Hey folks I’m back!

After a short time of illness, I’m ready to pick up the metaphorical baton again and sprint toward the finishing line of improving your understanding of what really works and doesn’t in the world of strategic management.

This week I want to talk to you about corporate strategies. What are they?  Well, in my career I’ve been involved in several of these and generally speaking they’re a means through which a company tries to appear to itself and indeed to others that t knows what it’s doing. Often great efforts are made, a prolonged consultative process, based on large amounts of second rate analysis, and a hellish drafting process results in a document that is of so little value that it is placed on a website, shelved in the CEO’s office and those of the senior managers, but quickly forgotten by everyone who had the great misfortune to be involved.

God bless strategic planning!

Like all strategies or plans, it becomes irrelevant through the actual process of creating it – just setting it down on paper seems to have an almost supernatural ability to render it completely irrelevant and useless. Why is this? What’s going on here? What can we learn from this?

Well the first thing to learn is that some things in business are better left unspoken, especially if they’re already working quite well in an organic and unintended organization (most medium to small companies).  Suddenly trying to capture and codify all of that (vision, mission, objectives, indicators, projects and programme with outputs and deliverables and all that jazz) forces individuals to suddenly face up to these issues and choices, realizing in the process that they are so far removed from most of their peers, both in their thoughts and attitudes, that their confidence in the very company is shaken and they regard to strategy as a manifesto of the stupids.

And so the plan, the strategy, whatever it is, is rejected by its authors, forgotten, and everyone forgets or rejects it for a different reason. But that’s not important, the important things is that most people on the organization will want nothing to do with it.  There will be exceptions of course, many companies have an Ivy League poindexter who will wail and moan about your failure of manage the strategy, you may also have something even worse, the autodidact who got his MBA online and grasped all the details but say none of the big pictures – he/she’ll drive you crazy too.

So what’s to be done?

The secret is to go with the flow, remember what you value about your work, remember what you care about and get up in the morning for, and screw everyone else and their plans.  You don’t need plans to get results, you need winners.

Be a winner, not a planner.


That’s right, we’ve all been there, you look around at the people working under your management one day and realize that for the most part they’re losers who’ll never make anything of themselves.

Ok… I exaggerate a little but most managers will admit there is some truth in this and…. now I have your attention losers!

So what does this mean for talent management in your organization and how can you ever hope to fulfill a meaningful leadership role when these people clearly don’t even care about themselves very much and they’re apathy is infecting you and everyone around you?

Well, as those of you who’ve worked with me before will know, the WINCAN technology (managing the interface between talent and complexity, innovation and strategy) answers many of these problems, but a blog is not the place to get into those or for me to harp on about WINCAN.

Let’s just take a basic look at what it means if you’re a manager who feels his/her staff are unworthy of your leadership, what are the key questions?

1. Did you recruit them yourself?  Let’s be honest many times leaders and managers take over a team and decide that they’re all worthless nobodies because they’re replacing someone who had fundamentally different professional values and priorities and built a team in that image as a reflection of their own vision of how a team should and can work. You may be quite different and if this is the case I urge you to seek the help of a HR professional for some expert tips on turning things around.  The most important take-away though is that you should take the time to turn things around because if you do, the loyalty they will have for you will greatly exceed that which you can hope to get from a new recruit!  it’s also a great challenge and real leaders love challenges!!

2. Could I be projecting my own feelings of insecurity and phoniness onto them?  This is surprisingly common so take a look at yourself and see if there’s even a grain of truth in this. Many leaders reach middle age and experience something of a trough, I myself experienced one when I briefly worked in biotech in South East Asia in the late 90s.  Maybe, like me back then, you are really just in the throes of a midlife crisis and an existential/professional (is there a word for the place where these two things combine – future blog post perhaps) dilemma. Maybe your negative feelings about yourself, bubbling under your that thick crust of managerial machismo, are causing you to project your anxieties and fears about yourself onto your staff. It happened to me! It was only after a huge argument with one of my less-important domestic staff that I began to see sense but by then things had gone too far and no-one was receptive to my team bonding sessions.  Be a better guy than me and don’t let it get too far!!

3. Can I still lead them and if so how? Let’s say you’ve given this a lot of thought and even sought out a second opinion (an expert, not someone in a bar – I’m looking at you Bob!) and you’re as sure as can be that they’re a pretty useless bunch – totally unsuited to the tasks at hand, is there anything can be done?  Yes, of course you can fire them and in many cases this is the best thing to do, as a leader you main job is to lead irrespective of whether the people you’re supposed to be leading are inclined or capable of following.   Many of you may be reluctant to fire some or all of then in the current economic climate and in this situation you should consider innovative approaches to identifying the source of their idiocy and redirecting it at each other rather than at work tasks (I’ll have another blog post soon on how exactly to do this, there’s also a chapter in my forthcoming book).  It sounds fantastical but with a good HR strategy you can redirect their inefficiencies toward their personal and social lives within just a few months.

I hope that’s given some of you ideas, this is a common problem these days with so many mid-level leaders switching around in a few key sectors where personal style plays such a big role in shaping the culture and ethos of small (<25) teams.

I’d love to hear any thoughts/comments/experiences!


Complexity Rocks!

Complexity Rocks!

That’s right!

Folks this is where the smart people are placing themselves as we move into the middle of the second decade of the 21st century.

But what in the name of Herbert Hoover does it mean? And is it new?

Well, let’s look at what we’re seeing here as the wheels of corporate wisdom turn and turn and with them the profiles of people churn and churn.

Let’s think firstly at talent, what do we mean by this?  Is it just the people who can do the job for you? No, of course not, we should never confuse real talent with hard-working proles,  that’s the role of the public sector. If you’re really out there and your ass (and mortgage) is on the line you don’t just need the guy/gal who can “do the job” for you, what you need is the person who can do it better than your competitor.


The talent you need is the person who can out-think and out-grow your competitors and his or her talent.  Does this mean they work hard?  Hell no!  I’ve never met a really hard-working talented person in my life!  They’re talented because they don’t have to work hard and they don’t have to work hard because they’re talented. People who work really hard can be very successful and valuable but not because they’re talented – because they’re just smart enough to know they’re not talented and that they have to work hard. That’s all!

The power of really, genuinely honest-to-God talented people, their magic, lies in being able to shift the ground of corporate expectation with just a few well chosen, and usually self-interested words.  What do I mean? I mean that when they see something is too complex they can make it simple enough to manage and understand for others, and, even more importantly, when they can see that something is too simple, they can turn it into something complex enough to give their peers plenty of leverage and entry points to get engaged in finding solutions and plotting a course forward.

This is real talent.

The guy working late on a Saturday night, he’s not your talent, unless you consider ass-kissing a talent. Let him carry on working late on Saturda’s, after all someone’s gotta kiss ass, but don’t think for a second that this guy is your talent because you let this knucklehead actually do some strategic planning and you’ll be harvesting plastic bottles from dumpsters within  18 months.


But what about complexity? Surely “managing complexity” is what we want our talent to do? Isn’t that what they’re good at? Yea, they’re good at managing complexity because it’s usually a complexity of their own making!  Don’t get me wrong, complexity happens no matter what you do, but you can’t let it emerge organically from the collective fumblings of your company’s knuckleheads.  You need your talent to be creating complexity with deliberation and forethought, if they’re not the ones defining it, setting its outer limit and explaining it to others, then they’re just not the talent a strong company needs. They’re fakers and should be working in your communications department where their skills can actually help.

That’s it for today folks but I can guarantee this is a topic I’ll be coming back to soon. Nothing gets me more passionate than talent and complexity!

Yes, that’s right! I said dislike of others.  We’ve all heard how important it is to have empathy and a pastoral streak in order to allow us to connect with our people and lead them on to greater and more profitable things. But not everyone’s like that right?

Me? Well I’m old enough to have seen my attitudes to my fellow man change a lot over time (you may remember my last post on the links between sexual prowess and leadership touching on this issue). And despite the fact that I would say normally I’m quite caring or at least ambivalent to people, I’ve also gone through stages of being genuinely skeptical about the essential worth of other people and the added value that they bring to the human project.

So did that stop me from being a good leader?

I’d like to think the answer is no.

This isn’t that old canard about whether you’d prefer to be a popular leader or a feared leader. Screw that!  A good leader is both liked and feared.  No my friends,  this is about whether YOU can manage these people when at best you don’t really give a damn about them and at worst the very sight of them makes you nauseous and despair for humanity’s future.

So you can’t sterilize your staff, but can you still lead them on to greater performance? Can you manage complexity and talent when you just wish they’d all leave the building and go somewhere secluded to die?  Can you make them walk the final mile for you when all you really want them to walk is a short plank off a high cliff?

Well, for me the answer has always been an emphatic ‘yes’. So what’s the secret?

Well, there is none, I don’t have any answers, all I have is a basic wisdom borne of experience.

You see, the great falsehood at the heart of leadership is that you are doing it in order to lead everyone involved to a better place, that together you are all moving in lock-step to a place of greater prosperity.  This is a lie, a convenient lie, but a lie nonetheless.  You can certainly lead this way.  Hell, even believe it yourself if you have to, but it’s really not essential.

If you’re managing people who you despise, the trick is to simply see them as barely animate tools that are at your disposal to create whatever you want for your own ends – not for theirs or for any cockamamie ‘shared objective’.

In fact, making them work late, putting their personal lives on hold, treating their egos and feelings of self-worth as levers for generating greater performance – all of these things become far more powerful and rational acts of management when you actively dislike the people you’re dealing with. So stop pretending you care about them! Your lies are helping no one.

A short vignette before I stop, I was running a small costume jewelry wholesaler in southern Utah for a short while in the mid-80s and I think it’s fair to say I really disliked the four members of my team, but did it work? Why hell yes, I quadrupled profits. How? By running those SOBs into the ground month after month, that’s how. I could never have done that if I’d liked even one of them!

Now before I stop, a word of caution. I’m not saying this is the best way to lead, just that this is a way to get around the tricky problem of working in a situation where you hate the folks in your team.

Anyone else got any wisdom to share on this? Honest opinions and experiences only please!

Ok, I’m a guy, there’s no getting away from it, so when I talk to you about love and lovemaking, it’s based only on what I know for certain and what others have told me.

Like my wife Joy, for example, who told me a few years ago, for the first time, what a terrible lover I was when we first got together (in our 20s).  I was shocked. Really? Me? Terrible?  I needed to know the reason as you can imagine, if only to stop being like that again (apparently I’m much better now that I’m in my 50s)!

So what was it?  Was I selfish? Too aggressive or too shy? Was I a lazy lover? Was I eating the wrong foods? It was my facial expressions wasn’t it?

None of these things apparently, the problem according to Joy is that I just “didn’t get it“.

Wait, didn’t get it?  Or didn’t get her?  What’s the difference she says, there shouldn’t be an ‘it‘ when you’re with your lover, only a her or a him.  And who can argue with that? Not me.

Then last year I met old Bill Cannington out of Carroll Country Missouri, one of my first and most ornery lieutenants from when I started out managing the home wear section of a large (and famous) department store after I left the military. I ran into him at a convention in Milwaukee last year and after a few Johnny Walkers good old Bill knocked the wind out of me even more than Joy had when he told me what a terrible boss I was way back then. I’ll spare you the details, needless to say I was tempted to punch him at first,  but in the end he told me that I was a bad boss because when it came to managing people, and not just tasks, I “just didn’t get it!”

What I’ve come to realize is that managing different people, their motives, their perspectives and incentives, all of these things are about managing complexity. I was bad at it in my 20s whether it was in bed with my wife or at work with Bill, I just didn’t factor humans into my business process thinking at the time, even if that process was the nurturing and realization of the female orgasm.  I figured I knew Joy’s body because I’d studied it at length, but I was wrong. I failed to understand the connection between the mind, perception, dreams, reality, self image and esteem and the physical self – in short I just “didn’t get it”.

So is that why great leaders so often make great lovers?  It’s hard it know or prove if this is true even though we know instinctively it to be the case.

I’ve come to the conclusion that to be a great lover and a great leader requires basically the same human characteristic, call it a talent, skill or competency, whatever you want.  And that’s an ability to understand complexity and understand what you can and can not effect, focusing on the former and being open to the possibility of failure.

Anyway, enough about me, more on this subject in an other blog post in a few weeks – in the meantime, any thoughts? Am I missing anything?

Evaluating Social Innovation For Social Impact.

Urges and Surges: What the Petraeus Affair Says and Doesn’t Say About Leadership.