Leadership Lessons from “A Christmas Carol”

Leadership Lessons from “A Christmas Carol”

One of the best-loved classics viewed during the Christmas season is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (see summary here), a story centered around a selfish and unfriendly old man who hates Christmas named Ebenezer Scrooge. It is a story that has been recreated for film, television and the stage more than two dozen times and offers many valuable leadership lessons.

Leadership Lessons from Christmas Past

There is an urban legend regarding an incident about a young pilot in the U.S. Navy who crashed his $38 million F-14 Tomcat and had to appear before the Investigation Board. After providing his perspective on the details of the crash, the young pilot asked an Admiral who was sitting on that Board if he would lose his wings. The Admiral stared at him for a moment and then stated, “Why would we take your wings when the U.S. Navy just spent $38 million dollars training you?”

Good leaders learn from past mistakes and don’t repeat them in the future. Sometimes the best lessons learned come from our mistakes and failures. In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge saw the mistakes he had made and the opportunities that had passed him by. While unable to change the past, he still had the opportunity to learn from his mistakes and ensure they were not repeated in the future. There is no value in berating employees or constituents on what happened yesterday, as you can’t change it. Objectively and honestly analyze your successes and failures and try to learn the lessons that each have to offer.

Leadership Lessons from Christmas Future

Many have attempted to predict future events throughout history. Sometimes, a few got some of it right, but the vast majority missed the mark substantially. The one thing you can be certain about regarding the future is uncertainty. With the rapidly changing circumstances, technology, social reforms and everything else requiring attention in today’s world, an organization must be proactive if it wants to survive in the long-term. As the predictability of future events is generally a best guess based on past history, predictive analysis and other tools, organizational agility and flexibility are essential for success in today’s ever-changing environment.

Are you growing your employees? Are you equipping them with the skills, abilities and freedom to innovate; to be creative and involved in decisions that form the basis for the future of the organization? Is succession planning a viable part of your strategy? Are you grooming the right people to take the leadership reins of your organization in the coming decades? Have you studied and learned from the past? Are you doing things differently based on what you have learned? Is your organizational culture one of empowerment and change, focused on the future or stuck in the past doing the same things, in the same way, buried in layers of bureaucracy and mediocracy? Scrooge didn’t just learn from the past, he applied that learning to his future. He was willing to make the changes necessary and provide others with the support and encouragement necessary to succeed.

Leadership Lessons from Christmas Present

Recent studies show approximately 64% of executives struggle with work related stress. This impacts their ability to sleep, relax and their health. If this is true for executives, it is reasonable to suggest that many employees below the executive level of an organization also struggle with similar issues. Holidays are often a mixed bag when it comes to stress at both work and home.

In this season of Christmas, carve some time out of your schedule to relax without the worry of work. Spend additional time with your family, friends, colleagues and employees. Turn off the cell phone and don’t worry about emails for a few hours or a few days, if possible. The holidays will be here and gone before you know it and once gone, they are in the past. Make some warm memories with the ones that you love. Be kind to one another and be generous to those in need.

From all of us at the Strategy Management Group to all of you, we wish you, your family and friends, a wonderful holiday season.

A Christmas Carol Summary by Charles Dickens. Retrieved from: https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/christmascarol/summary/

Grumman F-14 Tomcat. Retrieved from:

The Stressed Executive: Sources and Predictors of Stress Among Participants in an Executive Health Program, U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6196623/



Strategy Failing Because of Leadership?

Strategy Failing Because of Leadership?

Mike Tyson

Regardless of what type of strategy planning system your organization utilizes, there is one thing you can be assured of;  not everything will go as planned.  Former world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson put it bluntly, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”  Former U.S. President, Dwight D. Eisenhower stated it like this“…the very definition of “emergency’ is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning.”

 Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower

While strategy can fail for any number of reasons, it is the leadership of an organization that bears the responsibility for ensuring the successful execution of an organization’s strategy. Another Eisenhower quote simply states, “Leadership consists of nothing but taking responsibility for everything that goes wrong and giving your subordinates credit for everything that goes well.” 

There are a number of reasons why leaders are unsuccessful. In some cases, leaders are simply out of touch or living in the past. They have failed to stay abreast of the changing times in a changing world. Other leaders may have delegated responsibility to incompetent staff or have allowed “venomous” individuals to be able to exert too much power and influence within the organization leading to chaos, dissent and dysfunction. Another problem may be incompetence at the top level of the organization based on the “Peter Principle,” where people advance up the chain of command until they reach their level of incompetence. Finally a fourth area that can severely hamper an organization is organizational structure and bureaucracy.

Effective leadership starts with an individual in a leadership role who is effective in delegating responsibilities and empowering employees with the ability to accomplish what needs to be done. Leaders must inspire their subordinates to action, challenging them to perform at the highest possible level and developing future leaders for the organization. Simultaneously, the effective leader will also be building a culture of trust. Outstanding leaders not only are able to accomplish these things, but also create a culture with a positive view of change and accountability.

Granted, a leader cannot do it alone. He or she must build a team of individuals who are aligned for the purpose of obtaining organizational excellence and achieving the organizational goals. Effective leaders listen and observe; they solicit honest feedback and recognize what the healthy heartbeat of their organization looks like. They are not micro-managers, nor dictators, but rather have the ability to build and encourage teamwork and creativity. Leaders must learn to exercise discretion in selecting future leaders and managers in the organization and should also not be afraid to address issues and individuals detrimental to the success of the organization.

The fact is strategy often does fail. Sometimes it may be the right people were not included in the effort, or perhaps the goals set forth in the strategy were unrealistic to begin with. Maybe the organization lacks accountability, honesty and is resistant to change. Whatever the reason, leadership, in one way or another bears the responsibility for the failure. Often, the tendency is to shift the blame to lower levels of the organization, but in truth, strategy failure ultimately falls on the executive level of leaders in the organization.

The Nine Steps to Success™ methodology for building a balanced scorecard is one approach that supports the empowerment and delegation of responsibility throughout the organization. It utilizes a healthy cross-section of employees from throughout the organization, obtains their commitment and buy-in and fosters active and open communication through all levels of the organization. As a result, silos begin to disappear, employees become engaged, energized and responsive to change. Communication improves and the organization moves towards alignment and becoming an organization of continual improvement.

For more information on the Nine Steps Balanced Scorecard process or to see how it could work for your organization, contact info@strategymanage.com



Business Strategy – The Art, Science and Craft of Decision-Making: Failure of Strategies, Retrieved from: https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Business_Strategy/Failure_of_Strategy

53 Insightful Dwight D. Eisenhower Quotes that Are Timeless. Retrieved from: https://quotes.thefamouspeople.com/dwight-d-eisenhower-1270.php

Organizations from Hell: When Leadership Fails, Ronald E Riggio, Ph.D., 2019, Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/200906/organizations-hell-when-leadership-fails

South Florida Sun Sentinel – Mike Tyson Explains One of His Most Famous Quotes, Retrieved from: https://www.sun-sentinel.com/sports/fl-xpm-2012-11-09-sfl-mike-tyson-explains-one-of-his-most-famous-quotes-20121109-story.html



Why “World Class” Performance Isn’t Measurable

Why “World Class” Performance Isn’t Measurable

Let’s say our organization needs to buy a fleet of vehicles and we have two procurement teams. We tell team 1 that we want quiet, blue, four-door, fuel-efficient cars. We tell team 2 that we want world-class, high-quality, great-value, high-performing cars. Then we give both teams a few weeks to find their vehicles. Guess which team will be able to produce measurable results?

Team 1 will have the easier time, as it is clearer what is meant by the criteria provided. Team 2 will struggle because their criteria are too ambiguous. Without further clarifications, “world-class” could be interpreted to mean a hot rod sports car, a luxury sedan, or even a nice SUV. And if the team cannot agree on the specifically desired result, how can it measure success?

This example demonstrates an important principle of good measure design. Before you can design a measure, you first must agree on what result you are trying to achieve. And not all results are created equal. Results written in abstract language are less measurable and harder to implement than those written in concrete language.

Abstract language refers to concepts or vague ideals. Examples of abstract words or phrases include sustainable, innovative, reliable, leadership, quality, effective, leverage, efficient, resilient, optimized, or responsive. Strategic plans are often littered with this type of language, as we aim to deliver best practices, thought leadership or world-class performance. These “weasel words”, as they are often called, are notoriously hard to measure without first translating into concrete terms.

Concrete language is sensory-specific, meaning it describes things you can see, hear, smell, taste, or feel. Because they are observable, concrete results are measurable. Team 1 will have no problem determining the percentage of cars procured that meet their specifications. Concrete results are also more memorable and easier to implement.

So if you are struggling to design measures for your organization, your first step should be to clarify what result you are trying to achieve, in concrete terms.

To learn more about developing concrete results or related measures, please look into one of our KPI training or certification programs or visit kpi.org.

How to Keep Lettuce Crunchy and Other Strategy Execution Lessons

How to Keep Lettuce Crunchy and Other Strategy Execution Lessons

I learned two lessons in college that I still think about – one in the kitchen and one as a strategy execution consultant. My professor claimed during a cell biology lesson that if you leave iceberg lettuce in water for about 20 minutes its cells expand as they soak up the water. He said that many chefs knew that soaking lettuce in cold water made it seem fresher and crunchier but few understood that it was because the cells were packed to the bursting point.

I went home for the holidays eager to share this new lesson with my mother. This is where I learned the consulting lesson.

My mother had been taught that in order to keep salad crisp, you should throw a slice of bread into the salad as you are making it and then pull the bread out just before serving. The thinking was that the bread soaked up the excess moisture that would otherwise lead to wilting.

When I shared my professor’s theory with her, I assumed that we would immediately begin saving a nickel per month due to all that saved bread. Instead I was surprised to find that my mother was not about to change the way she made salad because of something her son’s biology professor said, not even after I showed her that the lettuce didn’t wilt.

Strategy execution is about transformation. It is about the systematic implementation of the changes needed to move an organization forward. Unfortunately, as you try to convince people to change the way they do things, many of them react exactly like my mother did.

The change management field is built around several general principles in how to manage people through change: thoroughly communicate how/why/what change is happening, look for the “what’s-in-it-for-me” for employees, communicate using two-way dialog, remove barriers to change, celebrate success, describe a “burning platform”, etc. Strategy execution specialists bring a few more key approaches to these basic doctrines.

Engage Around the Big Picture. A simple business case (e.g. this initiative will help us improve process efficiency and lower operating costs) often isn’t enough. To embrace change it helps to understand how a particular initiative is aligned with the overall strategy of the organization (e.g. we want to bring low cost healthcare solutions to those suffering from an ailment. If we can improve this process, the solution could be better, more consistent, and cheaper than anyone else in the market). Employees will be far more motivated to change if they believe in the strategy. Strategy professionals typically have the skills needed to articulate and communicate that story.

Make Strategy Everyone’s Job. Strategy is a team sport. Too many strategy professionals think that because they are good at it they should do all of the work themselves. But good strategy execution relies on others to implement. I can tell my mother that this is a better way or (if she were an employee) order her to follow a new process, but as long as she can dismiss the idea as an outsider’s, change will be painful. Good strategy execution professionals understand that their job is to facilitate a consensus around a shared vision rather than simply dream up a vision in a vacuum.

Pick Your Battles. Strategy is about focus and strategic thinkers should be good at prioritizing. The worst thing you can do is overwhelm employees with dozens of major changes at the same time and then when things go badly decide that it’s not worth the trouble. Better is to pick the most important changes and implement them at a pace that the organization can handle. Then think through and communicate the timeline, action steps, and resource changes that will happen as the change is rolled out.

Facilitate a Sense of Inevitability. The weakest client outcomes in my career happened when there was uncertainty about whether or not the senior-most executives were on board. A well-meaning strategic planning director that isn’t visibly supported by the executive team will struggle to move an organization forward even if they do everything else right. On the other hand, if the executive team has thoroughly and repeatedly communicated that this change is going to happen with or without you, the inertia of inevitability will convince people to jump on the bandwagon even if other change management mistakes are made.

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