Executive Shift – Getting Strategic

In recent months I’ve been reflecting on: what do we really do with leaders that makes a difference.  We do lots of things – help them think through sticky challenges, get their teams on the same page and functioning well, engaging their workforce to explore views from up and down and the far corners, and take on new behaviors and ways of thinking that make them more effective.  It’s the latter where we make some of our greatest impact – helping leaders make the ‘executive shift.’

Executive Shift is fundamentally about understanding your role, your place in the system and coming to understand the myriad forces and trends affecting the organization.  It means seeing thinking strategically and understanding the system as core parts of ‘my job’ – not just what we do on occasion or as part of our planning exercises.   Practically speaking, it means making time for this, regularly, in the day to day.

So, why is making the executive shift so difficult?  The answers are many and I’ll write regularly in this blog on that topic…

Years ago, Warren Bennis management scholar who became president of the University of Cincinnati and after a short stint, left the job labeled as ineffective.  He spent the next phase of his academic career exploring the question: ‘how could I know so much and yet do so little of it?’  One of his concepts refers to the ‘unconscious conspiracy’ where folks at all levels, left unchecked would rather push decisions upward than take a stand.  Bennis found himself in a culture where decisions were pushed up, to the point where the President was being asked to decide whether graduation should be inside or outside because of the threat of rain… with that level of detail on his desk, how could he possibly focus on the big questions of the institution’s future, it’s place in the world and how to build it to get there?

Beware of the unconscious conspiracy – what’s your culture like?  Are you passing decisions up that you could make?  Are others landing things on your desk that are better handled elsewhere?

One way to define effective leadership is: ‘doing the things that only I can do.’  Easier said than done, but those who use that principle and work toward it find the time to be more strategic – a key step in making the executive shift.

bob devlin
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