Today’s guest post is by Donald Van de Mark, author of The Good Among the Great: 19 Traits of the Most Admirable, Creative, and Joyous People. You should go buy a copy of his book by CLICKING HERE. It’s good reading. Here’s Donald:
After over 20 years of interviewing some of the top business leaders in the world, I have learned that nimble business leadership requires acute reality recognition – the ability to accurately perceive the business climate in which your organization operates.
No less a business icon than Charlie Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, says that the one quality that he and Warren Buffett look for when hiring CEOs is “reality recognition.” Perceiving reality may seem like a pedestrian task but it’s not – for any of us. And when you’re at the top of an organization with hundreds of messages coming at you daily, practicing it takes daily discipline.
In my experience, the most realistic business leaders share key qualities. Andy Grove, cofounder of Intel, is one such case study. I interviewed Grove when he was CEO of the microprocessor giant. In the 1980s and early 1990s he bet his company on the rise of a device hardly anyone believed would become commonplace – the personal computer.
How did Grove come by this seemingly magical, predictive understanding of where the market was going, and how did he fortify himself to take the necessary risks to lead his company one step ahead of the future? Here are five tips I’ve learned from my interview with him:
Listen to People Who “Need” to Speak to You
Though you can’t take meetings with everyone in your company who has an opinion, some people will want to communicate with you more than others. Grove recommends you “make yourself available to be influenced by people who want to influence you, who need to influence you.”
When you’re CEO or president, almost everyone in your organization will want to influence you. The people who need to influence you are different. They may not be in your everyday path, but they are in a position to see what you cannot see. They feel a need to communicate with you because what they know is important or otherwise unknown. They sense that their knowledge is telling, disturbing or simply doesn’t fit with the beliefs you or your organization have. These individuals may be new to you, far down the organizational ladder or naturally reticent, but they are agitated because they have information that is salient.
Put yourself in their path. One way is to have an open-door policy, or even better – no door. Grove worked out of a cubicle amongst other engineers and he ate in the cafeteria, always alert to those who felt a need to influence him.
Absorb Data Like a Pollster
To recognize reality before others, Grove stresses open-minded observing, listening and the “absorption” of data. Gather and assess data the way a pollster does. Listen to answers and opinions only when they’re repeated a certain number of times or with a certain level of intensity. Allow information to reach a critical mass – a tipping point – before you decide to act upon it.
Conduct Product and Market Experiments
How do you refine your business in response to new data if there’s a mass of information to evaluate in a limited amount of time?
Grove says, “When your business environment changes and your business structure changes and your business model changes, there won’t be facts for a while. You have to build up those facts by doing business experiments, starting new businesses – new introductions, new products, new markets – and moving down along the hypothetical paths to gather data. And then refine your strategy. Refine your approach based on the data that you acquire.”
If you take these tactics into consideration, you’ll find that refining your business in a time crunch is possible.
Act More Decisive Than You Feel
When time has run out to make a strategic decision (and it always seems to), but you at least sense – and “sense” is the operative word – that you have the beginnings of pattern recognition, just enough data to point you in the right direction, then how do you move forward?
Grove says that you must project confidence “because you have to lead people into uncertainty. And the only thing that you have to lead them with is your own convictions and your own credibility. To have people led, you sometimes have to act more confident than you really are… when you are kind of lost, the leader has to take certain personal risks.”
When I asked Grove if projecting more confidence than you felt was the same as “faking it,” he shook his head.
“Faking it is too strong. You really have to believe in the direction; otherwise, you won’t be able to lead people in that way. But you may have to act more decisive than you really feel.”
Leadership means going first. Standing still, settling for the status quo or even pushing others in front of you is not an option.
Remember That the Risk of Inaction Is Often Higher Than Action
Taking risks can be difficult, but as Grove points out, “for every action that has a risk associated with it, there’s a countervailing risk associated with not taking the action.”
Grove learned this lesson in life as much as in business. As a university student, he escaped Hungary, then part of the Soviet bloc, just ahead of an advancing Red Army. If he’d been caught, he would have languished in the gulag. But had he played it “safe” and stayed, he’d have languished under communism.
Twelve years before that, the Nazis deported his father to a slave labor camp. The young Grove and his mother were left to fend for themselves. His mother carefully weighed the risks of staying put or running. All they knew and trusted was nearby – in their home, their neighborhood. But she also understood that the risk of inaction – staying put at a time when Jews were being rounded up – was greater than leaving everything behind, including their identities. So they fled.
You may never face Nazis or the Red Army. But you can certainly benefit from the techniques that the best leaders employ: listening to those who want and need to influence you, absorbing and analyzing data, conducting tests in the marketplace, acting more decisive than you feel and recognizing that inaction is often riskier than action.
Then when you are ready, or more likely, when you’re unable to postpone action any longer, move forward with confidence, maybe more than you may feel, and you will lead. You may not be right, but you’re more likely to be.
Donald Van de Mark, former CNBC and CNN correspondent, is a speaker and the author of The Good Among the Great: 19 Traits of the Most Admirable, Creative, and Joyous People. You can buy a copy of the book by CLICKING HERE.