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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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Top Decision-Making Expert Says Leaders Need To Get Comfortable With Uncertainty

Jul 20, 2021
FILE - In this Jan. 15, 2009 file photo, passengers in an inflatable raft move away from an Airbus 320 US Airways aircraft that has gone down in the Hudson River in New York. Accident investigators say they object to their portrayal in a new movie based on the “Miracle on the Hudson” river ditching of airliner seven years ago after striking geese. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

Dr. Gary Klein is a cognitive psychologist and one of the world’s foremost experts on human decision making. I had the opportunity to talk with him recently about the present pandemic, and I asked him how leaders can successfully navigate this challenging operating environment.

The first thing leaders need to do, he told me, is get comfortable with ambiguity.

“With a crisis like the one we’re experiencing now with COVID-19, there is so much complexity and there is so much uncertainty that to try to make sure that you can analytically identify the one best option and not to do...

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The Military Needs To Change; Business Does Too

Jul 13, 2021

Former U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy recently wrote an excellent piece for Foreign Affairs warning that the American military is falling behind adversaries such as China and Russia and offering a compelling outline for “How to Transform the Pentagon for a Competitive Era.”

Many companies now find themselves in an era of unprecedented competition as well, and as I read Flournoy’s article, I was struck by how much of her advice was as spot-on for business as it was for the armed forces. That’s not surprising; the military, after all, is an enormous, hierarchical bureaucracy – just like most multinationals. As such, it faces similar challenges:

“Driving change in large bureaucratic organizations is notoriously hard … The prevailing bureaucratic culture remains risk averse: avoid making mistakes, don’t rock the boat, stick to existing ways of doing business. In addition, top officials face a...

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Legendary CEO Alan Mulally Says Coming Together Is The Key to Navigating Through Difficult Times

Jun 30, 2021

When the pandemic first began last year, a CEO asked me an intriguing question: “If you could tap anyone to lead a company through an existential crisis like this, who would it be?”

“That’s easy,” I said. “Alan Mulally.”

Mulally is the only person I know who has saved not one, but two iconic American companies: first Boeing, then Ford. He was also the subject of my first book, American Icon, and I am proud to call him my mentor.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Alan and ask him how you deal with challenges like the ones so many businesses and governments are dealing with today.

“It starts with really facing reality – not what you wish it could be or hope it could be,” Mulally told me.

He said the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic are not that different from the ones that confronted him as president of Boeing’s Commercial Airplanes division back in September 2001, when the...

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Sometimes, You Just Have To React

Apr 30, 2021

A reader recently pushed back on my personal mantra: bad leaders react, good leaders plan, and great leaders think. He pointed out that there are times when every leader needs to react. He also pointed out that planning is essential.

I couldn’t agree more.

When I speak of reacting vs. planning vs. thinking, I am speaking in terms of default leadership style.

To put a finer point on it, bad leaders are constantly reacting to events, good leaders think their work is done when they’ve come up with a plan they’re satisfied with, but great leaders know that their work is never finished – that they must continue to challenge that plan and modify it as conditions change. Moreover, they know that they must continue to challenge themselves and their teams to improve on that plan.

Every leader needs to be able to react quickly and decisively to immediate threats and fleeting opportunities – and that is particularly true in today’s complex and rapidly...

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Strategies Only Work If You Let Them

Feb 11, 2021

This week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom surprised everyone by suddenly lifting the near-complete lockdown he ordered late last year to help contain the COVID-19 outbreak that has made the state one of the epicenters of the pandemic.

The governor’s decision came without warning, and with apparent disregard for the very metrics that he said would be used to determine when businesses could reopen when he issued the lockdown order late last year. Critics say it was a reaction to a strengthening recall campaign being mounted by his political opponents.

Reacting is never a good strategy. In fact, it’s not even bad strategy, because when you react, you are abandoning strategic thinking entirely.

Unfortunately, a lot of leaders are reacting these days, rather than thinking their way through this crisis.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has done nothing but react, with government policies sometimes changing by the day. Nor is Newsom alone in abandoning a...

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Resolve to be a Thinking Leader in 2021

Jan 14, 2021

I have said it before: Bad leaders react, good leaders plan and great leaders think. And right now, we need thinking leaders like never before.

Why?

Because most of the problems we now face – as companies, as organizations, as countries and as a world – are not scientific problems, technical problems or medical problems. They are problems that require leadership to solve, and they have been made worse by bad leadership, or by a lack of leadership entirely.

The shameful events that occurred this week in Washington offer a powerful – and painful – example of the consequences of bad leadership, and it will take a lot of great leadership from politicians on all sides of the political aisle to undo the damage that the past four years have done to America’s democracy. That will require some very deep thinking indeed.

The present pandemic is another case in point.

There is no mystery about how to get COVID-19 under control. A...

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UPS Is Becoming A Victim Of Its Own Success

Dec 16, 2020

Sometimes, success can be devastating.


Just look at what is happening to United Parcel Service Inc. right now: In the past two weeks, I’ve had two perishable food orders, well, perish because the delivery company failed to deliver them on time. Other nonperishable orders have also been delayed.

And I am not alone.

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that UPS failed to deliver nearly one in 10 packages on time last week. Worse, the Journal said the struggling company has ordered its drivers to stop picking up packages at six of the nation’s largest retailers: Macy’s Inc., Gap Inc., L.L. Bean Inc., Nike Inc., Newegg Inc. and Hot Topic Inc. until further notice.


There is an important lesson in this for all businesses: Managing success can be just as critical as managing failure.

 

Be careful of what you wish for

The pandemic has dramatically accelerated the shift that was already underway from in-person retail to online e-tail,...

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The Key to Making Good Decisions Faster is Optionality

Dec 07, 2020

Today, we all recognize the need for speed. The world moves fast, and assumptions that were true yesterday may not be true tomorrow. New competitors, new threats and new opportunities are emerging every day.

This new reality of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – a.k.a. VUCA – has demonstrated the limitations of Industrial Age approaches to strategy and planning. That has led some to adopt more iterative approaches. That is a good thing. But it has led others to adopt a more reckless approach to decision making, and that can cause real harm.

Consider Facebook, which adopted the motto “move fast and break things” as its mantra. Facebook did just that, and while that approach led to some amazing, world-changing innovations, the things the company broke along the way were precious: productivity, privacy and democracy.

A lot of other companies that have followed Facebook’s motto have only hurt themselves – well themselves, their...

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U.S. Army Moves To Close Red Teaming University

Oct 30, 2020

The U.S. Army has decided to shutter the University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies, a.k.a. “Red Teaming University,” ending one of the most revolutionary experiments in applied critical thinking and effectively pulling the plug on red teaming in the American military.

“Effective 1 October 2021, the Army will defund the University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies (UFMCS) and repurpose our $2.5 million for other priorities. As a result, the Army, and the Department of Defense at large, will no longer possesses the ability to train and educate Red Teamers,” said the school’s director, Mark French, in a statement sent to me by UFMCS Friday. “At this stage, UFMCS leadership has exhausted the avenues for reconsideration.”

This cost-cutting move, necessitated in part by the Trump Administration’s absurd decision to steal money from the Pentagon to pay for a worthless wall on a tiny stretch of the...

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