Friday, November 18, 2011

Colin Powell's Lessons in Leadership - 7

Keep looking below surface appearances. Don't shrink form doing so (just) because you might not like what you find.

This for some reason seems to be one of the most difficult leadership lessons to actually follow. A lot of the time, people look at something and since it is working, they don't bother to check on it, or do the required maintenance to keep it working well. This statement leads people to assume what works today will work tomorrow, when it never is the case, especially in this day and age. 

The case in point would be the previous blog entry I made about the Tale of Two Companies. The enemy adapted and learned. So the same old tactics (staying on top of the checkpoint) were not preventing the roadside bombs along the convoy route. The enemy adapted so we needed to look beyond the surface appearance (nothing happened while I was there, so we did it right). The solution in this case was to detail a tank wing to sit at the checkpoint for 2-3 hours, then they would move off. The difference in this approach was that the second wing of the platoon would stay behind in the over-watch position. That way, the enemy thought that we were gone and would attempt to plant the bomb, only to find us waiting for them.

Now, we needed to look beyond the surface to reach that plan. The second company wasn't happy that we had to do it, but in the long run we protected lives by doing it. 

In the business world, that comes back to the fact that information is expanding exponentially, and new ideas, processes and products are hitting the market at a similar rate. People that say "We've always done it this way" are dinosaurs, and a company with them is on the way to extinction unless they recognize the flaw and fix it. Look at Motorola and Nokia. When the iPhone came out, those companies were caught flat-footed, because they thought they knew the market (or worse, look at RIM, which SHOULD have owned the smartphone market).
Yet another example of a company that didn't look beyond the surface, and answered the call to non-action was Circuit City. It was one of the strongest brands for electronic sales in the nineties, was featured in a book called Built to Last, and didn't as Best Buy and Walmart stole its' market share.

Do not let anyway so "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Too often that statement hides a process that works for now, but is losing its' effectiveness and can cause the loss of your position or company.

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