For most of us, weekends provide an opportunity to take a rest from thinking about weekday concerns and consider less urgent – but perhaps much more important – issues.
“New problems demand new principles. Put bluntly, there’s simply no way to build tomorrow’s essential organizational capabilities – resilience, innovation, and employee engagement – atop the scaffolding of 20th century principles….”
Then in The Future of Management, co-authored with Bill Breen and published by Harvard Business Review Press (September 10, 2007), Gary Hamel goes on to observe, “In an age of wrenching change and hyper-competition, the most valuable human capabilities are precisely those that are least manageable.”
What major changes will you make to build “tomorrow’s essential organizational capabilities” for your company?
What changes will Karl Krayer and Randy Mayeux make to strengthen FFBS?
I have no idea.
But I do know that I must change my thinking about what I do and how I do it. That is the focus of this weekend.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Cynthia A. Montgomery, a Harvard Business School professor, who reflects on what she has learned from senior executives about the unique value that strategic leaders can bring to their companies. It is featured by The McKinsey Quarterly, published by McKinsey & Company. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and register to receive email alerts, please click here
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Seven years ago, I changed the focus of my strategy teaching at the Harvard Business School. After instructing MBAs for most of the previous quarter-century, I began teaching the accomplished executives and entrepreneurs who participate in Harvard’s flagship programs for business owners and leaders
Shifting the center of my teaching to executive education changed the way I teach and write about strategy. I’ve been struck by how often executives, even experienced ones, get tripped up: they become so interested in the potential of new ventures, for example, that they underestimate harsh competitive realities or overlook how interrelated strategy and execution are. I’ve also learned, in conversations between class sessions (as well as in my work as a board director and corporate adviser) about the limits of analysis, the importance of being ready to reinvent a business, and the ongoing responsibility of leading strategy.
All of this learning speaks to the role of the strategist—as a meaning maker for companies, as a voice of reason, and as an operator. The richness of these roles, and their deep interconnections, underscore the fact that strategy is much more than a detached analytical exercise. Analysis has merit, to be sure, but it will never make strategy the vibrant core that animates everything a company is and does.
The strategist as meaning maker
I’ve taken to asking executives to list three words that come to mind when they hear the word strategy. Collectively, they have produced 109 words, frequently giving top billing to plan, direction, and competitive advantage. In more than 2,000 responses, only 2 had anything to do with people: one said leadership, another visionary. No one has ever mentioned strategist.
Downplaying the link between a leader and a strategy, or failing to recognize it at all, is a dangerous oversight that I tried to start remedying in a Harvard Business Review article four years ago and in my new book, The Strategist, whose thinking this article extends.1 After all, defining what an organization will be, and why and to whom that will matter, is at the heart of a leader’s role. Those who hope to sustain a strategic perspective must be ready to confront this basic challenge. It is perhaps easiest to see in single-business companies serving well-defined markets and building business models suited to particular competitive contexts. I know from experience, though, that the challenge is equally relevant at the top of diversified multinationals.
What is it, after all, that makes the whole of a company greater than the sum of its parts—and how do its systems and processes add value to the businesses within the fold? Nobel laureate Ronald Coase posed the problem this way: “The question which arises is whether it is possible to study the forces which determine the size of the firm. Why does the entrepreneur not organize one less transaction or one more?”2 These are largely the same questions: are the extra layers what justifies the existence of this complex firm? If so, why can’t the market take care of such transactions on its own? If there’s more to a company’s story, what is it, really?
In the last three decades, as strategy has moved to become a science, we have allowed these fundamental questions to slip away. We need to bring them back. It is the leader—the strategist as meaning maker—who must make the vital choices that determine a company’s very identity, who says, “This is our purpose, not that. This is who we will be. This is why our customers and clients will prefer a world with us rather than without us.” Others, inside and outside a company, will contribute in meaningful ways, but in the end it is the leader who bears responsibility for the choices that are made and indeed for the fact that choices are made at all.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Cynthia A. Montgomery is the Timken Professor of Business Administration and immediate past chair of the Strategy Unit at Harvard Business School, where she’s been on the faculty for 20 years. Her latest book is The Strategist: Be the Leader Your Business Needs, published by HarperBusiness (May 8, 2012)
The definitive examination of what is “the timeless, changeless spirit that runs through all life and matter”
There is no shortage of outstanding translations of Lao Tzu’s ancient classic and an even greater number of commentaries on what he characterizes as “the timeless, changeless spirit that runs through all life and matter…Being that is all inclusive and that existed before Heaven and Earth.”
Those who have read one or more of the volumes that comprise Tom Butler-Bowdon’s 50 Classics series already know that he possesses superior reasoning and writing skills as well as a relentless curiosity when conducting research on history’s greatest thinkers and their major works. For these and other reasons, I cannot think of another person better qualified to provide the introductions to the volumes that comprise a new series, Capstone Classics.
Unlike so many others, he provides more, much more than a flimsy “briefing” to the given work. In his 32-page Introduction to this edition of Tao Te Ching, Butler-Bowdon discusses subjects and issues such as these in order to create a context, a frame-of-reference, for Lao Tzu’s insights:
o What is – and isn’t – “Tao”
o Recognizing and then being in harmony with its power
o The value and limits of worldly power, fame, and riches
o The need for self-restraint
o Why we should treasure simplicity, purity, compassion, economy (i.e. frugality), and humility
o The importance of “not doing” (i.e. wu wei)
o The limits and perils of “striving”
o Tao Te Ching and Tolstoy’s theory of history
o The unique value of timelessness
o Tao Te Ching and Plato’s concept of “Forms”
o Lao Tzu and Confucius
When concluding his brilliant Introduction, Butler-Bowdon acknowledges attempts by major scholars to understand – and then explain – classic works such as Tao Te Ching:
“Yet as Lao Tzu himself implies in the text (‘The learned men are often not the wise men, nor the wise men, the learned.’), scholars are usually not good at grasping spiritual concepts, and moreover the Chinese language with its five thousand characters is ill-equipped for expressing the abstract idea of Tao. [Dwight] Goddard was therefore not interested in providing the most pedantically correct translation, but rather to capture the essence of a work he loved.”
This Capstone edition uses the classic rendering of the Tao Teh Ching in Dwight Goddard & Henri Borel’s Laotzu’s Tao and Wu Wei, New York: Brentano’s, 1919. According to Tom Butler-Bowdon, Goddard’s approach is the one to take. That’s good enough for me.