Exceptional Leaders Look Beyond the Obvious

  • Every company is an ecosystem with its own unique culture. You must understand your company culture to make effective decisions and adapt to problems and other changes. 
  • The success and resilience of an organization happen in advance. Take the time to step back in the present to plan for every contingency in the future.
  • Victory can slide into complacency. Make sure you can deliver at the same level once your responsibilities and the volume of a project increase.  

The term “present pause” or “pause to be present” may sound more related to meditation than business, but successful entrepreneurs, champion athletes and virtuosic musicians do this all the time, whether they call it that or something else. 

These top performers may appear to make highly complex maneuvers on the fly, but we often don’t see the hours of sweat equity they put in on fundamentals, practice and strategy.

The best CEOs and managers make vital decisions and disentangle any number of complex problems before they happen, by stepping back and reflecting so they can focus on conscious execution.  

The ancient concept of first principles provides a good window into the type of reverse engineering and elemental thinking that goes into a lot of the best executive-level strategy sessions.  

“To gain a higher understanding of how your business is operating, you need to know the process, what gaps there are, and what points your team is stopping at without trying to go deeper. That’s what first principles is all about, and in entrepreneurship, that means analysis at the lowest level possible,” Maceo Jourdan, CEO and founder of Canexxia, a home healthcare company, says on an episode of The BOLD Business Podcast

Quote - Maceo Jourdan

Know Who You Are

To prepare your company for success, you have to know who you are. Culture is an easy starting point.

“It always starts with understanding the culture of your organization — there’s no way of getting around that,” Kurian M. Tharakan, author of “The Seven Essential Stories Charismatic Leaders Tell” and Managing Director of StrategyPeak, a marketing consultancy, says. “As Terence McKenna once said, culture is your operating system. It’s like water to a fish.” 

Kurian recommends breaking down your culture’s underlying systems, processes and stated goals to understand the outcomes you’re getting, and then make adjustments.

Position Yourself for Success; Prepare for the Worst

“How can we foresee what could go wrong? And how can we be proactive instead of being reactive?” are two of the biggest questions Myoshia Boykin-Anderson has to answer in her role as Founder, President and Principal Consultant of AndTech Solutions LLC, an IT consulting firm. 

For Myoshia, a big part of this process is seeing where her staff fits into the bigger picture. “I put my team into categories: those that can do it and are doing it; those that can do it but aren’t quite doing it yet; those that can do it but aren’t willing to put it in any effort to do it; and those that can’t do it and aren’t willing to put any effort in.”  

Myoshia has learned a lot about decision-making, particularly by “failing forward” during the staffing process, and as a result, she says that cultural fit is even more important to her than skill set when evaluating a potential hire

“Now I’m much more intentional in the pre-assessments I perform because to bring in someone who doesn’t mirror our core values is going to wreak havoc on the rest of the team.” 

Quote p265 - Myoshia Boykin- Anderson

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

How many great business decisions are made inside a silo? Not many. To improve, manage, scale and grow a brand requires extensive communication. 

“Once you talk to people in your organization, you’ll be able to identify what they see as a problem,” Kurian says. “Then you’ll be able to ask them why they see it as a problem. This will help you identify and understand things like root causes and root motives. More often than not, if you talk to people on the ground level, they know what [the problem is] and how to solve the problem.” 

Not every exchange is straightforward, so you have to attune yourself to nonverbal communication as well. Maceo hones in on the things people aren’t saying — not with words, anyway. 

Most of what we experience as people is nonverbal. We’re going to pick up on microexpressions and hand gestures. If we’re trying to figure out how to get more customers and someone proposes an idea, we need to pay attention to their body language,” Maceo says. 

“This is why as a leader, you need to dedicate specific time to understand all the possible meanings of the various types of nonverbal communication.” 

Quote - Kurian M Tharakan

Beware the Blinding Light of Success

When you have a hit on your hands, it’s tempting to sit back and enjoy the moment, especially if you’re in start-up mode. But, as Myoshia points out, “Success can cover a lot of flaws, and if you’re not careful, you’ll grow so fast that it could cause you to overlook the very foundation you need to be building.” 

She remembers a project that got away from her and her team once the stakes were raised. 

“We were delivering, so we figured we were good. But when we had to deliver on a larger scale, we didn’t have the systems in place. All of us were not on the same page as far as approach, methodology and infrastructure were concerned — so instead of fixing a problem for the client, we had to fix one of our own.” 

Look Beyond the Obvious

If CEOs want a clear view of their organizations’ bigger picture, they really need to do more than just scratch the surface. 

Kurian likens it to driving. “If you’re focused on the direction your car’s headed, but you take your hands off the steering wheel for a moment and it veers to one side, it has to do with the alignment. There’s something structural beneath it that’s causing it to veer off course. We have to investigate the roots to understand the results we’re seeing.” 

In other words, you can’t get to the essence of a complex problem and solve it in the heat of the moment, but you can step back and map out your strategy before problems occur. Then, if you do find yourself headed in the wrong direction, you can quickly adjust and achieve your objective without a hitch. 

The most effective business leaders operate on this principle every day.  

Want to learn more about good leadership? See what else Kurian, Maceo and Myoshia had to say on the topic in our podcast episode, “The CEO’s Challenge: Effective Decision Making Skills.” Don’t forget to subscribe to The BOLD Business Podcast for more insights on leadership and success.

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