Leaders Who Create the Future

At the heart of great leadership is the ability to critically assess current state, envision the future state and take actions to bridge the gap. Execution is effectively governed by learning and adapting the approaches along the way.

The fall of Nokia is a classic example of what happens when leaders cling to ideas that worked for them in the past without recognizing (or creating) the demands of the future.

According to Bill Taylor at Harvard Business Review, there are four kinds of leaders who create the future. The post emphasizes on a leader’s ability to learn constantly, willingness to disrupt the self when required, optimism about the future and the spirit of experimentation (and comfort with ambiguity and failures) to find new ideas that work.

Please read the full post and here is a quick sketch note summary of the post.


Last weekend, I bought a new iPad Pro with Apple Pencil to explore digital ways of creating sketch notes. Like a kid who gets excited about her new toy, I got excited too. Spent some time over the weekend to get comfortable with Apple Pencil, get ideas about possible uses, explore different tools and finally, I zeroed in on Procreate as the tool of my choice. The result of this hustle is this first sketch note that I created digitally. As much as I love my old fashioned approach of paper and pen, I am excited about new possibilities that this digital tools bring on the table. More than anything else, I am excited about new learning that keeps me going.

Peter Drucker on The Effective Executive

Ultimately, leadership is all about ability to act on the ideas. In that sense, anyone who thinks of the self as a leader has to be good at executing things. Probably a reason why top leaders in organizations are referred to as executives – the one who executes, not just someone with a fancy title and corner office.

Leadership is a very broad term and leaders in organizations come in all shapes and sizes – from introverted to extraverted, charismatic to simple, people oriented versus task oriented and the differentiation goes on.

But Peter Drucker, whose work has played a defining role in my own growth as a manager and leader, identified eight practices of effective executive based on his observations over 65 years of his consulting career.

The June 2004 article by Peter Drucker in Harvard Business titled “What Makes an Effective Executive” is a must read, if you are a student  of leadership.

Here’s a short snippet of 8 characteristics along with a quick sketch note.

What made them all effective is that they followed the same eight practices:

  • They asked, “What needs to be done?”
  • They asked, “What is right for the enterprise?”
  • They developed action plans.
  • They took responsibility for decisions.
  • They took responsibility for communicating.
  • They were focused on opportunities rather than problems.
  • They ran productive meetings.
  • They thought and said “we” rather than “I.”

The first two practices gave them the knowledge they needed. The next four helped them convert this knowledge into effective action. The last two ensured that the whole organization felt responsible and accountable.

– Peter Drucker, What Makes an Effective Executive

Related posts at QAspire

In 100 Words: The Perfect Pot

A pottery teacher divides her class into two halves and gives them an assignment to create pots during the semester. One group was asked to focus on perfection of the pot and second group on number of pots they finished.

First group worked hard to create their perfect pot while second group immediately started making all kinds of pots.

End of semester, two groups were judged based on their most perfect pot. The pot made by second group won. Because they were judged on quantity, they executed more, practiced more and hence, delivered better than those who chased perfection.

Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

A Compelling Vision is an Anchor

Seagull Half Shot QAspire Blog Tanmay Vora

Management has a lot to do with answers. Leadership is a function of questions. And the first question for a leader always is: ‘Who do we intend to be?’ Not ‘What are we going to do?’ but ‘Who do we intend to be?’ – Max DePree

Specific, measurable and time bound goals are important to set expectations on results and drive performance in short term. Goals is like math; they address the head. Goals have an end date.

Goals however, are not sufficient. If you only try to provide direction to people through goals, they will know “what” needs to be done but may not know “why” something needs to be done.

When leading others, we need math but we need music too. Something that addresses our hearts and taps into our emotions. Something that is larger than us and gives us a powerful “why”. Yes, we are talking about vision.

I have seen companies falling into the trap of managing people through quarterly or half yearly goals without clarifying the vision. That works to keep everyone running, only without a sense of direction. Result? A disengaged workforce that just complies to goals, and that too – dispassionately. This becomes even more challenging when an organization has distributed teams across the geographies.

In a creative economy, people will give their best output and exercise their discretionary effort only when they are completely aware of the vision. In moments of handling difficult conversations, choices and ways of working, vision serves as an anchor. It provides a meaning to our day to day work. Vision is not a destination, but more like a compass that guides us through our goals and decisions.

Managing your organization’s work only through goals is like focusing your kid on simply getting good grades in the next examination. Kids need goals but they first need a vision of what kind of human being they should become.

What is true for kids is also true for organizations and teams. They are, after all, made up of human beings too!

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Better Execution With ‘No-Follow Up’ Culture

The primary focus of lean organizations/teams is to “eliminate waste”. In an increasingly complex work environment where execution is distributed between teams and geographies, one of the biggest wastes I have seen is “following-up on things”.

A typical manager’s task list will feature about 30% (or even more) tasks which are simply following up (read ‘pushing”) with others on status. I think this is a huge waste for a few reasons.

The need to constantly follow-up only means that people in the team are not clear of their priorities (or priorities are not clearly communicated). It also means they are not disciplined and accountable.

Time spent on following up is never estimated when you delegate the work. It is not accounted for, and hence results in further delays. The act of following up negatively impacts both parties – the one who is following up and the one being followed up.

When things only happen after follow-up, it gradually results in a culture where nothing is completed unless someone chases it.

So, how do you build a culture of “no follow-up” in your team? Here are a few things that I have seen working:

  1. Set expectation: When you delegate a task, define the expectations clearly and establish a “no follow-up rule”.
  2. Establish rituals: For time critical assignments/projects, set up a checkpoint ritual periodically, where you schedule a fixed time for seeking status update on different tasks. Program your team to feed you with progress details at a regular intervals.
  3. Be disciplined: Set the right example by delivering your own work without the need to follow up. Do not follow up unless absolutely required. Be persistent in your approach.

Bottom line:

Once-in-a-while is fine, but otherwise, a culture of constant follow-ups is a huge waste. When you continuously strive to build a culture of no follow-ups, you will have more accountability and empowerment in your team. Time saved for both managers and team members is a bonus!

Join in the conversation: What methods do you employ to ensure that you and your team do not require any follow-up to get things done?

Change: From Vision to Execution

Leaders establish a lofty vision for a large scale change initiative and then strategize to align the team. Sometimes, the team gets over-excited by this grand vision and get stuck. They cannot define a strategy or a plan of action that takes them closer to that grand vision.

Planning for a change is a tricky thing. Vision is broad,  actions have to be specific, team needs to remain motivated throughout and uncertainties have to be managed.

Based on personal experience, here are some of the broad strategies that helps when planning and executing a change:

  1. Shorter “plan-do” cycles: Linear planning with long list of activities is almost dead. Long linear plan can bog the team down and doesn’t help in keeping all aligned. Shorter plan-do-feedback cycles help in executing work in smaller chunks and collect data/feedback that can help in further planning.
  2. Keep the plan simple: Every change initiative will face a lot of uncertainties and will get messy at some point. When smallest of details are planned, these uncertainties will throw you out of track. Planning for change has to be simple, with key milestones and broad activities. It gives a lot of space to the team in managing uncertain situations.
  3. Involve team in planning: Simple yet very effective strategy, that ensures buy-in from team and gives them a broader roadmap to execute.
  4. Plan early and often: In long-term change initiatives, constantly planning/re-planning is important. Milestones have to be moved and activities have to be re-prioritized. Review the plan at the end of every sprint and realign team’s focus.
  5. Keep communication clear: When plans change, it is important to keep communication lines clear. Teams and stakeholders need to know the impacts and risks.

I have felt that implementing large scale/strategic changes is like walking through a forest. You know where you want to go, but the road/map to reach there is not clear. This is also true for significant personal change (like switching to a new career, starting a business etc).

The critical part: You need to be constantly on top of your plan, learn and re-align.

The fun part: The quest to find the best route and eventually, if done right, the joy of reaching there!

The Rubber Meets The Road 15

The rubber meets the road when you, as a business leader…

  1. deliver real business results to customers (not just deliver an excellent pitch with an impressive powerpoint)
  2. start executing relentlessly (not just define your strategy on paper at an off site planning retreat)
  3. implement improvements in your processes (not when you create that good looking document with improvement areas)
  4. pick up the phone and talk to that frustrated customer (and not get into a chain of email exchange)
  5. lead by example and live your values (not just pass instructions for others to follow. Not just document your values on the website)
  6. act on your customer’s feedback (not just collect it through your customer feedback program!)
  7. start treating your people like “humans” (and not just “resources” or “capital”)
  8. “do” equal to or more than what you “say” (and not the reverse)
  9. start thinking about “preventing” problems (not just “correcting” them after they happen)
  10. work “on” your business (not just “in” it – easy to get consumed working “in” the business)
  11. communicate and share feedbacks often with your people (not just in their quarterly performance review)
  12. start looking at ways to solve problems (rather than finding someone else to blame)
  13. stay lean, flat and accountable (and not let your growth turn you into a bureaucratic, heavy top-down structure)
  14. understand that excellence is everybody’s job (not just a single department or a few people in the team)
  15. only speak when you completely, totally mean it (and not just throw clichés to please them now)

P.S: “Where the rubber meets the road” is an idiom that refers to the tyre of a vehicle on the surface of a road, meaning “where it really counts.” It is used to represent the defining moments or focus on real actions.

Bonus: My post “15 ideas To Ensure That Trainings Effectively Deliver Value” was featured in HR Carnival over at  i4cp PRoductivity Blog – along with a host of other brilliant posts on talent management, general HR, managerial advice and career advice. If you are a people manager or HR professional, this carnival edition is a MUST READ!

Also download (PDF) 100 fantastic insights that will help you become “BRILLIANT At The Basics of Business” – from none other than NICHOLAS BATE. Visit him for this and tonnes of other great resources – I am sure you will admire his generosity as much as I do.

Ideas to Avoid ‘Planning Trap’ and Focus on Execution

A lot of organizations fall in what I call “planning trap” – a lot of planning in the meetings, lot of decisions on improvement areas and eventually very little action.

One of the simplest measures of team/organization effectiveness is to keep a close watch on how much is decided in a meeting versus how much actually gets done. It is very easy to get distracted by other issues (and surprisingly, these ‘other issues’ always exists) within your area of work.

Two main reasons why this happens:

  • Executives loose focus on key actions (and focus on other issues)
  • Executives get impatient for results (specially for improvement actions where an organic approach is needed.)

Here are a few ideas to get over the planning trap:

  • Conclude every meeting with action items, deadlines and responsibilities. Keep a log.
  • Measure the progress and celebrate ‘quick wins” to keep everyone motivated. Show them the evidences of success.
  • Set the context right, so people understand the importance of actions and how it solves real business problems. They need to see the purpose of improvement actions.
  • Recognize their effort and provide direct/indirect rewards for participation.
  • Persistently monitor how much is decided versus how much actually gets done.
  • Involve top management in demonstrating their commitment towards improvement and underline the importance of execution-orientation.
  • Test, Validate, Inspect: Simply put, test the product before it ships, make use of the countless ALM tools out there for testing, and don’t allow it to have bugs!

More the gap, more you need to work on it. Do you remember that quote? – “A simple idea executed brilliantly is far better than a great idea executed poorly.

Success in any long term improvement initiative depends largely on two factors : Doing right communication to keep everyone motivated and keeping the score.

Here are a few bite-sized ideas from my book #QUALITYtweet that underline this fact:

#QUALITYtweet: “If you don’t periodically review the progress of your quality initiative with your team, you are  giving them a reason to slow down.”

#QUALITYtweet: Critical question: are the results of your improvement initiative visible enough to keep everybody engaged and encouraged?

Bottom line: If you don’t communicate enough and fail to keep a score of actions/deadlines/key objectives, you may fall in the ‘planning trap’ – and trust me, it is not a nice place to be in because little actually gets done!

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P.S: My post “Training and Development – A Holistic View” is featured in Carnival of HR at “HR Observations” blog. If you are looking for fresh insights on HR specific issues, posts in this carnival are a must-read. Check it out!

From ‘Knowing’ to ‘Doing’ and Execution as Your Best Strategy

I am fond of meaningful quotes and read this one a few days back – “Half of our problems can be solved by bridging the gap between what we know and what we do.”

My experience suggests that excellent execution of simple ideas will yield better results than great ideas executed poorly. Similarly, having good intentions for your team does not help unless you act on those intentions.

When an organization grows, one of the fundamental challenge is to bridge the gap between intentions at the top and actions taken by people who operationalize those intentions/ideas. For example, a CEO knows the importance of great customer service, but a lot still depends on how much the front-line managers and teams actually do something about it. The process of ideating is a creative one, and also common-sensical. But for implementing those ideas  you require a process. Unless supported by a strong process that enables teams to persist, ideas fade away like meteors – bright in the beginning and invisible after some time. They seldom hit the ground.

(Bonus: Read this GREAT piece from my friend Lisa Haneberg on importance of following through). Lisa explains the structure needed to effectively follow through.

In this context, I wanted to share a powerful story of how “die-hard focus on execution” can be your best strategy to create a differential value. Thanks to David Witt at Blanchard LeaderChat for sharing this excellent story:

Colleen Barrett, past president of Southwest Airlines, was asked about some of the techniques she used to keep morale high at her company. One of the things she shared was how she spent time every day writing personal notes to employees recognizing them for accomplishments, noting milestones achieved, or just saying thank you. After she had shared some of her “secrets” she was asked if she was worried about competitors finding out what she was doing and copying it.

Colleen wasn’t worried. Why? Because she knew that the power of what she was doing wasn’t in the concept—it was in the execution. In Barrett’s case, she knew that most executives wouldn’t take the time to write 4,000 personal notes a year to employees like she did. And that was why she wasn’t worried that they would duplicate the culture.

The idea of writing notes wasn’t the magic. Actually doing it was. What’s waiting in your idea queue? Make the shift from knowing to doing. That’s where the power is.


So, important questions as you start a new week:

  • What are those top 2 ideas that you think can make a big difference to your work/project/business? (Write them down)
  • Have you planned execution/communication structure for those ideas? (Remember, what gets scheduled/planned gets done)
  • How and when will you measure progress and results? (Measuring is important to maintain momentum)

Have a great start into the week!

P.S: You might also like reading my older posts that address this topic in a different perspective.

Great Quote: Optimism without Action

Via Aditya Kothadiya’s blog post

“There is no difference between a pessimist who says, “Oh, it’s hopeless, so don’t bother doing anything,” and an optimist who says, “Don’t do anything. It’s going to turn out fine anyway.” Either way, nothing happens.”

Inspired by Rajesh Setty’s mini-saga’s I attempted to write one earlier. The gist of the story was that knowledge may be power, but without actions, it accomplishes nothing. Which means action is more powerful.

I think same applies to optimism. Optimism should stem from your abilities to do things and not merely from dependence on fate.

I am reminded of a post I wrote a couple of months back on effort, execution and leadership in troubled times, where I had mentioned a quote from Seth Godin. I would reproduce the quote again, because it really goes very well with the one above. Here it goes –

“And that’s the key to the paradox of effort: While luck may be more appealing than effort, you don’t get to choose luck. Effort, on the other hand, is totally available, all the time.”

Have a great weekend!

Great Quotes – Effort, Execution and Leadership in troubled times

Each day begins with newspapers reporting despondent news on economic downturn – and a general feeling of despair surrounds us.  Some inspiration was needed before I start my week and I sought help from my friend – the feed reader. This friend never lets me down – it searches effectively from some 100 odd good blogs and dishes out some great content – that is not only relevant but also very lifting.

Seth Godin writes a very interesting piece on effort versus luck. Luck comes in easy while effort means some real hard work. He writes –

And that’s the key to the paradox of effort: While luck may be more appealing than effort, you don’t get to choose luck. Effort, on the other hand, is totally available, all the time.

There is an old post from Lisa Haneberg’s Management Craft  – where she emphasizes on importance of execution in troubled times. In the post, she refers to a song from Mark Knopfler called “Why Worry?”

“Why worry, there should be laughter after pain
There should be sunshine after rain
These things have always been the same
So why worry now”

I thanked my friend – the feed reader and went to another faithful friend – the books. I recently read Subroto Bagchi’s “Go  Kiss the World”. Each chapter in the book ends with some profound lesson. I decided that I will just skim through some concluding paragraphs and gain some inspiration. Here is an important lesson – straight from the book.

“Faced with crisis, the job of a leader is to take charge and broadcast his or her intent. It is not the time for self-pity, not a time to ask “Why me?” One has to be brave enough to try and, sometimes fail.

Mother Teresa once said, “God does not require us to succeed, He only asks us to try.”

Finally, in the worst of times, the job of a leader is to let his or her people know that there is a tomorrow.”

Great thoughts to stir up positivity and kick start the week! Have a great week ahead!