The CEO as the chief strategist, visionary and leader.
“Leadership is not about sitting in your office and dreaming up strategy. It is about touching your organization through values, personal presence and relationships.” Jack Welch, Chairman, General Electric Co.
There are both tactical and strategic ceo’s. Whether the CEO is one or the other, s/he is always looked upon as the chief strategist. The CEO is always the one person who can speak for the entire organization and no major changes within the company can ever be made without him or her. Being a CEO of any company today has become a more demanding job than ever before. The massive volatility and rapidity of change combined with the speed of the communications revolution can be quite taxing. And just as the company is in constant motion, so must be the CEO. Both the company and the CEO must constantly be reinventing and renewing themselves on the fly. As former GE Chairman Jack Welch so aptly put it, “You have to change the tires while the car’s still moving.”
“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. As our case is new so we must think a new and act a new. We must disenthrall ourselves and then we shall save our country.” A. Lincoln
Whether tactical or strategic, all CEO’s must be restless, impatient, never content and above all, focused. What differentiates the strategic from the tactical leader is that the strategic leader knows the principles s/he wants to follow and inspires others to pursue those principles with him or her. “Important principles may and must be inflexible.” Said Lincoln in his last public address. Strategic leaders serve as powerful role models whose actions and personal energy demonstrate the desired behaviors. Their behavior and standards are above reproach. Through their commitment, effectiveness and consistency, strategic leaders build a personal bond between themselves and the organization. They provide a psychological focal point for the energies, hopes and aspirations of their people.
Keep in mind, too that strategic leadership is not infallible. There are always policy failures. The difference is that in spite of failure the strategic leader never loses sight of the real goal. Countries can survive a tactical leader. Companies cannot.
Strategic planning then becomes the guide for the strategic CEO. It enables the company to look at the chain of cause and effect over time. It is a planning process that lets you fight on two fronts simultaneously. It allows you to confront today’s challenges while probing tomorrow’s opportunities and preparing for tomorrow’s predictable problems. And like the organization itself, the plan is in constant motion. It too must be flexible enough to be reviewed, reinvented and renewed on the fly. Whether the plan holds together for a quarter of a year or a quarter century, it is the planning process that allows the strategic management team to look at alternatives. It develops the mindset for and encourages opportunity management. Yes, there is always the outside chance that an asteroid will come out of nowhere, completely undetected, and slam into your company, your market space or even your entire industry. Your plan may be obsolete and your company changed forever as a result of it. But with a planning process in place you can revise and rebuild quickly.
What was important yesterday, may no longer be important today, or especially tomorrow.
CEO’s are well aware that listening and responding to their customers’ needs, however quickly and precisely, is not sufficient for shaping the future of an industry, warding off disruptive technologies, creating major new market opportunities, or attracting the attention of new groups of customers. There is a need to be out well ahead of your current and future customers. Your customer’s of today only know their immediate needs and tend to merely ask for refinements – faster, better, cheaper – of what they already have. By staying such a course, a company, or an entire industry for that matter, will merely plod along making improvements to what currently exists – until some outsider or some new revolutionary technology comes along and changes everything. Like Federal Express and UPS did. Before them, every major company had its own shipping department and a fleet of trucks. The trucks are gone and so is the expense and aggravation of maintaining them. Did anyone ever ask for a Federal Express or UPS? No. Or Southwest Airlines. Before their arrival you either drove or took a bus to the places they fly to. Rather than take on the airline industry they have successfully revolutionized the ground transportation industry. Did anyone demand they do that? No. How about Quiken’s Intuit. Its primary competitor was not the computer, it was the pencil. They saw a need for speed, accuracy, simplicity and low price and filled it. Was anyone pounding on their door asking them to hurry up? No. For that matter, who asked for the electric light bulb, or continuous aim gunfire aboard ships? No one. Was anyone seen demanding the PC, CD, DVD, the Blackberry, iPhone, iPod, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, eBay, or Amazon.com? Again, no. None of us know what someone or some new technology can do for us until we learn about it and see it first hand. But once we do, nothing is ever the same again.
“It’s not where we stand, but what direction are we heading.” Oliver Wendell Holmes
There are at least twenty technologies and thirty new tools out there for you to use. Because our peripheral vision is normally confined to our own immediate areas, we are too often unaware of these technologies and tools being used elsewhere in other industries. Yet, if applied to your product, service or industry they could actually prove to be revolutionary. In the words of Wm. Faulkner, “don’t bother being better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” Quit watching your competitors and move ahead. Create new offerings, redefine, reinvent and renew. Keep your eyes, ears and mind open to what is out there. Go beyond the markets and industries you are currently serving. The only way to predict the future is to invent it. If you don’t like the way the game is being played, change the rules. Don’t lose yourself in what you already know. Give your customers something that they don’t know about because it didn’t even exist until you just created it (whether in your mind, on paper or as a tangible item). Fighting tomorrow’s battles with today’s products and services is eventually going to be a losing proposition.
In no particular order, a list of recommendations for accomplishing all of the above is listed below. Reading the list is one thing. Actual implementation, execution and follow through is quite another.
Be honest enough with yourself to discern your own realities
Achieve actual disclosure
Anticipate an accurate future of your company
Share the dream
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Take appropriate actions to ensure that the vision becomes reality
Do not allow outsiders to shape your future for you
Involve, inform and inspire your people
Use all available technology and your uniqueness to either distance yourself from your competitors, or eliminate them completely
Shift from crisis management to opportunity management
Focus on your customers’ future needs
Focus on your customers’ customers’ future
Prevent tomorrow’s predictable problems from ever occurring
Hold true to your values
Be open to new ideas and other ways of doing things
Keep in mind that the future remains an invisible place only until you start thinking about it. The result of NOT thinking about it and NOT doing something to shape it can cost you dearly. It could, in the end, lead to your ultimate demise, if not extinction.
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