“When you come to the fork in the road, take it.” (Yogi Berra)
“If you don’t know where you’re going, then any road will lead you there.” (Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland)
High on the “To Do” list of business leaders figures the need and indeed the obligation to spend a good portion of their waking/working hours on figuring out what the world in which they operate will look like 3-10 years down the road and make some decisions on how to position their businesses to operate profitably in that changed environment.
This planning for the future may very well be the hardest job a business owner/leader has to do. Most of us are simply not trained or wired to force ourselves to think in a disciplined way about what may or may not happen down the road and then consider the impact on the business you’re running. It is risky business, even if you get yourself to build a vision of the future. What if you’re totally off base? Can you bet the farm on something that may - or may not - happen?
But the hard reality is that unless you’re just along for the ride and accepting that it will come to an end, you have no choice as business owner/leader to know, if not where you’re going, at least where you want to go so that, when you come to the proverbial fork in the road, you have already figured out which direction to take.
Fortunately, there is a structured way of dealing with this issue of decision making for the future. It is called “Thought Leadership”.
Glenn Llopis, the founder of the Center for Hispanic Leadership, wrote an excellent article for Forbes in August of 2011 in which he defined a “Thought Leader” as “a person who identifies trends, common themes and patterns within a particular industry or functional area of expertise to help others identify new opportunities or solutions for growth”.
Thought Leaders can teach your organization how to generate better ideas on its own. A big name in this field is Vijay Govindarajan, co-author of “The Other Side of Innovation” and a professor at Dartmouth Tuck School of Business. Vijay Govindarajan takes a facilitator approach: “What I want is for companies to self-diagnose their problems and self-discover their own solutions through my thought leadership”.
This is very much the type of support Aileron* offers – at very little cost compared to the astronomical fees top consultants charge – to small business owners.
It is lonely at the top! Small business typically does not have much bench strength and who does a business owner turn to when he/she sorts through the options for the future? Best Practices Sharing is somewhat helpful but, by definition, only addressing something that is already in place, something that is already happening somewhere. The harder part of Thought Leadership is the thinking about circumstances that may or may not play out but, if they do, will materially affect your business. It is thinking about “how to stay ahead of the curve”.
If you are a business owner/leader you have no choice but to spend a good part of your time in scenario planning. In thinking about where you want to drive your business and what direction you will take at every fork in the road that presents itself on your journey into the future. You are also well advised to invite all of your key employees – the ones that you would not want to lose – to participate in the Thought Leadership process.
The final thing that matters is that, while charting the course may your job as the business owner/leader, you are better off if you have a few professional pilots along the road to keep you off the cliffs and the shallows that could sink your ship at any time.
Thought Leadership matters. It is one of the top responsibilities of the leaders of any organization. But in today’s complex world it should not stay in their hands. It needs to become part of the organizational culture and be driven down into the ranks and embraced there. From time to time it needs to be checked, refreshed and kept on target by external professionals.
*Aileron is a training and support institute for small business owners in Dayton, Ohio (www.aileron.org). Readers who are business owners in a range of up to $50 million in sales and want to bring their operation “to the next level” should check out this incredible resource with its own entrepreneurial origin!