5 Strategic Inflection Points for Leadership Development

“A strategic inflection point for a business is when its fundamentals are about to change. They are the result of an event which changes the way we think or act.”

- Andy Grove, ex-Chairman, Intel

An awful lot has been written over the years about the growth curve for business. We tend to marvel at the meteoric rise of organizations like Amazon while at the same time wondering what happened to great powerhouses like Sears.  

It is so fascinating that for years before Amazon came on the scene we could order things from Sears and have them mailed to our house. While I understand that Amazon has created a digitized experience, I can’t help but wonder how the executives at Sears did not see this trend and buy Amazon in its first year.

It really is amazing that some of the real organizational giants in our world have struggled, even becoming eclipsed, by small, innovative organizations that captured the hearts and minds of us all. 

I was reading an article recently that tried to give some rationale as to how and why something like this could occur. I mean, who would have ever thought that the powerful General Electric (GE) would be removed from the Dow 30?

But in June of 2018, this very thing happened when Walgreens was added. GE was taken off because it no longer reflected the market, which was going up while GE was going down.

In fairness, GE is still a viable organization with lots of dedicated employees, yet there is no denying it is not doing as well as it had in the past. The reality is they never recovered from the 2009 crash. It took a bailout from Warren Buffet and the government to keep them solvent and they haven’t recovered overall since that downturn. 

Application for Leaders

As I was reflecting I began to wonder… if this could happen to GE, could it also happen to the leaders I interact with and coach?

And the truth is, it could! 

Here are 5 things to consider as you innovate and develop:

  1. Find one way to innovate within your current role.

    When most of us think about innovation we begin to feel overwhelmed and find it hard to conceptualize. Some consultants tell us to “think outside the box” if you want to innovate. However, Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg recommend just the opposite. They claim in their book, Inside the Box, that more and quicker innovation happens when you think inside the box. Rather than having to create a whole new job for yourself that no one understands, why not just put a couple of Boyd and Goldenberg’s strategies together and innovate your current role?

    1. Option 1: Stop doing one thing in your role that that was likely essential at some point but no longer is. Perhaps you work on a budget every month that no one looks at or makes comment on. What if that task just went away? Would anyone miss it?

    2. Option 2: Unify tasks. Maybe there are meetings you are having with 3 different people that you could combine into one meeting. Or maybe you are traveling to meetings in person and you could be doing it over video conference.

  2. What one piece of critical feedback are you lacking?

    In a recent experiment people were asked to skip a meal and then entered a room where chocolate chip cookies had been baking. Half of the people were asked to eat 2 or 3 of the delicious cookies and the other half of the folks were asked to refrain from eating cookies and eat 2 or 3 radishes instead. Later all participants where asked to solve some fairly complex geometry problems. Those asked to refrain from eating cookies gave up twice as fast on the geometry problems as their counterparts. The researchers concluded that attention and effort goes into resisting temptation and leaves less energy and attention for other tasks. Douglas Stone and Shelia Heen, in their book Thanks for the Feedback, say this has important implications for our efforts to act on feedback we get and to change behavior. Feedback can be “accurate, timely, perceptive, and beautifully conveyed” (p. 258), but if it involves too many ideas to keep track of or too many decisions or changes, it is too much and nothing will happen. Instead of seeking out complicated feedback and writing complicated development plans, simply get feedback on the one thing you could do better and innovate around that.

  3. Read the Organizational Signposts

    What are the trends in your organization that are destined to become imminent inflection points? Are you noticing that more emphasis is being put on relating to the customer rather than driving sales? If so, what changes do you need to make to become an innovator in this new behavior? Maybe you were the top performer in whatever you did 3 years ago, but it might not be relevant today unless you continue to innovate and grow.

  4. Play Your Strength Card

    A lot has been said about this one over the past few years regarding how important it is to be yourself and focus on your gifts and talents. I agree with most of this, but what often gets left out of the equation is how to use these strengths to do the little things really well, better than everyone else, without drawing attention to yourself. I harken back to the great John Wooden, basketball coach for UCLA, who said, “High performance and production are achieved only through the identification and perfection of small but relevant details, little things done well.” How are you using your strengths to do the little things really well?

  5. Take a 3 year view on the future.

    We all get caught up in the day to day and the quarter to quarter, but I wonder what would happen if we set our pride aside and really asked ourself what might be different in the next three years that could make our career obsolete. What about 5 years or 10 years down the road? At some point, someone is going to come along and do your job better, faster, or cheaper than you are.  I think what my wife is doing right now is a great example. She is an online teacher for VIP Kids, a company that gives english lessons to children in China. Sitting in our home in Orlando Florida at 6:30am she is doing half hour lessons for children in Bejing who have just finished dinner at 6:30pm. Teachers, if you don’t think that your students couldn’t be sitting at home getting the same lesson, I ask you…why not?  All of us need to be ready to upgrade our skills to prepare for whatever revolution is coming our way.

I can remember reading a book by Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE, on the topic of management and leadership back in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Organizations were changing how they evaluated performance based upon what Jack was doing at GE. After all, between 1981 and 2001 during Welch’s tenure the company gained 4,000% in value. Then 2009 hit and today GE has lost more value since 2016 than it is worth today, only about $88B from an all-time high of around $500B.

If it can happen to GE, Sears, and other icons, it can happen to you, no matter what kind of performer you are currently in your organization.

Start innovating and developing your own career today.