Learning to See and Gaining Context
Ram Charan (author of Confronting Reality) wrote an insightful article for strategy+business entitled Sharpening Your Business Acumen. In it he describes a process to see the big picture in an uncertain world:
Leaders have to be comfortable making decisions with unknown factors; survival depends on those choices producing viable outcomes whatever may happen.
The ability to construct and act upon the mental model of the big picture requires plenty of practice. The essence of the skill is to find patterns from among a wide variety of trends and to posit the missing ingredients that could catalyze convergence. Many great leaders began to practice this exercise when they were younger, in less complex contexts, and over the years they have developed the requisite skills and judgment.
One simple way to begin is by asking yourself a series of six questions, exploring the ideas with colleagues and peers:
1. What is happening in the world today?
2. What does it mean for others?
3. What does it mean for us?
4. What would have to happen first (for the results we want to occur)?
5. What do we have to do to play a role?
6. What do we do next?
He writes that working through these six questions will help executives assess the validity of the company’s moneymaking approach. It is an iterative process that tests the leaders’ mental abilities to qualitatively see how the world is changing — almost always including the perspectives of others. It requires transcending the old rules of thumb that are etched deep in the psyches of many executives, and it means giving up the habitual reliance on precedent that worked for many companies during times of more linear change.
But the ability to perceive trends quickly, or even to make sense of them, will not automatically guarantee success. Rather, success depends on the rigor and discipline applied to the entire process of envisioning the changes, deducing specific actions, and implementing the plan.
Leadership in Local Government
The London-based Leadership Centre for Local Government launched an eight-point manifesto for leadership that reveals the challenges that face local authorities today. Stephen Taylor, chief executive of the Leadership Centre, said: “The challenge is as much about governance as it is about government. The manifesto emerged following a series of unique sessions that we held with a number of authorities designed specifically to give leaders and their respective chief executives the qualitative space to critically reflect on their leadership experiences. A summary of the manifesto's eight points are:
1. “It’s about leadership, not just leaders.” Leaders work within teams which interact with others across the organisation and externally.
2. “Leadership is of the place, not just the organisation.” Local government leadership is about engaging local people to make the area a better place in which to live.
3. “Respect difference.” Leadership work must be in the context of a council’s legacy, challenges and way of being, the manifesto says.
4. “Leading means telling a story.” Leaders need to be engaging and to make sure that people think their ideas are worthwhile.
5. “Leading requires ‘reading’.” Leaders need to be able to read situations and tailor their responses appropriately.
6. “Members and officers travel together.” Executive and corporate management teams need to work together.
7. “Politics matter.” We need to develop politicians as well as managers.
8. “People learn more from experience, not from being told.” Reflection on past experiences is important.
This is also available in a 20 page PDF booklet entitled "Living Leadership."
Scholars Rate Worst Presidential Blunders
The McConnell Center asked about 90 political scholars nationwide to nominate mistakes of former presidents because a current administration cannot be judged with historical hindsight, Gary Gregg, a political science professor who directs the McConnell Center, said. Thirty-seven scholars responded. Gregg then compiled a shortened list of 10 for the public to rank. That online survey had 423 responses. So who had the worst blunder? President James Buchanan, for failing to avert the Civil War, according to a survey of presidential historians organized by the University of Louisville's McConnell Center.
The survey's top 10 presidential blunders were announced Saturday during a President's Day weekend conference called "Presidential Moments."
"We can probably learn just as much - or maybe even more - by looking at the mistakes rather than looking at why they were great," said political scientist and McConnell Center Director Gary Gregg.
Scholars who participated said Buchanan didn't do enough to oppose efforts by Southern states to secede from the Union before the Civil War.
The second worst mistake, the survey found, was Andrew Johnson's decision just after the Civil War to side with Southern whites and oppose improvements in justice for Southern blacks beyond abolishing slavery.
"We continue to pay" for Johnson's errors, wrote Michael Les Benedict, an Ohio State University history professor emeritus.
Lyndon Johnson earned the No. 3 spot by allowing the Vietnam War to intensify, Gregg said.
Where does Bill Clinton's Monica Lewinsky scandal rank? Many scholars said it belonged at No. 10, saying that it probably affected Clinton's presidency more than it did American history and the public.
The rest of the top 10 blunders:
4: Woodrow Wilson's refusal to compromise on the Treaty of Versailles after World War I.
5: Richard Nixon's involvement in the Watergate cover-up.
6: James Madison's failure to keep the United States out of the War of 1812 with Britain.
7: Thomas Jefferson's Embargo Act of 1807, a self-imposed prohibition on trade with Europe during the Napoleonic Wars.
8: John F. Kennedy allowing the Bay of Pigs Invasion that led to the Cuban Missile Crisis.
9: Ronald Reagan and the Iran-Contra Affair, the effort to sell arms to Iran and use the money to finance an armed anti-communist group in Nicaragua.
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