I get to meet a lot of leaders in my day-to-day work, from C-level executives to line-level managers and everything in between. And I get to see them at their best–fresh off the victory of getting X million dollars for establishing an enterprise content management (ECM) program–and their worst–in the middle of a mess they can’t fix, with their jobs (or maybe even their careers) on the line.

There are lots of interesting things to note about leaders in both of these positions, but the one that’s been on my mind lately is the importance of struggling against insulation:

  • From the larger organizational context
  • From the work being done on the ground
  • From the wider community of practice for a domain of expertise
  • From the wider marketplace

I want to kick off a series of posts over the next few weeks that look at this problem and how leaders at all levels can overcome it. As I let the ideas percolate, I’d love to hear from folks out there who’ve faced this issue themselves, or worked with a leader who did–what are your thoughts and experiences out there? Jump in, and let’s get the conversation started!


Do we really need a Chief Strategy Officer?

After taking a break last post to review Open Leadership, by Charlene Li, I want to return to corporate strategy.

For those of you keeping score, I spent a few posts walking through a hands-on approach to building out strategy that I’ve used successfully at many clients.

Today, however, I want to step back a bit and get a little philosophical by considering whether strategy is something organizations should address through a dedicated department that rolls up to a Chief Strategy Officer.

Spoiler alert: I don’t have a definitive answer. So if you’re looking for one, you need to go somewhere else. But I have some thoughts on the matter that I want to explore a bit here.

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Review of Open Leadership, by Charlene Li

Just finished Open Leadership, by Charlene Li, which is a follow-up to her best-selling Groundswell. And whereas that book focused on the social media technologies that are transforming how companies do business, Open Leadership looks at how leaders need to transform themselves to allow their organizations to use social media effectively.

There’s a real glut of books out there on social media, and I find many of them lack real substance or staying power, whether because the social media domain is evolving so quickly or the books have been rushed to market (or both). Li’s book, in contrast, has a good bit of depth and will have quite a bit of staying power despite its timeliness. Continue reading

The way you do the things you do

Out of all the things we could do at any given time, which of them should we do?

It’s a difficult question, and one that leaders face on a regular basis. There’s a long list of things they can do, want to do, plan to do, have been told do to, or are smack in the middle of doing. But without strategy it’s more difficult to be sure why they might do one over the other, more difficult to articulate clearly and convincingly why they did this thing and not that.

Strategy done right:

  • Creates the conditions required to effect a tight integration between planning and execution
  • Allows you to take a laundry list of goals, aims, and aspirations and prioritize them so that you know which of them should take precedence when tough decisions need to be made
  • Aligns higher order activities like setting priorities and guiding principles with more tactically focused ones like building capabilities and executing against them

I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with 50+ organizations over the last few years as a strategic consultant. It’s given me the chance to watch first-hand how organizations and their leaders struggle to create strategies and execute effectively against them…and to partner with many of them in doing so.

I think strategy often gets a bad rap as a means of procrastinating, a form of analysis-paralysis, or, at the very least, a non-value-adding exercise: We don’t have time for strategy—we need to get something done.

But I would argue that getting the wrong thing done is worse than doing nothing at all. And without strategic planning, you have a lower probability not only of doing the right thing, but of doing it well.

In that spirit, I want to kick off a series of posts focused on corporate strategy: part theory, part practice, I plan to dig in to the work I’ve been doing over the last couple of years and mine it for the insights I find the most valuable—and hopefully folks out there will find them not only valuable, but good conversation starters for sharing their own thoughts and experiences.

As I get to work planning the next post, jump in now and give us your suggestions for posts, or even your thoughts, insights, etc. about strategy…it would be a great way to kick-start the conversation.


I’m about 50 pages into Redefining Health Care by Michael Porter and Elizabeth Olmstead Teisberg, and while I’m a long way off from a review, it’s already providing lots of food for thought about leadership generally.

The most significant thing that’s struck me so far is the strong, almost relentless, focus on results in the book, and it’s gotten me thinking about the role of results in corporate decision-making and execution.

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Oblique influence

I just finished a long section of Getting Health Reform Right about the role of regulation in health care that was, to say the least, eye-opening. And as usual, I want to leave aside discussions of health reform and talk more about the implications for leadership generally.

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Make sure you tie your carrot to a stick

Changes in external incentives and in internal management are powerfully complementary. Giving managers incentives without also giving them the skills, authority, and resources they need to respond to those incentives is likely to be quite ineffectual. The same is true in reverse. Increased managerial authority is not likely to lead to improved care if managers have no incentive to do so. This is why various writers on organizational reform in health care have seen a need for “consistent” change (Harding and Preker 2002). It is not aesthetics that lies behind their observations, but rather the need to combine reasons to do better with this capacity to do better–in the same reform package.

Getting Health Reform Right, p. 215

I’m still finishing up Getting Health Reform Right, so a review is a week or so off. But in the meantime, I came across this passage on the plane last night and thought it held wonderful insight into leadership generally.

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