Having the right skill set as an enterprise level leader is very important. The first skill is having the ability to sell the problems within an organization. However, before you can sell the problem, you have to understand risk. There are basically four kinds of risk in the world of business as outlined by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen in their book, Great By Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck - Why Some Thrive Despite Them All (HarperCollins, 2011):
- Death Line Risk which will kill or severely damage the enterprise.
- Asymmetric Risk in which the downside dwarfs the upside.
- Uncontrollable Risk, namely a choice that exposes the enterprise to forces or events that it has little ability to manage or control.
- Time-based risk when the degree of risk is tied to the pace of events, and the speed of decision and action
The critical question a leader has to regularly ask is: How much time before our risk profile changes? Understanding risk helps a leader formulate how to sell a problem.
Furthermore, selling the problem helps you manage nonstop change successfully. “Selling the problem is more than just a practical tactic to encourage people to let go of the way things have been”, writes William Bridges in his book, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, (Da Capo Press, 2003). As he explains, “… selling problems is the only way to get beyond having to sell every change piecemeal….People who understand the organization’s real problems … don’t have to be “informed” or “educated” after the fact.”
As he continues, “If you understand the problem and the people you work with don’t, a polarity is immediately set up. If, on the other hand, everyone recognizes the importance of the same problem, it the manager and the people on one side and the problem on the other.”
From my experience, the opposite of selling the problem will result in a control and command form of leadership where one will have to spend time solving each problem and overcome each pocket of self-interest. This will just take too much time, especially if the risk profile has changed. Selling the problem solves problems before they become problems.
The second skill set is learning how to create an environment for ownership. When I see great leaders do this, they always start by asking questions. Here are a few to get you started:
- why must it be done this way?
- what is the root problem?
- what are the underlying issues?
- who has a different perspective on this?
- what happens if we don’t do it at all?
This reminds me of what John Maxwell wrote in his book, How Successful People Think: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life (Center Street, 2009). As he explains, “Realistic thinking gives you credibility…. Realistic thinking helps people to buy into the leader and his or her vision. Leaders continually surprised by the unexpected soon lose credibility with their followers. On the other hand, leader who think realistically and plan accordingly position their organizations to win. That gives their people confidence in them.” From my experience, an environment of ownership comes when leaders ask good questions and show realistic thinking.
The third skill set to being an enterprise level leader is to role model better and better each day. To do this, you, as a leader, need to learn how to deal with disjointed incrementalism, i.e. this is when you know where you want to go, but not always how to get there. The solution is to learn how to convey strategic intent. This means making the objectives clean, but avoid micromanaging those who will execute on them.
It also means recognizing that you are more visible with every level you move up in the organization. All of your actions are constantly sending a message. Therefore, be more present when you are with people, quit multi-tasking, and quit thinking e-mail is a solution! The key to role modeling well begins with spending more time shaping the values and standards within the organization, spending more time defining what is and what is not meaningful outside the organization, and spending more time helping people focus on the right things, rather than just doing things right.
This week, practice bringing everything back to the core mission or purpose of the organization, support those who role model the mission, and always stay focused on mission.