Episode 26 of THE THINKING LEADER PODCAST: Red Teaming Climate Change: Click here to listen.

Business Leaders Need To Be More Like Ukraine’s “Iron General” And Less Like Russia’s Dinosaurs

Apr 19, 2022

All wars are tragedies, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a particularly brutal act of aggression that has yielded terrible human suffering, yet wars have always offered plenty of models for leadership, both good and bad, and the one raging across the towns and fields of Ukraine today is no exception.

On one side, you have Russia’s command-and-control dinosaurs blindly pursuing a plan that had already failed in the first days of the conflict; on the other, you have Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, who according to a recent Politico profile, has “helped build a decentralized, empowered, more agile way of warfare than the Russian model, which has floundered in the Ukrainian mud.”

That Russian model of leadership sounds a lot like the one still practiced by the leaders of too many corporations: rigidly top-down, ignorant of the situation on the frontlines, and unwilling or unable to...

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Two Years Ago, I Warned You About The Coming Pandemic; Today I Am Warning You About The Fallout From Ukraine

Mar 25, 2022

In February 2020 – two years ago last month – I wrote a column for Forbes entitled “Stop Lying To Yourself About The Coronavirus.” The United States had just reported its 35th known case of Covid-19 the day before, and there were still no known deaths from the coronavirus in this country. That wouldn’t come for another week. There had been one death in Europe a week before, but the victim had been a traveler returning from Wuhan. Few people I knew expressed more than mild concern about what was still perceived as a Chinese problem.

However, in my piece, I warned that global supply chains would be disrupted, that economies would be put under enormous stress, and that every business would have to deal with the impact of what was not yet even recognized as a pandemic:

… too many companies are still taking a wait-and-see attitude to the coronavirus.

Maybe this will all blow over by March, a lot of CEOs are telling themselves right now....

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Cognitive Biases Are Not The Only Ones You Need To Worry About

Feb 23, 2022

By now, most leaders – or, at least, most thinking leaders – are aware of the many cognitive biases and heuristics that we all fall victim to, no matter how smart we are, no matter how well educated we are, no matter how successful we are (if not, read Dr. Daniel Kahneman’s excellent book, Thinking, Fast and Slow). But cognitive scientists have identified another category of biases that you should be just as concerned about: political biases.

Political here does not refer to the sort of partisan nonsense that is ripping representative democracies apart at the seams. Rather, it refers to organizational politics – the sort of nonsense that, if not ripping your company apart at the seams, is at least preventing your people from being as effective as they could be.

“Political bias – understood as deliberate strategic distortions – arises from power relations, instead of from cognition,” says Dr. Bent Flyvbjerg....

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Dave Snowden: Four Things Leaders Need To Do In A Crisis

Dec 08, 2021

When confronted with a crisis like the present pandemic, Dave Snowden says there are four things leaders need to do: assess, adapt, exapt, and transcend.

Snowden is worth listening to. He is one of the world’s leading experts on complexity and the father of the Cynefin Framework – one of the best tools I know of for determining what sort of problem you are dealing with and how to solve it.

 “The assessment stage is quite simply, is it really a crisis or not? Have you got a contingency plan? If you’ve got a contingency plan, you’ve already scenarioed this. Then it’s not a crisis; you can just implement the plan,” Snowden told me in a recent interview. “But assuming you haven’t got a plan and you didn’t expect it, then you’re into a different situation.”

In that case, leaders need to, well, lead. That means figuring out the immediate steps that need to be taken to respond to the crisis.

“The only time a...

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It’s Time To Start Red Teaming Climate Change

Dec 08, 2021

I know that political observers are calling the UN’s COP26 climate summit a success, at least judged by the modest yardstick of the progress made by the world’s governments in recent years. However, while substantial progress was made in Glasgow, it was not nearly enough to slow the pace of global warming to the level scientists say is necessary to stop catastrophic climate change. That’s why, as I listened to the news this week, I was reminded of a speech Winston Churchill gave to the House of Commons in May 1935:

When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure. There is nothing new in the story. It is as old as the Sibylline books. It falls into that long, dismal catalogue of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind. Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of...
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9/11 Was A Terrible Tragedy: It Was Also The Birth Of Red Teaming

Sep 14, 2021

Like most Americans, I remember exactly where I was twenty years ago. It was just after 7 a.m. in California when a friend woke me up with a phone call, urgently insisting that I turn on my television.

“Dude, they just destroyed the World Trade Center!” he exclaimed.

“Who?” I said, suspicious because my friend was a notorious prankster.

“The terrorists!”

“Right,” I said, thinking about the failed 1993 attempt to blow up the iconic buildings. “How?”

“They flew two planes into them – commercial jets – and one of the towers just collapsed,” he said. “Oh! And they attacked the Pentagon, too. We’re at war!”

It took him another five minutes to convince me to turn on the TV. It wasn’t just that I didn’t trust my friend; it was also because I could not believe that what he was saying was actually true.

My own failure of imagination reflected a larger failure of...

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Cultural Transformation Is Everybody's Business

Aug 31, 2021

When I was studying at the U.S. Army’s red teaming school at Fort Leavenworth back in 2015, I was introduced to a powerful concept called “My 15 Percent.”
The idea is simple: Whether you are a general or a private, there are things you can do to improve the performance of your unit, that will improve the performance of your division, and ultimately, the Army as a whole. It was the product of research by organizational psychologists who found that no matter how disenfranchised or powerless people feel – no matter how low they are on the totem pole – they still have the ability to directly influence at least 15 percent of the part of the organization they work in.

So, we were taught, if you don’t like the way things are going, focus on making a positive change your 15 percent.


The same approach works just as well in corporations, according to bestselling business author and executive coach Barry O’Reilly.

“Often people say that we...

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To Succeed In Today’s Complex World, Leaders May Need To Unlearn What They Already Know

Aug 20, 2021

As leaders struggle to navigate today’s complex and rapidly changing world, many of them are finding that the tactics and behaviors that served them well in the past are less effective when dealing with the challenges of the present.

If you are one of them, bestselling business author and advisor Barry O’Reilly says you may need to “unlearn” what you already know in order to “relearn” the things you need to succeed today.

“Unlearning is a process of letting go or reframing and moving away from once-useful mindsets and acquired behaviors that were effective in the past, but now limit your success. It’s not forgetting, removing, or discarding knowledge or experience; it’s the conscious act of letting go of outdated information and actively engaging and taking in new information to inform your decision making,” O’Reilly explains.

He recognizes it is a big ask.

 

Hitting the reset button

In his executive coaching...

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With The Rapid Fall Of Kabul, America Has Suffered Another Failure Of Imagination

Aug 19, 2021

Kabul has fallen, and today is a dark day for America – and an even darker day for Afghanistan. But the speed of the Taliban’s advance, while stunning, was hardly surprising.

I’m no expert, but in conversations over the past few weeks with friends who served in Afghanistan, all of them predicted this rapid collapse of the Afghan armed forces and the Taliban’s rapid advance on Kabul. And all of them thought the insurgents would reach the capitol far faster than American politicians and military planners were predicting.

So, how did Washington get it so wrong – again?

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I’m not talking about America’s failed attempt at nation building in a country long known as the graveyard of empires; I’m talking about the failure of imagination that led American planners to believe, as intelligence officials said just three days ago, that “Kabul could fall within 90 days.”

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 Lessons Not...

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Creating A “Culture Of Candor”

Jul 27, 2021

Dr. Gary Klein is one of the world’s leading experts on decision making. In his work with nuclear power plants, he noticed something interesting: efforts to eradicate mistakes sometimes made plants less safe.

“People talk about having ‘zero-tolerance’ for errors. It turns out that, when you do research, zero-tolerance for errors usually winds up leaving you less safe, rather than more, because people know that they’ve got to hide their errors,” Klein explains. “Instead of being candid about them, and learning from them, they are trying to deflect blame or to make sure that people don’t discover what went wrong.”

To overcome this dangerous tendency, Klein says leaders need to work develop what he calls a “culture of candor” in their organizations.

“Instead of being critical and impatient, become curious,” Klein says. “Instead of saying, Well, this was a mistake, let’s make sure we don't make it...

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