Reflections from the C-Suite: Opinions & Advice

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The reality is that leaders must, on the spur of the moment, be able to react rapidly and grasp opportunities. Ultimately, therefore, I think that the best process to reduce the risk of bad decisions—whatever series of tests, hurdles, and measuring sticks one applies—should be quick, flexible, and largely informal. Carefully sound out the relevant constituencies—clients, suppliers, competitors—and try to find someone you trust who has no agenda about the issue at hand. There will be mistakes, of course. The truth is we all make mistakes all the time.

However, the only way to avoid making mistakes is to avoid making decisions or, at least, very few. But then the company would grind to a halt.


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Instead, learn from mistakes and listen to feedback. He became aware of the then-nascent field while contemplating a graduate degree in economics, losing confidence in the dismal science as a result. Komisar ultimately shifted gears, becoming a lawyer and later pursuing a career in commerce. He cofounded Claris, 1 1. Claris is now FileMaker. Along the way, he has developed a distinct point of view on how to create executive teams and cultural environments that are conducive to good decision making. Rather than trying to tune out bias, my focus is on recognizing, encouraging, and balancing bias within effective decision making.

I came to that conclusion as I was starting my career, when I had a chance to work with Bill Campbell, who is well known, particularly in Silicon Valley, as a leader and coach. What I observed back then was that Bill had this amazing ability to bring together a ragtag team of exceptionally talented people. Some had worked for successful companies, some had not. Some had been senior managers. Some had been individual contributors. Everybody brought to the table biases borne out of their domains and their experiences. Those experience-based biases probably are not that different at the psychological level from the behavioral biases that economists focus on today.

Bill was very capable at balancing out the biases around the table and coming up with really effective decisions and, more important, the groundwork for consensus—not necessarily unanimity, but consensus. I liken it to what I have always understood, true or false, about how President Kennedy ran his cabinet: Then at some point he would end the debate, make a decision, and move on. It starts with assembling a group that is very diverse. Starting with that, the notion is to put together a simple balance sheet where everybody around the table is asked to list points on both sides: Do not tell me your judgment yet.

Not surprisingly, smart people will uncover many of the same issues.

Reflections from the C-Suite: Opinions & Advice by Kevin M. Lewis

But they may weigh them differently depending on their biases. I have noticed my own judgment often changes as I see the balance sheet fill out. It also emphasizes to the group that each participant is smart and knowledgeable, that it was a difficult decision, and that there is ample room for the other judgment. An added bonus is that people start to see their own biases.

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One reason is that we never try to achieve perfection—meaning percent certainty—around a decision. The corollary is that we assume every decision needs to be tested, measured, and refined. The book John Mullins and I recently wrote, Getting to Plan B , presents a way of building a culture of good decision making.

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Getting to Plan B: Harvard Business Press, The very simple premise is that Plan A most often fails, so we need a process by which to methodically test assumptions to get to a better Plan B. The process starts with an acknowledgment that Plan A probably is based upon flawed assumptions, and that certain leap-of-faith questions are fundamental to arriving at a better answer. You end up teasing apart these assumptions through analogs: Sally did something like this, and it failed. We both get points for identifying the assumption, working on it, and agreeing that the facts have come in one way or the other.

What makes this culturally difficult in larger companies is that there is often a sense that Plan A is going to succeed. It looks great on an Excel spreadsheet. It becomes the plan of record to which everybody executes. And the execution of that plan does not usually contemplate testing assumptions on an ongoing basis to permit a course correction. So if the plan is wrong, which it most often is, then it is a total failure.

The work has gone on too long. Too much money has been spent. Too many people have invested their time and attention on it. And careers can be hurt in the process. They reported back that teams were killing their own projects early because they now had metrics to guide them. And most important, they were not being blamed. I think comfort with uncertainty and ambiguity is an important trait in a leader. Now, there are cultures where that does seem to work, but I think those are exceptions. Steve Jobs seems to be able to run Apple exceedingly well in large part because Steve Jobs is an extraordinary person.

Frankly, few leaders I meet, no matter how important they are in the press or how big their paychecks are, are that comfortable with diversity of opinion. I love a leader who changes his or her opinion based upon the strength of the arguments around the table. When I went to LucasArts, I can remember sitting down one day with a young woman two levels down in the sales organization.

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Our margins are a lot smaller as a result. What do you think? Breaking Through to a Better Business Model. Randy has been a consulting professor of entrepreneurship at Stanford, where he still lectures. When Anne Mulcahy became CEO of Xerox in —as the company teetered on the edge of bankruptcy—she dove in with the confidence and decisiveness that had typified her career to date. Mulcahy started hearing rumblings that her leadership style was too decisive. Some of the topics addressed by this panel include: Read more Read less. Applicable only on ATM card, debit card or credit card orders.

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See all free Kindle reading apps. Start reading Reflections from the C-Suite: Don't have a Kindle? Createspace Independent Pub 25 August Language: Be the first to review this item Would you like to tell us about a lower price? Share your thoughts with other customers. Write a product review. Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon. Congratulations Kevin for compiling a series of inspiring and experienced-based examples of C-level executives at work.

This fast read of selected leaders' expectations before, experiences during, and reflections after their C-level tenures illustrates their ability to continuously learn from the challenges they confronted. It is refreshing to see how military academy graduates successfully apply their knowledge and leadership training later in their careers when in the private sector.

Maybe Kevin has another e-book in this series that captures other venues for excellence in leadership and management talent? Kevin's communication style is engaging and personable, and to the point. I appreciate the wisdom from the panel.

Reflections from the C-Suite: Opinions & Advice

I feel that this book encourages me to take my business to the next level: It is a book that makes you think. Each chapter has a focus, each comment is precise, concise, and to the point; there are deep and resonating messages that could be missed based on the brevity of the book. I highly recommend "Reflections From the C-Suit: