Thursday, January 21, 2010

Late Night Showdowns: Lessons in Leadership

Whether you are Team Conan or Team Leno, playing out a dysfunctional company battle in public shines a light on the role of leadership and strategy in a situation like this. As long as we are being asked to be voyeurs, maybe there are some lessons to be learned and applied in our own organizations.

1. Hope is not a strategy; arrogance is no substitute for intelligence: How much research and analysis went into the ultimately disasterous decision to opt out of 10PM prime time drama in favor of a bland copy of a great brand? Strategy doesn't have to be a dusty, hidebound process of number crunching and Death by PowerPoint presentations until the next cycle in a year. Strategy is the means by which we decide how we are going compete successfully; it's a dynamic process that continuously examines the larger external world along with the opportunities and pitfalls that are present.

2. Listen, gather feedback and act: What input did customers -- in this case, the affilitates -- have to the decisions that were handed down from 30 Rock? Were other key people with a vested interest in the ongoing health of the network asked for their insights? What about other employees and viewers?

3. Creative destruction + Risk assessment = Success: Any bold company has to engage in some creative destruction otherwise it ossifies and becomes a dinosaur. In this case, did anyone at the top ever throw out the crazy idea that risk as well as reward should be investigated?

4. Loyalty is a two-way street: it seems there was a cavalier idea that the two key employees would loyally support decisions that would not benefit their career aspirations. Money isn't always the answer. If you want loyalty, be trustworthy.

5. You Know Where the Buck Stops: the key executive in this drama did own up to the mistake, albeit somewhat late in the day and with many caveats. Another key executive, however, displayed monstrous ego by savaging one of the star players in the media. Inexcusable. You get the big bucks; you fall on your sword when the situation warrants it. You and your company will be better for it.

The behavior of the two key players was insubordinate but I believe they reacted to poor leadership and a failed strategy.

A strategic mistake is an opportunity to learn valuable lessons. If no risks are taken, no innovation is possible. Are there other lessons we can learn from this sad situation? Did you ever make a mistake that became a great opportunity?

Bold or Bewildered: Do You Have Momentum for Success in 2010?

I was in London for New Year's Eve, watching the fireworks over the Thames with Big Ben tolling and the London Eye outlined in brilliant colors. There was a palpable "something" that rippled through the crowd as we watched the end of one decade and the dawn of a new one. Maybe it was a sigh of relief or an inhale that signaled expectation. Did you feel it too?

I think what I experienced on January 1st was momentum: a sense of drive and energy to leave the past year and embark on the present. When I returned to the States, I did some mind mapping of the Economy, Consumers and Business Response. A great exercise. I recommend it.

So, based on the maps, I came up with quite a few root causes that drove my predictions for businesses in 2010. Here are a few in no particular order:

  • Companies will be Bold or Bewildered.

  • Customers will extract every penny of value from all purchases, especially discretionary ones.

  • Bold companies will make growth decisions but not in a stupid way.

  • There are two types of Bewildered companies: those that have many opportunties and/or are on the cusp of making quantum leaps and those that are stuck and don't know which way to go.

  • Access to financial capital will continue to be limited.

  • People are fed up with what they read and hear about Wall Street, government and less-than-stellar- leadership in both public and private sectors. Their emotions will drive significant changes in the way they think about all institutions.

  • The temporary workforce is not just a cover story in BusinessWeek. I talked with a client recently who is already implementing a plan for a temporary workforce in a key functional area.

In future blogs, I'll be exploring these and other trends and how they impact our lives in and out of work.

I'd like to know from you: How are you creating success in 2010? What is your company doing to proactively respond to the shifting mood of the country? Do you have a strategy? What are some of your predictions for 2010?