When Seattle based outdoor recreation retailer REI announced they were giving employees a paid day off, and closing their stores on Black Friday, my immediate reaction was how BOLD, and how BRILLIANT!!
Even before their #optoutside campaign went viral. Even before their decision whipped media outlets into a frenzy. Even before I had a chance to read even one of the many articles that were subsequently published analyzing the what’s and whys of REI’s decision to abandon one of the most profitable retail sales days of the year, I knew that REI was doing something I respect and value very much…
They were winning the game by changing the rules!
If winning in retail is determined solely by profitability, then the numbers aren’t yet in to determine whether REI will take an overall hit, or get a longer term financial bump by their decision to close. My guess is that it will be the latter, however, their decision was a win for the company in more ways than just the bottom line and here’s why.
In every competitive endeavour, there is an underlying basic assumption that you win by doing the same thing as your competitors, just better. In sports you run faster, jump higher, score more, and, in retail it has become about opening earlier, closing later, and charging less and less in order to compete.
Then, every once in a while, someone competes in a different way – they develop a new way to land the high jump, a new underwater kick, or new materials that allow equipment improvements which provide competitive advantage. In the most basic of terms, I respect REI’s decision to say, “Hey we’re not going to try to compete by doing the same thing as everyone else, just better. In fact, we’re going to compete by not competing at all!” Balls. Disruption. I like it!
Next year, other retailers might follow suit, or they won’t, but REI won this year by being the first major retailer to have the boldness to go against the competition, against conventional logic, and make a stir and a statement while they were at it. The decision worked for REI because it was perceived as authentic and not contrived. It was in keeping with their message and culture, a kind gesture towards its employees for sure, but also an effective reinforcement of their collaborative brand, and a way to grow both employee and customer loyalty, while getting some amazing positive press while they were at it.
I tip my hat to REI for their decision to close their doors on Black Friday this year, and challenge us all to seize more opportunities to make bold decisions in 2016!
What surprised me the most about this article by retired four-star General and former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, General Ray Odierno, weren’t what the lessons themselves were, but how few of them he provided, and how, through this utter simplicity, he managed to hit the nail directly on the head.
I have to admit, I almost glossed over the piece, feeling as though the military analogy has almost been overdone in business and, perhaps, may be somewhat dated and exclusionary. I decided to read it anyway, and while what I was expecting was yet another “leadership list” of the top 10 qualities that make great leaders, I was pleasantly surprised to read a simple yet detailed description of a mere 3 qualities that are absolutely integral to great leadership, whether that leadership takes place in business or in war.
The first quality is Balanced Risk-Taking, the key to this being the word “balanced”. Both risk adversity as well as excessive risk-taking can equally result in failure and financial loss in business, and cost lives at war. Balanced risk-taking requires you to constantly assess and understand the current situation, continually developing ways to gather and use information to contribute to well-thought out, yet timely and efficient risk-taking and decision-making.
The second lesson offered is to take a Holistic View to Guide Bold Decisions. General Odierno addresses balance again, contrasting leaders who wait and require every single piece of data and information for making a decision that is now too late to be effective, to those who jump in with no due diligence, costing organizations time, money, and resources when they are wrong. Neither of these leaders can compare to those individuals who can effectively balance when they have just the right amount of information to allow a bold decision to be made. Sometimes, he says “when you make a decision is just as important, if not more than, the information available. Great leaders understand this dynamic”.
Finally, General Odierno emphasizes the importance of Fostering an Atmosphere of Trust. In his own words, he says that the “foundation of any organization is trust. Trust between peers, subordinates and your leaders. Establishing and communicating right and left limits. Empowering subordinates and decentralizing decision making within those limits. Treating everyone within the organization with dignity and respect. All of this contributes to an atmosphere of trust and pride”.
Whether or not you are interested in the military, or even opposed to the military, this is a great business article that really gets to the heart of what needs to be mastered in order to achieve great leadership.
In today’s fast paced world, where it seems we just never have enough time, it can be hard to carve out even a few short moments for quiet reflection and learning. The irony of this paradox is today’s leaders need to have their hands and heads around a multitude of tough, challenging issues, and be better equipped to tackle them to the ground than ever before. They need new knowledge and fresh insight and, yet, we all tend to push this priority down the list.
It’s not the smartest thing for any of us to do!
So – in response to the question “What do I need to know?”, we have put together a list of the books we believe all leaders should read in their quest to be on top of current thinking in a dozen or so key areas. It’s not that we expect anyone to read them all but, as Spring turns to Summer, there may be a few lazy days when reading a good book would be just the right tonic for rejuvenation.
Enjoy your quiet time, the battle will still be there when you get back from vacation.
INSEAD is a serious institution of higher education and I often enjoy the serious and scholarly articles they share through INSEAD Knowledge. So, it was quite unexpected to find an article on fairy tales by INSEAD professor Manfred Kets de Vries.
Kets de Vries has actually written a book entitled “Telling Fairy Tales in the Boardroom: How to Make Sure Your Organisation Lives Happily Ever After” in which he forewarns executives “of the dangers they will encounter on their various quests and the fundamental issues they will confront associated with the leadership mystique”. He presents these as the five “deadly dangers” and I have listed them very briefly below:
First danger – lack of self-knowledge
Second danger – hubris
Third danger – a leader’s inability to get the best out of people
Fourth danger – a leader’s inability to create well-functioning teams
Fifth danger – the creation of an organisational gulag
Each one of these “dangers” is worthy of serious consideration, and together they form an absolutely excellent self-reflection checklist for all leaders. It might be well worth your while to get some juice and a cookie, and tuck into this story.
I came across a short, but very interesting article on smartblogs.com entitled “Why culture and leadership matter for disruptive innovation”, written by James daSilva. It begins with some slightly radical, but excellent advice – daSilva suggests you should bring in “troublemakers and tinkerers”.
When talking to leaders about transformational change in their organizations, or any movement in new directions for that matter, I tell them they have to get comfortable with the concept of creative tension. I encourage them to seek out and embrace people with starkly different views, the deviants as it were, and really fan the sparks of new and creative thinking.
It all reminds me of a book I enjoyed years ago entitled “The Corporate Fool”. The author, David Firth, tells you up front that “one of the premises of this book is that sanity is tremendously limiting”. He proposes that the Fool is the perfect role model for the paradoxical and crazy thinking that is needed, and for being the person who is not afraid to speak up. Might this be the troublemaker or the tinkerer or even the deviant by another name?
It seems so intuitive. Everyone knows this right? Business 101? Just because an employee is doing something, doesn’t mean they are accomplishing something of value for the organization. Or even accomplishing anything at all. And yet it still seems relatively unacknowledged, or at least often unaddressed by employers, that just the act of being in a meeting, sitting at a desk, or dialing into a conference call does not equate with employees being productive for the organization.
If you aren’t one of the 10 million individuals who have already viewed this humorous YouTube take on a “Conference Call in Real Life”, you may want to take an unproductive but enjoyable moment to check it out now. view here
While the ability to multi-task has generally been considered a positive skill, the following HBR article shines a light on the reality that the type of multi-tasking taking place while individuals are engaged in conference calls (ie. sending each other e-mails or checking social media sites), is not generally conducive to proper engagement in the call.
Which brings into question the true value of this mode of teamwork/meeting. Can conference calls be productive?
Absolutely, but ensuring that the call has a proper purpose, and that everyone on the call needs to be on the call is a must. No one likes to be cc’d on a dozen e-mails that don’t relate to them. The same holds true when individuals are asked to sit in on conference calls for which they have little to offer or gain. In addition, just like in-person meetings, calls should be scheduled only when relevant information needs to be shared or discussed, not just for the sake of it. As well, conference calls should be kept as brief and focused as possible to maximize engagement. Not to worry telecommuters and vacationers, the location of the caller is not nearly as important as what else they are doing while on the call. Someone sitting on a beach may be fully engaged in the conversation and providing much greater value to the call than an individual who is sitting at a desk perusing craigslist for a second-hand bookshelf, or e-mailing another colleague. The simplest fix suggested in this article is to lose the mute button option, thus ensuring that people know they are actually part of the call and not free to carry on with other business and distractions while they listen.
After almost 30 years at the helm of English Football’s Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson is regarded by many to be the most successful, admired and respected manager in the history of the
game. After his retirement in 2013, Anita Alberse, along with Ferguson himself, set out to outline and detail the primary management principles which contributed to Ferguson’s long standing success within the game. Not surprisingly, these principals transition quite naturally over to a business application, two different yet similar worlds, where ultimate success hinges on the creation of a strong and dedicated work team. I’ve listed the principals below, however, the true insight lies in Alberse and Ferguson’s detailed descriptions of the implications and value of each one.
I highly encourage this read, especially for anyone who feels strongly about the parallels between sport and business leadership.
1. Start with the Foundation
2. Dare to Rebuild Your Team
3. Set High Standards – and Hold Everyone to Them
4. Never, Ever Cede Control
5. Match the Message to the Moment
6. Prepare to Win
7. Rely on the Power of Observation
8. Never Stop Adapting
One of the many transformational leadership competencies required to successfully navigate the future is contextual intelligence. Contextual Intelligence is the ability to sense subtle shifts in the environment, to become aware of those changes before anyone else and to predict their likely implications going forward. It is the ability to put things into crystal clear perspective and then accurately frame the picture so others can understand it. Naturally, there is then the need to communicate the picture in a way that others can grasp and comfortably relate to.
These times are different, and we need to understand in what way. These times demand a certain melody to be played in order for the leader to be in sync. As much as we might prefer it, we don’t live in the calm, orderly, dignified and refined times of the grand salons and elaborate music halls. Instead, it is our fate to live in the crowded, overheated and frenetic jazz bars of the global marketplace. These are fluid and chaotic times. There is no script or score to help guide us, only the same skills and attributes employed by the great jazz musicians—imagination and improvisation.
The ability to develop an inspiring, coherent, game-changing strategy to frame an organization’s direction has long been considered one of the key responsibilities of any senior leader and their leadership team. Unfortunately, most organizations today would not receive top grades for their business strategies in terms of inspiration, coherence or the game-changing impact, let alone all three. There are some pretty basic reasons why we fail to achieve even a fraction of the dominance or brand recognition of the well known global market leaders. The fact is, most business strategies today are adequate enough to allow an organization to get by, but they are simply not creative nor challenging enough to allow for true differentiation.