Appearing in In The Black magazine, April 2020
Made to Thrive
By Brad Giles
So you have finally made it to the big chair and you think you can pat yourself on the back and enjoy the status. Think again, says leadership specialist Giles. Your work is just starting, and the areas you have to focus on are the ones that you probably don’t like.
Drawing on academic research and his own experience, he defines five key roles played by highly effective CEOs. Accountability means that everyone in the organisation knows what is expected of them, with systematic lines of authority. The CEO also has to be an ambassador, representing the company values. They must set a positive culture within the company, and tie it to their strategic direction. The final role is about minimising risks through considered succession planning, not just with their own job but in every leadership position.
Giles provides assessment tests for each, noting that few people score well on all. The key is to be willing to admit and address weaknesses, which means getting out of your comfort zone. He offers good advice for this as well as checklists and guides. It is not easy to confront one’s shortcomings but the readiness to do so is the difference between good and great.
The Organisation of Tomorrow: How AI, Blockchain and Analytics Turn Your Business Into a Data Organisation
By Mark van Rijmenam
Taylor & Francis, $63
Business-related technology sometimes seems like a highway plunging into the unknown at high speed. Van Rijmenam, an academic who works at the intersection of management and technology, knows how frightening it can be, and in this book he seeks to integrate analytics, blockchain and AI into a digestible, cohesive package. He looks at cases such as Alibaba, Walmart and Microsoft, using their experience to develop a model he calls D2 + A2: datafy, distribute, analyse, automate. Understanding your market, building relationships with suppliers and stakeholders, using data to adapt rapidly to changes and look ahead: it requires good people to understand the platforms involved but, even more, a leadership team that can manage and direct the digital infrastructure.
He makes the point that the size of an entity will become less important (if it isn’t already) than its technological grasp. In fact, larger entities are more likely to operate like groups of small ones. Supply chains are more likely to be global and collaborative than local and hierarchical.
Van Rijmenam covers a great deal of ground but does so in an ordered and systematic way. So if you are looking for a map of the road ahead, this is a good place to start.
Building Better Ideas: How Constructive Debate Inspires Courage, Collaboration, and Breakthrough Solutions
By B. Kim Barnes
A good team is an example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts but too often, says consultant Barnes, team discussions end in defensiveness and acrimony. She offers a range of useful solutions, starting with ways for the team leader to ensure that the project objective is clear and then assigning roles and timelines, with a transparent structure and obvious metrics. She drills down to a substantial depth, even suggesting phrases and speaking modes to encourage team members in questioning assumptions. Members should feel free to critique the contributions of others, but by using data and logical pathways to do so in a positive way. A good idea becomes a great one through development, evolution, and multiple inputs.
Barnes identifies groupthink as a key danger, and looks at cases where a false consensus has led to disaster. This is especially common when the team leader is seen as an authority figure. She emphasises that the leader has to be sometimes willing to step back, acting as a guide rather than an expert. A particularly useful aspect of the book is the appendices, which include worksheets, resources, and templates for planning constructive debates in a team context.