When I wrote my first post titled “ Do you know what you don’t know” I was brought back to a time when I was in my mid twenties serving a rapidly growing small company. I was a young manager and full of “piss and vinegar” eager to kick ass and take names. Our entire team was the same age give or take 5 years of age. We were growing rapidly and then hit a plateau . None of us had experienced this before so we hired a coach. One of the coaches’ reconditions was to bring in someone with more experience and a few gray hairs to balance the leadership team. At the time we hired Larry we were making decisions like we always did, but they were not working,and not having the desired impact. We hired Larry with his over 25 years experience and immediately we could feel his experience balance our decisions and quickly we were back on our rapid growth path.
I was so impressed with his calm and knowledgeable approach that I took him to lunch to figure out his secret. So over a great lunch discussing his past business experiences I asked the question burning inside me; “ Larry, how can I get what you have? This ability to see situations, analyze potential strategies in this different way?” I will never forget his answer ; “ Mark, you don’t know what you don’t know, and time and experience is the only way to get what you are looking for.” At that time I was frustrated by that answer. Now that I am the guy in my late forty’s with graying hair I finally understand what Larry was teaching me. Their is no better teacher than time. The danger comes in when all we rely on is our training and experience.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s best selling book Blink he talks about what Larry had back then. Was it a gut instinct, business intuition, or something else? In the book blink as one of the comments from my first post points out , over time , subconsciously we acquire information and this the author points out helps us make good decisions. Like other strengths however I believe relying on this alone can be a detrimental weakness. What Larry taught us was to take current market information and use the intuition to write strategies that result in explosive sales growth.
Intuition, “gut instinct” if you will , is but one component of making good decisions.Your instinct and intuition are a culmination of your life experiences, training and education which ultimately helps you know what you know.It also acts as a filter for what you see and experience in the future.
The problem occurs when you allow this inner voice to be your only decision making tool. Why? The biggest issue is your information is dated. The moment you experience something, it becomes the past. The unique set of circumstances that you experienced will never be exactly the same again. So how can we rely so much on what got us through the last challenge will get us through this one? The big risk is , if taken too far your team will no longer believe in you as the leader and label your leadership as “clueless” in their minds. Once this occurs you are destined for a downward EBITDA spiral . So how do we know if we are sounding clueless to our team? Guy Kawasaki wrote a brilliant blog titled How to tell if your CEO is clueless that I recommend everyone read.
So are leaders clueless or just arrogant, both? The definition of arrogance is : an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions. Executives who rely on their gut instinct, their personal intuition alone are arrogant in today’s economy.
Today we face conditions unlike any we have ever experienced. Today is not like the great depression, the dot com bust, or the last time the oil fields were burning in Iraq. Today we see a toxic economic cocktail of ;housing declines and foreclosures, financial institutions in peril, oil prices climbing, a new President, economic advisors ( experts) grasping at straws, unemployment reaching 15 year lows…all shaken not stirred by access to instant information causing huge swings in the stock market and ultimately consumer confidence.So I thought it would be interesting to ask CEO’s how they solve problems today.
When I surveyed CEO’s recently I asked a simple question; “where do you turn when faced with a problem in your business?” At first the answers were all over the board. However three answers bubbled to the top;
1. my network (I phone a friend)
2. my board, my business advisors
3. I get my team together and we figure it out
My concern with all of theses answers implies those you are turning to are closer to the conditions of the market of today than you are ( or have a bigger or smarter “gut”). I have to admit when I was faced with a challenge with a company I was helping in 2002 the first thing I did was reach out to my network, and that alone was wrong. Today requires critical thinking that includes a strong deep connection and understanding of to your market, it’s needs, and it’s buyers coupled with instinct and experience to weather this storm. So what should we do , as we lead our organizations ?
Below are six steps I recommend;
1. quantify “what is” (without judgments attached)
2. build an intimate knowledge of your market and particularly its problems
3 understand your team, strengths, weaknesses, and insure you have a team with skills to solve the market problems you discover
4. look for what is working (and find out why)
5. humble yourself ( yes you heard me right) authentically admit what you do not know, and seek information
6. as Steven Covey said “sharpen the saw” we must invest in self improvement,the book what got you here won’t get you there does a great job of explaining this
Today is not like yesterday, and tomorrow will not be like today. As leaders we must constantly balance our intuition with new market data and critical problem solving skills to be more agile to come out ahead in today’s market.
Where do you turn when you face a business challenge?
How’s that working for you today?
Image from Fast Company article; Going for the gut