Leadership: As Easy as 1,2,3,4,5,…

Leadership-development-institute_homepageBy the time it takes you to hit the back button from this article because you accidentally clicked the link, the Leadership training industry would have made $8,244. That is because businesses, executives, HR and mid-level managers are all willing, hungry and flush with cash. They are willing to spend, nay invest as the leadership development consultants would want us to think, in training, books, bootcamps and more, to be seen as better leaders. Leadership development is a $130 billion a year industry. Now you know the math on $8,244

Jeffrey Pfeffer, Stanford Business School Professor and known for evidence based management, tells us the futility of the innumerable management books and and the so called inspirational training methods we are exposed to.

5134lSEHGXL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_To build a science of leadership, you need reliable data. To learn from others’ success, you need to know what those others did. The best learning, simply put, comes from accurate and comprehensive data, either qualitative or quantitative. But the leadership business is filled with fables. In autobiographical or semiautobiographical works and speeches, in the cases and authorized biographies leaders help bring into existence, and in their prescriptions for leadership, leaders describe what they want to believe about themselves and the world and, more importantly and strategically, what they would like others to believe about them.”

To see what Pfeffer is saying on books that lack data and filled with fables here are some simplistic leadership development books that make it sound like leadership is as easy as counting, you might even have them on your desk:

  1. The New One Minute Manager (yes there is an old one)
  2. The Two Minute Leader
  3. Three Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career Standing Out as a Leader
  4. The Four Principles of Value Based Leadership
  5. Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable (exactly that, a fable)

There likely are books with 6,7,8 etc in their titles, you get the picture.

If you are looking for a far better book on leadership that is data driven and devoid of simplistic recipes, start with Pfeiffer’s new book, Leadership BS.

If you have not read any of the 1,2,3,4,5 books consider yourself luck. If you read them by choice, it behooves you to read Pfeiffer’s book as well. If you read them because you were asked to, get some evidence based talking points from Pfeiffer’s book (not that it would matter but at lease you are armed).

Ask where is the data when you hear a leadership fable!


Decision-Execution Gap

I am not a baseball fan or an expert. But a news item caught my eye. The San Francisco Giants lost their ball game yesterday. They lost the ballgame on just one badly executed play, at least according to The San Jose Mercury News, that is the case:

But they could miss the playoffs because they lack another, more embarrassingly basic skill: They can’t get a bunt down.

Summoned just for that purpose in the eighth inning Wednesday, pinch hitter Kevin Frandsen popped up his attempt and the Giants lost 4-2 to the San Diego Padres at AT&T Park.

It does not matter whether or not you know the game, if you believe in evidence based management over fads you will ask the following questions:

  1. Can you attribute the outcome of the whole ballgame or for that matter entire season on just one play?
  2. Is it even the right choice or is it more like a desperate move?
  3. Is there a better option that has a higher expected value than this one?
  4. What is the overall performance of the team, not just in this game but during the entire season?
  5. If the decision itself were absurd, does it matter how it was executed?
  6. Can a manager expect his team to deliver results on a poorly made decision?
  7. What is the general decision making process? Is there data and analysis behind the process? Is there even a process for making decisions?

To answer whether bunting has higher expected value than other options, you should read Michael Lewis’s book  Moneyball. He writes in his book that how bunting is the wrong move in the long run,

“over the long haul it’s a mistake to give away outs for bases”

One move will not change the ballgame by itself as long as the overall decision making process is solid with good execution to follow through. It is not the individual decision or its execution, it is the system, the process and the execution over the long haul that count.

But if you are asking these questions it implies you already practice evidence based management and you would not have picked a risky move and then assign blame to the team that executed it badly.

First Kill Your Business Model

That’s correct, but not quite. It should read, kill your business model driven strategy and adopt strategy driven business model. Strategy is about  making choices, making choices about the market you want to play in, the customers you want to serve, deciding the customer needs you are going to solve with your offering and deciding what is ownable so you can perform head and shoulders above the competition.

Business model is about how you add value to the customers you chose to serve in the market you chose to play and doing so in a way that you get to capture a share of the value created in the presence of competition.Business model comes from the ways you chose to realize strategy, in other words it is an artifact of strategy execution.

Strategy requires commitment – you cannot straddle and despite claims of “Fast Strategy”  you cannot change course everyday. Business model is not a commitment, it is not unique and it is not a competitive advantage. When the strategy implementation changes, and it will, the business model should change with it. Failing so will result in a misalignment in the near term and eventual demise.

A leader who knows and follows this, is NetFlix CEO, Mr. Reed Hastings.

Reed Hastings, thinks his core business is doomed. As soon as four years from now, he predicts, the business that generates most of Netflix’s revenue today will begin to decline, as DVDs delivered by mail steadily lose ground to movies sent straight over the Internet.

Mr. Hastings is predicting the death of, not his core business as the WSJ paraphrases, but the death of  NetFlix’s current strategy implementation (delivering DVDs by mail) and its associated business model. NetFlix’s strategy is to deliver entertainment that best fits a customer’s interest, time and place- it started out as DVDs by mail , switching now to on-demand streaming and probably something else (dynamic content discovery or even content creation based on user’s profile and whim?) in the future.

That is a lesson not only on strategy but also on leadership.