3 Simple Changes for Becoming a Strategic Leader
This quote from Larry Page caught my eye from Tuesday’s announcement of Alphabet, Google’s new parent company. I think it can help all of us succeed in a bigger way.
“We’ve long believed that over time companies tend to get comfortable doing the same thing, just making incremental changes. But in the technology industry, where revolutionary ideas drive the next big growth areas, you need to be a bit uncomfortable to stay relevant.”
– Larry Page, CEO of Alphabet (née Google)
While Larry Page has shared many wise words over the years (and if you’re interested, here’s a great piece by James Altucher on 20 Things I've Learned From Larry Page), I found this week’s quote particularly intriguing in the context of being successful in our careers no matter what industry sector we’re in.
Do you want to win?
If we applied Larry Page’s statement to “people in our chosen careers”, rather than “companies in technology”, I think the same observation rings true.
Most of us tend to get comfortable in our habits, “doing” one day at a time, making incremental improvements. While it’s one way to get through the week, it’s hardly the energizing stuff of dreams that will get us to our highest level of possible achievement.
And it’s hardly the stuff that will help us be different and better, and help us to win. And by the way, when I say “win”, I don’t mean the zero sum version of beating someone else to the finish line. I mean it on an absolute level where more than one person can win. It’s comparing yourself to your own potential and delivering what you are capable of.
And don’t we all want to stay relevant and, indeed, to win?
Is inertia holding you back?
The thing is, in today’s world of work, it can be easy to slip into this incremental mode. Sometimes you can feel like a cog in a pretty big machine, and there’s powerful inertia to keep people from coloring outside the lines, to use a kindergarten analogy. That inertia comes from the organization, but it also comes from within each of us. Humans don’t generally like stepping beyond what’s comfortable.
Whatever the source of the inertia, when you just march in step, you’re likely to become less relevant. Just like Larry says.
But what about those ideas you have for making the place better? For making the world better? For making the difference you were meant to make? When did you get comfortable and why not get a bit uncomfortable for a change?
It could happen to anyone
Joe was just such a person. He was seen as successful and had gotten promoted rapidly up the line to lead a bigger region for the bank. But 12 months later, he was spreading himself too thin rather than delegating to and developing his team so he could free up time to be strategic.
And the cracks were starting to show. In my interviews with his stakeholders and team, it became clear that Joe was just doing what he always did – generating business himself. He had always been the one to bring in the big deals, and felt this was the best and highest use of his time.
While that was going to be true at any given moment near term – Joe was by far the most talented new business getter on his team of juniors – his business would soon flat line if he kept redoubling his own efforts. Just making incremental changes to how the group approached the business across the broader region was not going to work.
Do a “Larry Page”
He needed to break his old habits and his old mindset. He needed to do a Larry Page and bump himself upstairs to the next level up, backfill with talented people to handle the day-to-day client coverage, support their efforts at a senior level, and take the lead in looking for the next set of strategic innovations.
Having had this “wake up call”, here are the three changes Joe made:
1. Shifted the way he spent his time
- Carved out 2-hour blocks of time in the morning once a week to think strategically.
- Created more “free time” to plan, reflect and make new connections by delegating all administrative tasks.
- Diversified his readings to get new ideas – subscribed to HBR (Harvard Business Review) and Fast Company.
2. Changed the “contract” with his team to focus on the long game
- Sat down with his team to identify which clients he would continue to cover, and how the rest of the team would step up to cover the rest. While they might miss some business in the near-term, longer-term this would produce superior results for everyone involved.
- Stopped stepping in to “save the day” at the first sign of struggle from his direct reports. Instead, he listened and offered guidance, then allowed them to handle the situation. This encouraged team members to come to Joe earlier in the process since they knew he would no longer step in and take over.
3. Increased interactions with colleagues, focusing on more strategic topics
- Upped his interactions by eating lunch in the cafeteria with colleagues at least twice a week.
- Started having different kinds of conversations with those colleagues plus a broader range of people. For example, asking people about their businesses, the issues they were facing, themes coming up in the sector – both positive and negative.
- Started having similar conversations with people externally, including clients, service providers and even competitors (without giving away much information, of course!)
With these changes, people are already seeing Joe in a different light, and colleagues have started coming to Joe to talk strategy as well. And his team is enjoying their new autonomy – even if it pushes them a bit beyond their own comfort zones as well!
What about you?
So, are you at that point where doing what you’ve been doing but just 10-20% better is no longer going to differentiate you? Are people looking to you to double the business? Or maybe even 10X it? Or perhaps discover new dimensions to the business altogether?
What would happen if you started to think and act that way, even if no one is explicitly asking? How could that change everything… for the better?
So, over to you: What’s one thing you can do to move beyond your comfortable habits, stay relevant and start making an even bigger difference in the world?