Episode 11 of THE THINKING LEADER PODCAST featuring Bryce Hoffman, is now live! Click here to listen.

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.


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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Why Do You Pay Your Consultants More Than Your Executives?

Oct 27, 2020

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...

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Use The COVID-19 Crisis To Make Your Business Better

May 19, 2020

It is easy at times like this for leaders to become paralyzed by fear, uncertainty and doubt. But great leaders know that crises such as the present pandemic present unique opportunities to rethink their businesses and figure out how to do what they do better.

Consider Boeing – not the Boeing of today, led ham-fistedly by the latest in a series of uninspiring GE alums whose only strategy seems to be using the coronavirus as a convenient excuse to get the American taxpayers to bail out a company that was already nosediving into bankruptcy before anyone started coughing in Wuhan, but the Boeing of 2001, whose commercial aircraft group was led by that exemplar of authentic leadership, Alan Mulally.

Boeing was in bad shape when Mulally was promoted to CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes back in 2001, even before terrorists turned four of its planes into flying bombs. It had been locked in a dogfight with Airbus for years. Mulally had managed to get the Europeans in his sights...

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Stop Lying To Yourself About The Coronavirus

Mar 25, 2020

This week, Apple Inc. became one of the first major corporations to issue a warning to investors about the negative impact of the coronavirus, demonstrating again the sort of transparency and responsiveness that has made it one of the most admired companies in the world. Meanwhile, the fact that so few other companies have followed Apple’s lead highlights one of the biggest challenges facing corporations today: telling the truth.

When I say companies have a hard time telling the truth, I don’t mean they are lying to their customers, to regulators or to investors; I mean they are lying to themselves.

While it is still too early just how big an impact the coronavirus will have on either the global economy or individual companies, it is already clear that it will not be negligible. Supply chains are already being disrupted. Consumer activity in China is already slowing. And Apple is not the only company that is going to feel the impact.


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The Coronavirus Pandemic Is Why Businesses Need Red Teaming

Mar 20, 2020

If you are a corporate leader anywhere in the world right now, I’m guessing you’ve dusted off your business continuity plan, read it and found it woefully wanting. That is because most of us, when planning for “worst case scenarios,” are unable to conceive of just how bad things could get.

Cognitive psychologists have a term for this: normalcy bias. And it’s just the sort of thing red teaming was designed to overcome.

As I describe in my book of the same name, decision support red teaming was born in the crucible of 9/11 when what was subsequently described as a systemic “failure of imagination” by U.S. intelligence agencies opened the door for the worst terrorist attack in American history.

The CIA was one of the agencies that dropped the ball. But not for long.

As they were still pulling victims out of the ruins of the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet was setting up a group within the...

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