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You’ll find the 20% of leadership information that produces 80% of leadership results in this newsletter. This is well-researched leadership information that, when consistently implemented, will produce bottom-line results.

Strategic Thinking

Just before a meeting, one parent was frantically texting the other parent about the logistics of which parent would gather up what child at what time with what equipment to play which sport. Then there was a second flurry about what time dinner would occur and how would it occur. At the end of the text storm, he looked up and said, “My wife and I are very strategic every day about organizing the kids.”

I beg to differ. The couple was very tactical in their approach to the logistics of parenting. Strategic would have had them sitting down to ask, based on what they valued as a family, what are our priorities? Then, noting that choices have consequences, talk through the consequences of their choices and make a decision for the long term good of the family.

Organizational leaders must also be clear about the difference between strategic and tactical thinking. This is not as easy as it seems. “Long term” consequences may be lost in a fog due to several factors: lag time between action and response, lack of system thinking, and external changes.

Lag Time

I poke my sister in the ribs. She pokes me back. It escalates; mom gets annoyed and puts a stop to it. These nearly immediate consequences are easy to predict. However, the longer the lag time between stimulus and response though the less accurate we are in predicting the consequence. I poke my sister in the ribs—no response. Thinking I must not have poked hard enough, I do it again. Still no response, so pesky little sister that I am, I poke her a third time. Since I’m not getting a response, it’s not fun and I quit. On my 16th birthday, my sister has her revenge by pulling off a practical joke. I’m thinking “Wow, I didn’t do anything to deserve that.”

The lag time causes me to de-couple my teasing with her revenge. The same happens in business—particularly in human resources development. Businesses are often reluctant to invest in HRD because there is a lag time between spending the money and seeing the results. Some business leaders go so far as to believe there are no results because results aren’t immediate. “Well, I gave them flex time and morale is still bad. These people don’t appreciate what you do for them.” The flip side behavior is doing too many things and spending too much money or changing tactics too often because the leader is too impatient to wait for results.

Patience is the watchword of the strategic thinker. It can take days, months, years, decades for the results of action to manifest.

Systems Thinking

“If you could go back and change one thing in your life, what would it be?” This oft raised question is a trick question. Lives are systems. Changing one thing would impact everything downstream of that change. People who answer that trick question usually picture only positive consequences resulting from changing that one thing (usually something they regret having done.)

In a system, it is impossible to change just one thing and the positive consequences we envision from the change may or may not be the actual consequences. A quick look at business history provides plenty of examples. Remember team selling? Great idea, except when still coupled with individual compensation. Team selling requires a change in compensation models to work. Ever been part of a merger where years afterward employees still referred to themselves as being from company “a” or company “b” and only confused new hires referring to themselves and employees of company “c”?

Company “C” clearly lacked a strong new system that fostered buy in on the part of existing employees, who continued to operate under their old systems.

Changes have consequences—anticipated and unanticipated. Strategic thinkers do their best to anticipate as many consequences, positive and negative, as possible. In human perception, neutral consequences are rare indeed.

External Changes

We all keep an eye on the weather. We have at hand a stock of goods designed to help us adapt to that external change. Depending on where you live you might have summer clothes, winter clothes, umbrellas, snow shovels, sun hats, etc. Some businesses are equally prepared for changes in consumer trends, technological trends, etc. Others are surprised by changes. Heinz, at the time the world’s largest consumer of tomatoes, was surprised when Americans developed a taste for salsa and was, consequently, last into the market.

Strategically focused businesses are constantly scanning the horizon for new trends, new technologies, things that will enhance the business and things that will hurt the business. By constantly navigating the stream of changes, the business stays on course. While professionals in business do tend to keep their eye on changes in their own field and adapt to them, that’s not enough. We also need to scan what is happening in other fields.

Answer this question: How will three dimensional printers affect your company?

  • Three dimensional printer--what is that?
  • I’ve seen it but it won’t have any impact on our business
  • It will complement us
  • It could put us out of business

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/klaus_stadlmann_the_world_s_smallest_3d_printer.html

http://www.ted.com/talks/anthony_atala_printing_a_human_kidney.html

After view the videos, answer the question again. Three dimension printers are only one technology that can profoundly affect how people live. If your image of a robot is a cute toy or an industrial arm, this might change your mind.

http://www.ted.com/talks/a_robot_that_flies_like_a_bird.html

Strategic thinkers constantly scan the horizon and take the time to contemplate the consequences of what they see.

“Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.”

How is your sky?

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