You may have noticed that there's a landscape to leadership. Hills to climb, rivers to ford, blighted landscapes to endure and glorious heights to scale. Unexpected competition, failed product launches, opening new offices, battling legislation--sometimes it feels like we're hacking through the jungle with only the vaguest idea of what's coming next.
And, unlike real-world treks, there's no GPS to clearly, calmly, assuredly guide us through the leadership landscape. Heck, even the destination isn't clear most of the time. Instead, we spend a lot of our time as business leaders nosing down a foggy river, just about seeing the next bend as it hoves into view, with little idea what might meet us on the other side.
What does the future hold? What are our chances of success? Will this strategy or that tactic actually work in practice? As business leaders, to be brutally frank, often we just don't know (no matter how definitive or confident we portray ourselves to be). As it says on those parts of old maps that attempted to sketch the unexplored, unknown parts of the world, 'here be dragons'.
Put another way, success as a business leader ultimately comes down to coping with what you don't know you don't know (unlike business management, which is about dealing with what you know you don't know).
So, without a GPS, how does a business leader go about driving out the dragons--filling in the blank spots in the road ahead? Here are the five most powerful places I see prescient business leaders go to:
1. One level down.
Don't just talk to your trusted lieutenants. Talk regularly to those that report to them, one level down. They're further out on the journey--they're the folks actually at the front line, dealing already with what's around the next bend.
Yes, you'll have to quell your trusted lieutenant's fears that you're going behind their back and checking up on them, but you'll find a way to do so--after all, that's why you're their leader.
2. In your supply chain.
Think of your supply chain as sherpas. They are, by definition, further along the journey than you.
Do you have a supply chain council? If not, why not? You don't have to give it such a grandiose title--you don't have to call it anything at all--but absent regular consultation with your supply chain about the overall state of your industry, you're almost willfully giving up high quality market intelligence.
3. Recently departed employees.
No, don't institute an 'exit interview' process--doing so will drain any hope of gathering genuinely useful information--just sit down with folks who are leaving (especially high performers), and ask them this simple question: "What do you know about our business that I don't?"
Assuming you have even minimal skill at putting people at ease and getting them to talk, you'll be stunned by what you hear. I guarantee it.
4. Inside your competition.
Most business leaders have the same attitude to understanding their competitors as my mother did to doctors--rarely go near them, and never ask them anything, because what you hear might scare you.
Prescient business leaders--those who can see round corners--know that their competitors likely know much that they don't. They study them, intently. So should you.
Don't sweat it--just list the top three competitors you know of, pick one, and spend a month gathering every single scrap of intelligence you can. Then the next. Then the next. If you don't know your leadership landscape better at the end of this process, you're not asking the right questions.
5. In silence and meditation.
It's not that most of us don't sit and think enough, it's that most of us don't sit and think. You're not 'most of us', right?
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