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Leaders often fail by speeding up to keep up

Published September 28, 2012 8:47 pm

As world whizzes by, slow down, focus on what you don't know, authors advise
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Bob Parsanko and Paul Heagen, co-authors of "The Leader's Climb: A Business Tale of Rising to the New Leadership Challenge," say it's important to slow down to keep up with today's competitive business environment.

What are some pitfalls in the fast-paced world of business?

The biggest risk is allowing efficiency to replace effectiveness, placing speed above pace. The avalanche of information in a Web-based world can allow us to get caught in a trap of thinking that if we can just find a way to get through it all, we will come out better on the other side. Quickness matters, but when we allow speed to become our mantra across too many areas of leadership, we lose sight of reflection, listening, learning, exploring and plain-old patience. Speed kills. When we go too fast, we fight opposition because we simply cannot afford to take the time to understand it, navigate it or even find a way to embrace it. When we go too fast, we force decisions and disregard other interests, failing to let ideas and reasons settle in with those affected. Think Netflix and its rushed and ill-conceived strategy to jam through a split of its rental division and force a price increase on its customers.

Why is it important to focus on what you don't know?

When we are pressured for time, we tend to default to what we already know or have experienced before. That's thinking — processing and applying what is already in our head. In today's rapidly changing world, past experience is a risky basis for managing the future. Instead, we need to sense, to be disciplined to seek out and take in what we don't know without judging it. Sensing rather than just thinking gets us outside ourselves, helps us engage more with others (especially those outside our normal range of vision) and simply keeps us fresh.

How can leaders embrace reality?

We sometimes in life and business come up against obstacles that are just too hard to move. It is so easy to make the fight itself the real fight. We lock in and hunker down in a quixotic delusion that if we somehow work hard enough at it, we will overcome it. Fortunes in business have been squandered over this. Great leaders understand their energies are better spent understanding these realities and incorporating them into their vision, rather than pretending they don't exist or don't matter.

Other tips on coping in today's environment?

Slow down. Just when you think you have no choices left, commit to finding more. Anytime you think it comes down to yes/no, this/that, either/or, stop and step back. It was like when NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz faced the divided and dispirited team of engineers who thought they had run out of ideas on how to save Apollo 13 and said, "OK, people, what do we have on the Odyssey that is working?" It refreshed everyone to explore ideas. How often have we woken up after a good night's sleep with an entirely different perspective or idea that escaped us in the pressure of the day before? Ask, listen, simply don't accept that you are bound by binary choices. Take time to engage others to develop and explore options. Wait, sometimes painfully, until you can make a decision you are willing to live with. Bob Parsanko






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