Strategic ThinkingDuring my career, I had the opportunity to work under two different Harvard MBA’s, (coincidentally both were females).  Both of these Harvard MBA’s intellect were far superior to almost everyone I ever known, yet I still wonder if they rose to the pinnacle of their career due to their intelligence, their education, or their ability to think strategically far and above the ‘rest’ of us.

However, during my tenure under these Harvard MBA’s, I felt almost invisible, and became little more than a statistic.  I also found that from this experience and as I went my about my career, as the proposals ended up in a pile, my only acknowledgement was an occasional raise- usually once per year. More often than not, I sensed that my individuality and input became buried.

Jack Welch (former Chairman of GE) called this feeling of anonymity “being in the pile,” and he recommended thinking as the means of escape. Most people go with the ‘herd’ doing what’s asked of them but not much more. In Welch’s estimation, the key to elevating your business is to go above and beyond expectations whenever someone asks you question or you have a customer or employee complaint.

As Jack Welch wrote, “If you understand that the question is only the beginning, you will get out of the pile fast, because 99.9 percent of all employees are in the pile because they don’t think. If you understand this principle, you will always be given more critical questions to answer. And in time, you will be the one giving out the questions to others!”

I would like to offer five ways to begin thinking your way to the top.

Where to think . . .

Today’s work environment is incredibly fast-paced and fraught with demands and huge workloads. Unless you’re deliberately get away from the noise of day-to-day operations, you will never break free. The first step to getting out of the pile is giving yourself permission to disconnect. You have to get away from all the daily challenges by retreating to a space free of any and all interruptions. Initially, you might think that scheduling this time feels incredibly unproductive. However, this is the only way and the beginning to gaining perspective to working smarter and more strategically.

Shape your thoughts . . .

In the beginning most ideas lack clarity. Our initial ideas are unclear due to the clutter in our mind. As a leader, challenge yourself to translate your gut feelings into distinct ideas and plans, which you can document and articulate to your team. Next, strategic ideas never come fully formed. As a leader, your job is to test your ideas by asking critical questions. Does the idea proceed from reasonable assumptions? Does the idea align with the mission, core values and strategic vision of the organization? Does the idea make sense given the structure and strengths/weaknesses of the organization? Lastly, thoughts spring into existence with huge possibilities. However, they must undergo tests. For instance, how would the idea actually take shape in your organization? What would it cost to pursue? How long would it take to implement? What significant changes (positive and negative) would impact the business?

Stretch your thoughts . . .

Throughout my career, some of the best ideas have come from others. Many times my ideas start out small until we got ahold of them and found ways to stretch them to their maximum potential. Isolated leaders never obtain as much influence as those who surround themselves with an inner circle of key advisors.

Land your thoughts . . .

Before an idea can take shape, it must take on a concrete existence. The number one question to ask when landing or implementing an idea is: Who will own it? Who will champion the idea and push it forward? A leader must prepare the way for the idea to touch down safely. This means winning the support of your team and communicating clearly with those most likely to be impacted by the idea’s implementation.

Fly your thoughts . . .

If you wanted to fly an airplane, you would begin by taking lessons from an instructor.  To fly an idea, you first need to learn from an instructor or a practice flight. Testing your idea on a small scale will expose weaknesses before a major launch. Sometimes the flaws are fixable, and the idea can be reworked. On rare occasions, you may even have an idea that tests out brilliantly on the first attempt. However, other ideas are not feasible in real life and ought to be scrapped. A practice flight confirms that an idea can actually withstand the challenges of real-world application.



Woman stressWharton management professor Ethan Mollick has a message for knowledge-based companies: Pay closer attention to your middle managers. They may have a greater impact on company performance than almost any other part of the organization.

In other words, says Mollick, “the often overlooked and sometimes-maligned middle managers matter. They are not interchangeable parts in an organization.” His view upends the long-held belief that performance differences between firms are due mainly to organizational factors – such as business strategy, management systems and HR practices — rather than to differences among employees.

The importance of individual skills and characteristics can be especially significant when measuring firm performance in industries and fields that value innovation, like computer games, software, consulting, biotech and marketing, according to Mollick, who recently completed a paper on this topic titled, “People and Process: Suits and Innovators: Individuals and Firm Performance.” It is in these knowledge-intensive industries where variation in the abilities of middle managers – the “suits” he refers to in his paper — has a “particularly large impact on firm performance, much larger than that of individuals who are assigned innovative roles,” he says.

The influence these suits exert, he suggests, stems from their key role in project management, including such tasks as resource allocation and supervision of deadlines – responsibilities often perceived as the bureaucratic, more routine and less glamorous side of the business. Middle managers also can play a key role in fostering innovative and creative environments.

A Look at the Gaming Industry

One challenge Mollick faced in his research was a lack of studies that measured the relative contribution of middle managers vs. innovators. He addressed that gap by analyzing the computer game industry, which not only is typical of many knowledge-driven industries, but also “represents a case where the tension between the firm and the individual should be at its most visible.” The industry, he notes, is populated by companies that are relatively established, have clear product strategies and yet depend to a great extent on the “innovative output of key individuals.” In addition, he writes in his paper, “success in the game industry relies not just on managers in charge of innovation, but also on project managers capable of organizing dozens of programmers and coordinating budgets that often reach into the tens of millions of dollars.”

He does not include top managers in his analysis although his paper cites an earlier study showing that the impact of CEOs, CFOs and other top-level executives on large firms is limited. Indeed, these top positions explain less than 5% of the variation in firm performance among Fortune 800 companies – a finding that Mollick says is in line with other research in this area. In large, established organizations, “the top managers, at least, account for relatively little of why some companies perform better than others.”

Mollick acknowledges that top management plays a significant role in setting the overall direction of the company. “But they don’t have a big part in deciding which individual projects are selected and how they are run. At least for the computer game industry – and no doubt for a lot of knowledge-based industries – it is all about the middle managers.”

His research differentiates knowledge-based companies from traditional industries where “economies of scale are critical, such as manufacturing, and where there seems to be little need to take individuals into account to explain performance.” Toyota is an example. “With a six-layered bureaucracy, cross-trained workers and clearly delineated departments, Toyota built a manufacturing powerhouse that integrates workers in a complex mechanism to produce cars efficiently,” Mollick writes. “Individual workers are ultimately replaceable and interchangeable with others who have received the same extensive training.” The process “does not rely on any individual worker’s skills but rather firm-level processes to hire and train the appropriate individuals for the appropriate roles.”

Emerging industries, however, rely more on knowledge and innovation than on process and assembly lines. Given that model, what can be said about the effect of individual middle managers on firm performance? A number of studies suggest that “their success is heavily dependent on the structure of the organizations … and their impact on performance is determined by firm structure and culture, rather than individual differences.” Mollick’s analysis of the game industry comes up with a different conclusion.

Good Skills Are Portable

In describing the focus of his research, Mollick notes that within the game industry, each game has a team of creators — including designers, programmers and artists — who work for firms of varying sizes. “Because accurate credits at both the individual and firm level are available for many games developed within the industry, it is possible to trace precisely both the individuals and firms responsible for innovation and entrepreneurship within the industry,” Mollick writes.

The game industry can be broken down into producers – similar to project managers in the software industry – and designers. A producer (middle manager) has to ensure that the project meets its deadline, gets the right resources and conforms to industry standards. He or she must communicate effectively with the rest of the company and with outside vendors such as promoters and public relations firms, among other responsibilities. The designer (innovator), by contrast, comes up with ideas and helps the development team turn the idea into a game, paying attention to story lines and characters, but also to logic, sequence and interaction. The producers fill the managerial roles, and the designers fill the innovative roles, according to Mollick, who focused his research on PC games as opposed to console games like those that run on the Nintendo, Xbox or Sony systems.

Using a Multiple Membership Cross-Classified Multilevel Model (MMCC) analysis of 854 games across multiple companies, he measured, over 12 years, “how performance changes as you combine different people in different companies in different ways.” He uses the revenue of each company, controlling for costs, to measure firm performance.

The games he analyzed accounted for about $4 billion of revenue and included 537 individual producers, 739 individual designers and 395 companies. With the MMCC model, he was able to determine which project success was due to individual designers as opposed to producers or the firms.

Mollick found that it was middle managers, rather than innovators or company strategy, who best explained the differences in firm performance. Managers accounted for 22.3% of the variation in revenue among projects, as opposed to just over 7% explained by innovators and 21.3% explained by the organization itself – including firm strategy, leadership and practices. “Far from being interchangeable,” Mollick writes, “individuals uniquely contribute to the success or failure of a firm…. Additionally, even in a young industry that rewards creative and innovative products, innovative roles explain far less variation in firm performance than do managers.”

Or, as Mollick later writes: “High-performing innovators alone are not enough to generate performance variation; rather, it is the role of individual managers to integrate and coordinate the innovative work of others.” So while innovators may come up with new games and new concepts, managers play the more crucial role of deciding which ideas are actually given resources. It is this “selection ability” that Mollick measures.

The best managers are able to work closely with the innovators to turn their ideas into realistic project plans, he adds, and they are effective at motivating the team and facilitating “collective creativity.”

In order to see if these skills were portable, Mollick re-examined the data, looking only at individuals who moved between companies. He found that middle managers who switched employers had an even larger impact on performance than those who remained within organizations. “This is not about a person being a good fit in just one specific organization. Their skills are useful anywhere.” It’s more evidence that managers are not “cogs in a machine. There is something innate in them that makes them good at what they do.”

Beyond Dilbert

“It’s amazing that the effect of these middle managers on a project is not only larger than the creative people, but larger than the rest of the organization,” Mollick says. “We tend to think of companies as all about systems and not enough about people.” He suggests that companies pay more attention to filling middle levels of management, figuring out who the best ones are and rewarding them appropriately.

Middle managers, he adds, “have a tough job.” They are managing a finite set of resources, they don’t have control over everyone’s actions, they can frustrate people around them who are not interested in changing direction when necessary, and they must go in a direction – even if it’s an unpopular one — that ensures the project’s success. Finally, the project has to fit in with the goals of the company. “It’s always easy to think about the worst manager you have had, the ones you see in the Dilbert cartoons,” Mollick says. “But it’s important to recognize the vital role these middle managers play in making sure that information flows and that creativity happens.”


Follow leadDefine leadership. Now redefine it in terms of YOU!

What is interesting about recent articles and books written  about leadership, seemingly all these have been written by people who are no longer leaders. Yet, these authors routinely write as if they are ‘Monday Quarterbacking’ for today’s leaders under fire to adopt their “former leader” direction.

A recent article by one of these ’former leaders’ included  key points, one of these point was that “clarity is the antidote of anxiety”; therefore “clarity” is the main concern of the effective leader. What???

If you’re a leader, and clarity is your main concern, nothing important must be going on in your business.

During our Mentoring Sessions, we discover that leadership is multifaceted. There is no “one” concern more powerful than the other, therefore they are all important. So, what is more important here:  lead by example, get the ‘buy- in’ of the team, achievement of the strategic plan, management of the sale process, watching the bottom line, continual excellence of performance, management of the KPI’s,  absolute ‘open door’ communication, or fulfillment of the employees in the company?  All of these are far more important than “clarity.”

“Clarity is the antidote of anxiety.”  If a leader has anxiety, the first step would be to discover what is causing it, and then take the necessary action to eliminate or change it. Being “clear” is another phrase coined by another ’former leader’ to sell books.  Furthermore, it is a meaningless as “added value” or “on purpose” or “focus.” Just empty leadership-created words and phrases.

If you are the leader, boss, or manager, you need to sharpen the real-world skills you need to be a true leader.  These skills are the leadership qualities needed to succeed: the action items, principles, and skills to employ so leadership works. So it works for you, your people, your customers, your vendors, and your company-in that order.

But there are degrees of leadership effectiveness. Your ability to master these leadership skills are in direct proportion to your ability to lead. If you are looking for ‘clarity’, look no further than these skills:

  • Develop respect from your people and to respect you. If the leaders are not respected they are eventually overthrown-or fired. If a non-respected leader cannot be fired, people will quit.
  • Make sure your people and their jobs are a “fit.” Remember . . . Right Person, Right Seat, Right Bus.
  • Let your people share their goals. Part of the Strategic Plan is the common goal of the people and the leader.  When people set their own goals, they can achieve them, and they ‘own’ them.
  • Give your people specific responsibilities and clear direction. Everyone needs to fully understand their responsible. And make sure they see the big picture and how their part fits into it.
  • Create an environment in which people love their work and their workplace. Make the workplace fun.
  • Make sure all “money matters” are clear. Do not mess with employees’ money. And worse, do not reduce pay or commissions to cut costs. Pay fairly, benefit well, and provide security. Otherwise people will leave.
  • Make sure paychecks are accurate. People count their money and count on it. Nothing hurts morale more than wrong paychecks.
  • Encourage your people. The most effective leaders are coaches. They stand on the sidelines and cheer for their players.
  • Praise your people.  When is the last time you praised someone for their hard work? Praise effort publicly. Praise accomplishment. Often.

By your actions and your achievements-be their hero. If you want them to become dedicated players, your people need to see your dedication. If you are the one driving the bus and making big things happen, you will become a hero to those who respect your ethics and accomplishments.

So what is wrong with this statement?  “You don’t have to be liked, you just have to be respected.” People want to work for people they like AND respect, otherwise they will work for someone else.


So . . . Lead, Follow, or get the Heck out of the way. If you are the leader, and you are not following the above rules, you don’t have to worry about getting out of the way, because your best people will run away from you.


Leader 3There is a huge difference between being an effective Manager and a Leader.  If you consider yourself a leader, or are interested in becoming one, you must first understand that becoming an effective leader is a process, one that never ends. Here’s a few tips (actually 82 of them) to guide you on your journey to becoming a better Leader.

Planning & Strategy

•Understand what the core principles of being a leader are. It’s not about power, but rather about vision, mission, core values, direction and setting the standard for others to follow.

•There are different ways of managing people.  So what is your leadership style?

•As a leader you are constantly studying and getting more information to continually improve.

•As you build your business, know how to maintain it and prevent serious failures in the business and the team.

•Constantly analyze and improve the process and systems.

•Be prepared in the event of a ‘disaster’. Have a plan ready and be ready to recover from it and move on.

•Keep ‘garbage’ out of your trash cans and out of your employees heads.

Team Building

•Know how to identify, recruit, hire and train exceptional employees.

•Having a standardized interviewing process, which means asking the right questions to find the persons core values and work ethic.

•Constantly building trust in your team and your team trusting you.

•Develop and effectively communicate your vision.

•Having your team ‘Own’ the companies goals and vision.

•Interdependence – making sure your employees are sharing responsible principles.

•Mentoring your team by being a strong positive role model.

•Improve yourself by being influenced and studying great leaders.

•Control the culture and core values of your organization and never stray nor sacrifice these.


•Never sacrifice ethics in the workplace as well as your company’s image in your industry.

•Develop strong public speaking abilities to get the message across to larger groups.

•Keep your employees up-to-date with things they need to know.

•Command your own body language and your team members as well.

•Improve your proactive and effective listening skills.

•Speak clearly and concisely using economies of words.

•Proactively deal with difficult situations and set the standard.

Build Trust & Confidence

•Clearly understand and communicate the definition of Trust.

•Believe in your team, and work hard to find the good in all your team members.

•Be open minded to accepting new people, new concepts and ideas into your life.

•Be credible and real by showing vulnerability.

•Be prepared to face your fears, only then can your empower yourself and others.

•Know and understand your positive characteristics and when to use them.

•Know, understand and work hard to improve your weak characteristic and shortcomings.

•Take a look outside yourself and see how others perceive you.

•Set the standards for confidence and charisma and others will be drawn to you.

Time Management

•Set goals to get you focused on getting important things done first.

•Have an action plan to achieve those goals.

•Stop procrastinating. Remember you can only manage yourself not Time.

•Know when and how to delegate work.

•Get rid of any and all kinds of distractions while working.

•Keep track of your life by writing things down.

•Keep a schedule and stick to it.

•Know your bad habits and how to break them.

Being Responsible

•Be responsible for all your actions, words and deeds.

•Be responsible and never deviate from your culture, core values, mission statement, name, brand, and company.

•Practice what you preach.

DWYSYWD (Do What You Say You Will Do)

•You must always be aware of what you’re saying and what your not saying. Does the listener get the message you were trying to communicate?

•Create responsible employees, but also be responsible for their actions.

•Assume responsibility, even when it is not your fault.

•Take care of your health. If you don’t care for yourself, why would anyone think you care at all?

•Teach responsibility to others, including your children.

•Surround yourself with the best and brightest team.

Continuous On-Going Learning and Improvement

•Continuously build your leadership skills by reading management and leadership books.

•Keep a leadership blog to document your learning’s.

•Attend management seminars.

•Find yourself a Mentor; shared wisdom proves to be priceless.

•Learn from your employees and associates.

•Embrace new technology, it only makes smarter.

•Understand and learn from yourself. And, don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself.

Become a role model

•Maintain a positive mental attitude- when times are tough, you need to be tougher.

•Great leaders exude strength before power.

•Lead by example in all matters.

•Demonstrate small and large acts of chivalry.

•Treat customers and co-workers with respect.

•Always dress for success.

•Set the standard for the office.

•Always encourage and nurture others; they will encourage and nurture you back.

•Be calm and exhibit patience in all your efforts.

•Know how to properly manage disappointments, both inside and outside of work.

•Value and cherish all life.

Being Real

•Show your employees and customers, that you care about them.

•Know that it’s okay to share your emotions from time to time.

•Allow people to see your shortcomings, for no one is perfect.

•The truth will set you free, so never lie to your employees about what’s going on.

•Don’t be afraid to put your foot down and redirect employees actions and attitudes when necessary.

•Look and learn from your employee’s vantage point.

•Promote job “ownership”.

•For everybody’s sake, make sure you have a life outside of work.

•Have fun at work! It will show.

Pay it Back

•You and your business donate to charity.

•Start your own charity or benefit.

•Help your employees learn, grow and develop.

•Good leadership means sharing your knowledge and mentoring those around you.

•Recognize exceptional performances and reward publicly.

•Use your skills and knowledge to write a book.