Archive for December, 2008
The person with the most varied responses ultimately wins. This is true on the battlefield, in business and in life. I firmly believe this. There are all types of leaders and managers. How many managers have you had that can only address a problem one way? Some are shouters, some are planners and some are collaborators. But how many can be all three effectively in three different situations?
Any person who is inflexible - who can only operate in one manner - is not likely to survive very long. Problem-solving requires flexibility - and so does career planning. Very few jobs these days offer the security of knowing that you’ll be there for 20 or 30 years. In fact, the average time with a company for 20- and 30-year-olds is a little more than three-and-a-half years. Everyone needs to reinvent themselves, and leaving their comfort zone, and constantly, constantly learning. And in today’s economic environment, I’m sure the average time is getting even shorter.
How do you attack problems? Are you constantly seeking out new skills so that you can be more effective? Or are you satisfied with all that you think you know?
A lot of people are surprised when I say “flexibility” is a key leadership principle I learned in the military. Hollywood frequently portrays military personnel as rigid and inflexible. That is unfortunate and, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. When an infantry unit is told by the commander to take a hill, they aren’t told how to take it. That is where the problem-solving comes in. The unit has to figure it out on its own. That problem-solving is something every ex-military person takes with them into the civilian workforce.
In June 2006, Korn/Ferry International - a premier global provider of executive, search outsourced recruiting and leadership development solutions - released the results of their study examining the performance of Fortune 500 companies led by CEOs with military background compared to those companies with CEOs without military experience. Companies led by CEOs with military experience have outperformed the S&P 500 Index over the past three-, five- and 10-year periods by as much as 20 percentage points. One of the six attributes listed as being the reason for their disproportionate success is the ability to solve problems in stressful conditions.
How do you handle co-workers that you can’t get along with? Or how about when you don’t get along with your boss? Do you blame it all on him or her? Or do you look at it as a challenge that you can overcome by being flexible? Try looking at those tough relationships the same way you look at a tough problem - they come in all shapes and sizes. How you handle them is up to you. One caveat in the regard, being flexible does not mean compromising your integrity. Always maintain your integrity.
In a May 2005, Fast Company article entitled “Change or Die,” editor Alan Deutchman described a great example of flexibility and how that leadership characteristic really can influence success. When Steve Jobs led the turnaround at Apple, Jobs returned to the company after having been gone for a long time and he focused almost exclusively on Apple’s flexibility and innovation. He recast Apple’s image among employees and customers from a second rate player defeated in its quest for a share of the market to the home of a small but highly enviable elite — the creative innovators who dared to “Think different.” Apple has been an innovator and focused on flexible thinking ever since and their stock has soared.
It is never too late to recreate yourself. Take the best attributes and skills you’ve got, identify where you want to be and what it takes to get there, set up your plan and go for it. For instance, if you’re currently in a very technical job, spend some time on marketing and sales skills. Understanding how marketing and sales perceives problems will help you deliver more effectively on the technical side. And, by developing your own sales and marketing skills you become infinitely more valuable to your company - or to a new company.
You can do the same thing in your position, no matter where you are. Don’t be the employee that always has the same solution for every problem. Don’t be the leader who approaches every employee the same way. Be fair, but be creative and understand that every employee and every problem is not identical.