I'm a bit of a history buff. Others might consider that comment an understatement as they peruse the inventory of books sitting on shelves at home and at work. E-readers and audio books? Not for me - I need the physicality of history in my hands. Old fashioned? No doubt.
One reason for this fascination with history comes from the lessons learned - and not learned - from others. With variations on a theme, the quote "Those who cannot remember (or learn) from the past, are doomed to repeat it" resonates with me. One of those lessons that has been the subject of explicit and implicit discussion with many of my clients is that of choosing or changing the field of battle on which you compete. We can probably all understand and appreciate this at some bigger picture level with companies and technologies that have changed their landscape - Apple, Uber, Airbnb. These companies and technologies did not take as given the landscape they faced and at points in time made a conscious decision to NOT compete against well-established competitors. They radically changed the field of battle. In some cases, so radically that major competitors were put out of business.
This is not a new a concept. For centuries, ranging back to Greek city states, the Persian empire and other dynasties, commanders and armies would maneuver for days or stare across at each other for weeks from their respective camps looking for the best place or opportunity to engage in battle. They sought out high ground, access to water, linkage to the coast or supplies, or waiting for the sun to be in their enemy's eyes before engaging. These ancient leaders went to great lengths to try and set the table to their best advantage, to leverage a strength or mitigate a weakness. Alternatively, they might seek similar opportunities to diminish an opponent's strength or take advantage of their perceived weakness. Don't have sufficient or good enough cavalry? Choose a battleground that constrains the field of movement. Fighting against great odds? Choose a place where only part of your enemy's strengths can be brought to bear at one time.
So how does this relate to leadership/team coaching, organizational effectiveness, business development, consulting or other things that you might be doing? It relates in nearly every circumstance that I work with. Which one of these scenarios might you have experienced or otherwise be familiar with:
"I looked at the job posting and I'm missing a couple of the qualifications they are looking for so I'm not going to apply."
"He/she/they stopped me in the hallway and were looking for my input on his/her/their initiative. I felt compelled to answer them on the spot but I don't think I gave the best answer."
"I'd like to pursue the CEO role but I'm not sure I'm what they are looking for. I'm not anything like the current CEO."
"The client/RFP is looking for something pretty particular as far as a solution/technique. It's not something we have do so maybe the fix is already in?"
I could go on with other samples but at the heart of these comments is a belief (or fear) that the terms and conditions of the "battle" are already set and our choice is to compete on those terms or not at all. My suggestion is that perhaps the battle conditions are not set in stone. You may and can have a choice as to where, how and when to engage. How can you alter your own reality and that of your "adversary" to change the tide in your favor. For example, if applying for a new role, how can you paint a picture that despite not having a couple of the qualities or attributes laid out that you have something different or more important to offer that the hiring committee has not taken into account? Rather than feeling compelled to respond on the spot to a question or proposal how can you set yourself up to better respond perhaps by asking for a more considered, focused and structured discussion - one that allows you to be as prepared as your counterpart? What makes you think that you have to lead like the last CEO? Or that you can? Or that you should We are all different leaders, no clones, and certainly all imperfect. What do you bring to a leadership role that your successor did not and that is perhaps better suited to current and future reality?
All of these scenarios - and the historical analogies of success - speak to and require several foundational realities being in place. First, an understanding of your personal, team or organizational strengths and values. Those (successful) generals and commanders noted earlier were completely aware of the strengths and weaknesses of themselves and their armies and those of their foes as well. You likewise need to understand your own strengths and limitations and how to make best use of those in your chosen field of endeavor. Second, is the ability to exercise restraint and patience to seek out the right opportunity to apply your skills and abilities. Wrong time, wrong place? Might mean the wrong opportunity? Third, having the courage to be bold or patient as circumstances dictate. When pushed can you hold your ground to create the right circumstances for victory? When opportunity presents, can you demonstrate and apply your strengths at the right time and place? Time and tide may wait for no one. Be clear about your objectives, your vision for success, and apply your strengths, abilities and values with confidence.
It's About Leadership and sometimes leadership means actively understanding and creating the conditions for success - your success.
Greg Hadubiak, MHSA, FACHE, CEC, PCC
President & Founder - BreakPoint Solutions