Insightful Observations about Leadership

I recently read a great interview in the New York Times with David Cote, chairman and CEO of Honeywell. He made some insightful observations about leadership.

Decisiveness can be a bad thing.

“Most people would say that being decisive is what you want in a business leader. But it’s possible for decisiveness to be a bad thing. With bigger decisions, you can make bigger mistakes, so you have to really think about the kind of decision you’re making. Is this the kind that’s easily reversible? Or is this one where, if I make a decision and I’m wrong, there can be significant ramifications? Then I’ve got to think about it a little differently. As itchy as I might be to make a decision, what I’ve taught myself to do is to tell everybody that this is a preliminary decision, and we will go through it again in 48 or 72 hours, or however much time I think we have. It’s important to get it right.”

The military teaches their officers that any decision is better than no decision, and this makes sense in urgent situations when lives are at stake and people are looking to you for leadership.

However, if you are looking to make a long-term strategic decision, allow yourself sufficient time to debate and explore all the options before making a well-considered decision.

Surround yourself with independent thinkers.

“If I surround myself with people who just want me to make decisions, then we’ll go off the cliff at 130 miles an hour, because at some point I’ll be wrong. What I need are people who want to come to their own conclusions and are willing to think independently, and can argue with me in the right way so that I will internalize it and keep it objective as opposed to emotional.”

Keep an open mind.

“Your job as a leader is to be right at the end of the meeting, not at the beginning of the meeting. It’s your job to flush out all the facts, all the opinions, and at the end make a good decision, because you’ll get measured on whether you made a good decision, and not whether it was your idea from the beginning.”

It’s about the long-term.

“You have to get results, and you have to get them the right way. Because I don’t want to just make the numbers this quarter at any cost. I want to make the quarter, but make it with the right kind of disciplines in our processes so that we make the quarter three years from now and five years from now.”

Hard work can be a bad thing.

“Hard work doesn’t always pay off. If you work on the wrong thing, it really doesn’t matter how hard you work, because it’s not going to make a difference. So make sure you put some thought into what you’re working on.”

Many business leaders work hard to “improve what is”. Whilst it is important to continually optimize and improve your current business model, the true test of strategic leadership is the ability to practice what we call “dual vision”.

Strategic leaders who have mastered the practice of “dual vision” are able to simultaneously to keep one eye focused on the present, and one eye focused on the future.

They have created a well thought out strategic plan, with the key moves they need to make within the next 3-5 years to ensure long-term industry success. They devote sufficient time and resources to “creating what will be”, not just “improving what is”.

Sometimes building for the future can involve a significant transformative change away from what you may be working on right now. What has made you successful up to this point, may not be what you need to be doing in order to be successful in the future.

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