In these postings, so far I have talked about four basic beliefs or “principles” that are key to effective executive management and leadership: reward, knowing and believing why you’re in the game; development of a management style based on your personal strengths and weaknesses; understanding the true nature of the executive challenge; understanding and acting in accordance with the multi-faceted responsibility of executive leadership.
Style, challenge, and responsibility concerns you in the context of your environment, your shareholders, your customers, your employees and your community. This fifth principle, as did the first principle, centers on just you and the personal resources you bring to the leadership task. That task is physically, emotionally and mentally demanding. Poor husbandry of those personal resources will ultimately result in failure.
Timeframes in leadership tend to be extended. Even in today’s hyper-kinetic business environments, the results of missed opportunity due to lack of energy and vigorous thought are seldom immediately apparent. A true sense of urgency is not possible for people who are debilitated, mentally dull or emotionally unstable.
Above all the executive task of strong leadership requires broad perspective and sound judgment. Perspective is the key ingredient of sound judgment. How do we get perspective? From experiencing life. So broad perspective demands experiences, as many experiences as you can cram into a day. There are no shortcuts. Reading is, however, a shortcut of sorts. It is simply a way to share the experiences of others and is highly leveraged in this crucial matter of gaining perspective. Even here, however, there is a caveat: always try to learn from what you read, but don’t necessarily believe what you read.
In today’s world there is another powerful potential to gaining insight and perspective. That is the internet, and in particular the use of computer simulation and communication via the internet. Computer simulation is well-established as a means to give airplane pilots experience in a wide variety of conditions. And yet management simulation is shallow at best and a waste of time and money at worst. But there is hope. One small ray of hope was described in Philip Dvorak’s “Theory and Practice” article in the 3/31/2008 Wall Street Journal. The article was headlined: “Simulation Shows What it is Like to be the Boss.” It describes a management simulation exercise developed by BTS Group AB of Sweden for NetApp, Inc., a $3 billion company in the data management world.
What BTS did is customize a typical management game exercise using data and information gained from an in depth analysis of Net App itself.
Management games are fairly standard in management training such as MBA programs. Even so the time-cost vs. perspective gained from such exercises is questionable. Also, so-called customized executive education has grown rapidly in popularity in recent years (“customized” in the sense of a particular company for executives of that company). BTS Group’s innovation is to combine those two things. Net App seems to be pleased with the result. Tom Georgens, Net App COO, is quoted in the Journal article as being “initially skeptical but changed his mind after seeing managers’ enthusiasm as they traded anecdotes from work to help solve problems in the simulation.”
There is a long way yet to go. I’ll know we are getting closer when someone uses simulation to improve the performance review process which is notoriously bad and often counter-productive. Performance reviews remind me of a neophyte golfer believing that all that is required to break par on his first round is to have the latest in club technology and hit one bucket of balls on the practice tee. Management simulations in their current primitive state are at about that level. But perhaps NetApp and BTS have taken one small step forward.