Keith R Szewczyk

Executive Challenges Part 1: What keeps you up at night?

In General Topics on February 7, 2011 at 6:45 pm

by: Keith R. Szewczyk

As Executive Leaders we are given the responsibility to drive the success of the company. With this privilege come endless challenges that need direction based on detailed assessments of risk and organizational impacts. Let’s face the facts; the higher up the organization we go the less we hear about the good stuff and the more we must deal with the problems! With these problems comes late nights of thinking.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink he writes about the power of thinking without thinking, or using your intuition. There are some people who must collect an endless amount of data to help them make decisions. They get tied up in the analysis of the correct answer, and never really gain any more advantage in critical decision-making then someone who believes in their gut. The people who use their gut use their experiences and their gained insight, which then allows their intuition to lead them to making just as good of a decision. The challenge is not to labor over making the decision, but to apply the measurements and mitigation plans around any decision.

The old saying “paralysis by analysis” will keep you up at night second and third guessing your decision on a critical issue. Instead you should be thinking about possible outcomes of the decision that you made and what the results should look like as an acceptable outcome.

As an executive leader a clearly defined strategy and vision allows me to visualize what the company should look like, behave like, and perform like. I use this visual and feeling in all my decision-making opportunities. Challenges allow a company to test its strategies and objectives. If I am bought into the strategy and I can paint the vision of the company in my mind I then can use this framework in my decision-making process. I look for and feel the results and outcomes of a decision and try to gain insight on the impacts to the future state of the company.

So what keeps me up at night? The company’s future state. I like to reflect continuously on the company’s strategy and vision. What opportunities did I discovery today that will allow me to continue down the path of the vision. I do not like to spend my evenings thinking about major issues as decisions are made and issues are being managed. I like to think through the results or expected results to understand what the end-game looks like. This allows me to sleep well at night and dream about the vision.

So what keeps you up at night?

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  1. Good post! Balance is important to leadership and management. Executives need good data and good intuition to be effective decision makers. Over reliance on either will eventually become a strategic weakness for the company. Data is an important part of executive decision making and without it leaders cannot be effective. In this time of increasing organizational complexity, executives must excel at calculated risk taking that is based on informed data. Their organizations may not have the opportunity to recover from the no-data alternative–reckless risk taking.

    As you mentioned, the problem occurs when executives give in to analysis to paralysis. The truth is that executives generally operate with less than complete information. If they wait for all of the data before making critical decisions, they will lose market opportunities and put their company at a competitive disadvantage. To avoid this weakness, executives should ensure that their strategy and vision is based on solid data that also includes emerging and projected business trends. This is often where the problem lies: either the vision is wrong or the strategy for fulfilling the vision is flawed. This can create a cycle where over-analysis and second guessing become debilitating to a company.

    If the executive’s vision of where he wants the company to go is correct and the strategy for getting there is sound, however, then the executive should not be paralyzed by the inevitable setbacks that occur. Setbacks come with the journey! As you said, challenges allow a company to test its strategies and objectives. From there, executives can make the necessary adjustments to make the journey more efficient and effective. The key is to get the vision and strategy right!

    • I could not agree more…the wrong vision and strategy is the failure point. As you commented it takes solid data to define emerging trends. A great sign of a strong executive leadership team is the willingness to work together to analyze this data and really define a comprehensive vision and strategy. Thank you for this great insight!

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