LEADING THE ENTERPRISE! …the six surprising shifts you need to make now

At some point in our careers most of us have said to ourselves: “I want it all. I want to run the whole business.” Our minds come alive with thoughts of the freedom, the rewards and the recognition that come with this role. So, you finally do have it all; you are leading the enterprise. Now what?

As much as I believe that leadership is everyone’s business, I also believe that not all leadership is the same. Throughout the course of your management career, you have likely made several significant shifts in your approach to leadership but none as dramatic as that required when you become the leader of the enterprise. You are now not just responsible for a team, a function or even a huge division; you are now responsible for the business itself. And this is no small thing. Shareholders put their precious assets in your hands, employees count on you so they can pay their mortgages, and customers expect amazing products and service.

Enterprise leadership is a very, very difficult, often unrewarding endeavor. Your job is to create value out of a cluster of diverse, moving pieces while shareholders are demanding extraordinary returns, employees are demanding extraordinary careers, and customers are demanding extraordinary attention. All of this needs to be accomplished in an unforgiving marketplace surrounded by government agents with voracious appetites for taxes, regulations and power. Clarke and Crossland must have been speaking to enterprise leaders in The Leader’s Voice when they said: “Some will judge you unfairly, blaming you for their lack of success. Others will expect resources you cannot give, answers that you do not have, and permission that you cannot grant. You will be misquoted. Your judgment will be questioned. You will certainly stumble. Failure will stalk you like a predator. The toughest problems will be yours alone. You must take responsibility for the failures and give credit for the successes. Lose the fantasy that you will be cherished, immortalized and revered. Expect long hours and few moments of gratitude.” In short, you now have enormous responsibility for which you will never be fully compensated, you will be blamed for many things that are not your fault, and a big part of your job is to make sure everyone else gets the credit for your best work. Welcome to enterprise leadership!

It is clear that when you step up to lead the enterprise, you need to be on your very best game. Here are the six, somewhat surprising shifts that you absolutely must make to effectively lead the enterprise.

While you won’t read about these in any best-selling leadership books or in Harvard Business Review, these are the critical differentiators that separate the winners from the losers.

Shift #1: Immediately declare independence.
You were selected for this job because you have the unique ability to pull together a constellation of disparate entities (people, resources, opportunities) and create and execute a winning business model. Sure… take advice, learn from others, but remember that it’s your job alone to create a fresh, winning business model. If your boss had the answers, you wouldn’t be needed. Have the faith and audacity to believe that the very best thinking is going to come from you. A good place to start is to ask yourself the question: “How can we do what’s never been done before?” Be cautious of all those well-meaning folks who will exhort you to “think more strategically.” These are the code words often used by senior executives when they really mean “think more like me.” Ignore your boss. He or she may serve as a good coach and mentor but the job of creating a winning business model is yours alone.

Shift #2: Disregard the financials.
Whoa! Before you stop reading, think about all the inane, value-destroying work you used to do to satisfy some executive’s insatiable desire for financial reports. Remember when you swore that, if you ever had the authority, you would allow people to direct all that wasted effort into real work? In any event, if you are really doing your job, you will be consumed by only two activities: marketing and organization development. Marketing is really all about creating value in the marketplace and organization development is about creating the people systems that will extract that value. Spend every ounce of time and effort on marketing and organization development; others can look after the numbers. Sure, you can drive your people to deliver the target EBITDA, revenue or market share…but you will lose tremendous value in the process. Your organization will contort itself, turn itself upside down and burn extraordinary energy to deliver these numbers for you. Month after month. Quarter after quarter. Year after year. Don’t go down that road. Tremendous value will be lost in the journey. Choose the better path.

Shift #3: Don’t delegate anything.
For all the years you’ve been a manager, someone has likely been encouraging you to delegate, delegate and delegate some more. It’s time to stop this outdated, paternalistic practice. Think about what it must feel like to do “delegated” work rather than work that is uniquely yours. Even cool delegated work has a paternalistic flavor to it. Stop delegating and start building big jobs, enormous jobs for everyone. Build jobs that are so big the incumbents get dizzy just thinking about them. Your job? Well, you get everything that is left over. Your job description is defined by the work that can’t be done by others; both the crumbs and the excruciatingly complex.

Shift #4: Stop making nice.
You likely are completely unaware of the fact that you have been conditioned over the years to get along with others, be predictable, play nice with your colleagues. Don’t rock the boat, don’t confront others and for heaven’s sake, be a team player. Until now, you’ve spent much of your career placating others and trying to be well-liked. Stop it. Treat people with great dignity and respect but, at the same time, challenge them to step up to a bigger game. Set stretch goals for everyone. Look for the best in people and hold them accountable to be just that. Take no prisoners. No one gets a free pass. Be generous in giving others the feedback they really need to hear. Remember, you have spent your entire career successfully taking tension out of the system. Your job has changed. Now you need to inject tension into the system every chance you get. Triple expectations. Reorganize. Name elephants. Rotate jobs. Confront waste. Eliminate products. Bring in customers. Promote weirdos and zealots. Push your organization to the edge; that’s where high performance lives.

Shift #5: Play to your weaknesses.
I appreciate that this sounds like heresy in our strengths-based world, but please hear me out. Everyone is telling you to identify your strengths and ignore your weaknesses. The problem is that you have likely maxed out these strengths and you need to find another gear. You now have an enormous job. A bevy of stakeholders is counting on you to do something special. You need more. More skills, more competencies, more talents. I agree with John Gardner when he said that “Most human talent goes undiscovered.” It’s time to start claiming your hidden talents because you need to quickly find over-drive. Have a quiet, no-holds-barred conversation with yourself. Many of your so-called weaknesses are likely talents that you have not yet developed. Not very innovative? Get creative. Not very political? Get connected. Not very empathetic? Start listening. Not very visionary? Start dreaming. Find those talents that you have been holding in exile and get them in the game. Now.

Shift #6: Assume that you are wrong.
This might be the toughest thing you need to do. You will likely have done the best you could to create a winning business plan, but you are definitely wrong… to some degree. When you recognize this, you will be taking the first big step towards becoming the most prized of all leaders: the learner. You will see market opportunities before they exist, you will see landmines before they are laid. If you assume you are on the right path, you will ignore the small, often subtle signs suggesting an untraveled, more fertile path. It’s human nature to protect our plans. Be strong enough to see these signs. Be strong enough to bend. This will separate you from the pack of also-rans. The enterprise needs leaders who can learn more and faster than others. Sadly, most cannot make this switch, choosing instead the comfort of their well-thought-out assumptions, models and ideas.

At this point you are likely asking yourself two questions: “Am I up to this?” and “Is it worth it?” Most assuredly: yes and yes. Every day I see ordinary people like us (who account for 99% of all leaders) do extraordinary things when they are called upon to lead the enterprise. Without exception, these are leaders who recognize that they have just entered a brave new world and need to make a major shift to a brave new approach to leadership. And it is very much worth it. To know in your heart-of-hearts that you have created a thriving enterprise that profits everyone it touches may be the greatest reward you will ever receive. We will all thank you for making the shift!

Gregg Thompson is President of Bluepoint Leadership Development
and author of several books, including “Unleashed: Leader As Coach.” You can visit Bluepoint’s website at www.bluepointleadership.com and Gregg welcomes your comments via email at greggthompson@bluepointleadership.com