Strategy lessons from the greatest CEO in tech history … and it's not Jobs

The recent death of Andy Grove passed unremarked in the Australian press.  Grove has been called the greatest CEO in tech history: he mentored a young Steve Jobs.  A former Intel CEO, Grove was responsible for the transformation of Intel from a ‘memory company’ to a ‘microprocessor company’.  Few companies have successfully redefined themselves so fundamentally.  When Grove stepped down as CEO in 1998 Intel was earning $6.9B profit on $25B revenue. 

The story of the transformation remains a classic case study in strategic leadership.  

I highlight three key lessons and suggest some practices you build into your personal leadership repertoire.

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Breakout strategy: what if anything were possible?

At its core, strategy is design.  And great design starts with the question: what if anything was possible.  If we start with constraints we get designs for tomorrow that merely tweak today.

What if we applied the same design principle to the strategy process?  This would improve the chance of creating something truly distinctive: a ‘breakout strategy’.

In preparing for a leadership conference Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz argued:

Before we could challenge the status quo, my colleagues and I had to see it in new ways, reframe our existing ideas, and move beyond self-imposed constraints to imagine new possibilities.

How bold are you willing to be  to achieve something truly distinctive?  

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Avoiding Gray Rhinos ... strategic renewal and the status quo trap

Strategic renewal is a fact of life,  While strategies constantly evolve, organisations experience strategic drift either through organisational entropy (the tendency for systems toward increasing disorder) or market and competitive shifts that are no longer reflected in our strategies.  The challenge is to respond to these issues before you reach crisis.  Regrettably, organisations often move too late.  Why?

There are two explanatory factors: a ‘failure to see’ or a ‘failure to move'.  This blog illustrates the power of some of these issues and describes an approach used in a recent workshop to overcome some of these limitations.   

This is part 2 of a three part series of blogs looking at some of the issues at different stages of the strategy life cycle.  To see the earlier blog click here


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The profound responsibility of leadership

The most creative conversations of our professional lives engage both our emotional and analytic selves.  These conversations are the source of inspiration and sense-making that leave you buzzing hours later; that wake you in the middle of the night; that create new insights through connecting previously disconnected ideas. 

I had such a conversation a few months ago with a colleague.  Exploring the role of purpose in organisations, he challenged me to articulate my purpose: why do I do what I do? 

One of the outcomes of that conversation was a paragraph I wrote about the profound responsibility of leadership.  I didn’t post it at the time, at least in part because I suspect for many business leaders – prospective clients – it might seem ‘too soft’.  But after some interesting conversations yesterday I decided I would share my world view.  So here’s what I wrote those months ago: 

I believe in the capacity of leadership to create great organisations … organisations that can develop and execute strategies that match the demands of a complex and changing environment; that can build connections with customers that transcend the simple transactions that characterise too many market places; that create customer experiences that build longevity into the relationships.  And this comes about through leaderships’ capacity and commitment to engage with the people who are the body and soul of any organisation and want to make a contribution that goes beyond just earning a wage. 

This is the primal responsibility of leadership.  If not this, then what is our job as leaders?

I also believe in the self-evident truth: it is the leadership teams which need to design, develop and energise the change in organisations.  Our job as consultants and advisors is to help them in that pursuit. 

This is my ‘bias.’  It shapes the conversations, approach, and expectations in my work as a strategist, facilitator and teacher.  And I think this is largely reflective of my clients.  The people I have worked with over the years who I connect most deeply with do feel a profound responsibility. 

But over time many leaders slowly, often unconsciously, withdraw from this profound sense of responsibility, reflecting a felt lack of a shared sense of responsibility among their peers and their leaders.    Or sometimes in the face of challenges that seem overwhelming.  But this model of leadership demands institutional leadership: it is beyond the capacity of individual leaders.

Do you feel this profound responsibility?  How often do you experience deep, creative conversations within your organisation which engage both your emotional and rational-analytic self as you explore your collective role as leaders?  Do the conversations leave you buzzed?  Or just frustrated?  If the latter, I suspect the ‘emotional’ self has been ‘shut out’.  Caution: the failure to engage the emotional self can ultimately lead to ‘burn out’.