

Learning is initiated by an experience. An action which, in turn, spawns a question. The quality of the question dictating the nature of the learning. Learning unfolds in one of three ways:

1) Simple learning - striving to do what we have always done, but better (instruction).
2) Learning how to learn - moving down a new path (exploration).
3) Learning how to learn limited by the imagination of those involved - transformation, innovation, creative destruction, and reinvention (play).

Each of those learning approaches shapes not only the outcome but at each stage the speed of learning increases exponentially. Arguably, the only truly sustainable competitive advantage is speed of learning. Without time set aside for meaningful reflection, of course, there can be no learning.

Learning to act and think about the world in a new way is not a linear process. It is much more like climbing a mountain. A base camp is established, and only once the base has been consolidated can the next camp be set up and supplied. Equally important, assumptions about what it means to be a leader have to be redefined at each stage of the journey.

Leadership and discontinuous change

Agility and its companion, learning, represent a journey, not a destination: a journey covering three Territories, (T1 - instruction, T2 - exploration, T3 - play); a journey dependent upon the right leadership; a journey punctuated by inherent discontinuity.

The three scenarios portray how learning unfolds in virtually every walk of life. Much as one might peel an onion, beneath agility and learning lies individual and, by implication, the team's mindset: how each of us interprets the world - the mental model we access to define reality. Our assumptions about work and organisational success frame our behaviour.

To survive in the white-water we have entered demands culture savvy and, above all else, an ability to quickly appraise and respond to the ever-changing world around us. The new reality? Personal survival is ultimately about how resilient and agile we are as a leader. And resilience isn't simply about "bouncing back." It means coming out of a world shaking event like COVID-19 even stronger.

Insights from "Leadership: Moving Beyond The Crisis", a book series specifically aimed at enhancing the way that leaders respond to times of crisis. Download your complementary copy today.

Making Sense Of Business Strategy Beyond COVID-19
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Few of us could have imagined the broad host of challenges and shifts that have been forced on global business executives. Yet, now that we have already learned to cope and adjust sails, perhaps we might find optimism in knowing that the world has indeed been changed in myriad ways and navigating our organisations to a better future will require a solid plan.

If you're going to make sense of business strategy beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, you might be well served to consider some of the following observations regarding the creation of a new, COVID-informed business strategy for the road ahead.

Read "Making Sense Of Business Strategy Beyond COVID-19" leadership insights

Leadership: Moving Beyond The Crisis

"Leadership: Moving Beyond The Crisis" is a complementary book series, specifically aimed at enhancing how leaders respond to times of crisis.

The books cover concepts such as how to come out of this crisis stronger, culture, leadership agility and learning, what makes great teams. Also included are essential skills to enable us to start having conversations about moving forward while taking appropriate actions.

Read on for more information about the book series:

Or, Download Now

Coming Down the Mountain

Part One, Coming Down the Mountain, looks at how to come out of this crisis stronger:

  • The Three Stages of Crisis
  • Letting Go of Our Past
  • Following a Script From a Different Century
  • The New Normal
  • Coming Down the Mountain
  • Why Culture Matters
  • Next Steps
  • Appendix one: 3 X 3: Crisis, Culture and Change
  • Mindset Assessment: Will You come Out of This Crisis Stronger?

The Culture Conversation

Recognising, as we move forward, how important organisation culture is, Part Two outlines the Culture Conversation:

  • The Culture Carriers
  • Look, Listen, Learn
  • The Building Blocks
  • Culture Is A System
  • Is the Organisation Managing Its Culture?
  • What Makes the Business Special?
  • One Culture or Many?
  • Measurement
  • Strategy Versus Culture
  • A Team of Teams
  • Without Leadership You Ain't Got Much
  • The Orxestra Change Model
  • Culture Assessment

Leadership, Learning and Agility: The Way Of The Dolphin

Part Three explores the need for leadership agility and what that implies: Leadership Agility and Learning - The Way of the Dolphin:

  • Agility is a Way to Think
  • Bass and the Shark
  • Agility and Speed of Learning
  • The Way of the Dolphin
  • Conclusion
  • Assessment: How Good a Coach Are You?

Great Organisations Are Built Around Great Teams

Drawing on the reality that tomorrow's organisation will be a team of teams, Part Four examines what it means to be an outstanding team - Great Organisations Are Built Around Great Teams:

  • Who We Were is Who We Are
  • It's All About Culture
  • Organisational Lessons from Nature
  • The Organisation of Tomorrow
  • Building a Great Team
  • Team Assessment

When the Trees Get Bigger and the Forest Gets Deeper - It's Time To Sharpen Your Saw

Part Five moves beyond leadership as a philosophy and drills down into essential skills - When the Trees Get Bigger and the Forest Gets Deeper, It's Time to Sharpen Your Saw:

  • Are You The Leader They Need?
  • Assessing Your Organisation's Leadership Balance
  • If Ever There Was a Time to Listen - It’s Now
  • The Listening Tree
  • To Lead Is To Care
  • 50 Ways To Say You Care - In a Covid World
  • If You Are Not Living Your Own Story, You Are Living Someone Else's
  • Resilience Assessment

Download your complementary copy of "Leadership: Moving Beyond The Crisis" from TRANSEARCH Downloads.