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 anything until you've identified the one option that’s demonstrably better than the others is a recipe for paralysis,” Klein said. “People like to identify a course of action and then firmly commit to it. That makes them insensitive to anomalies and subtle cues that are early indicators that they’re going in a non-productive direction.”
Instead, he said...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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.
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...
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.
The pandemic has dramatically accelerated the shift that was already underway from in-person retail to online e-tail,...
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...
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...
I recently asked a prospective client an important question: Why do you pay your consultants more than your executives?
If you are a senior leader at a large company, it’s a question you should be asking yourself, too.
The corporation in question paid millions of dollars last year to one of the Big Four consulting firms, ostensibly for “strategy development.”
“Yet, you have more than 300 employees who have the word strategy in their job title,” I pointed out. “How does that make sense? Have you hired the wrong people? Do they lack the right tools? Or do you not trust them to make the right strategic choices?”
I wasn’t trying to be a smartass. I really wanted to know – because I have seen the same thing at many of the large corporations I work with, and it baffles me.
Maybe it’s because I didn’t go to business school and have never been a corporate executive. I spent the first half of my professional...