“Hope is not a strategy.” – USAF Pilot”
Be honest. Raise your hand if you have a clear business strategy for your company (or if you don’t own a company, for your department) over the next one, three or five years.
If you’re raising your hand, good for you! Most likely, you’re one of just a few people with their hand in the air. If you’re not raising your hand, it’s good you were honest and have some self-awareness.
In my former career when I was an IRONMAN Triathlon athlete and coach, I trained hundreds of athletes for their first race and in many cases, continued to guide them throughout their career. There’s a complexity to training for and finishing an IRONMAN… one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. There are so many moving parts, ranging from equipment needs, nutrition, biomechanics, training progressions, logistics and much more. If one word describes the IRONMAN athlete it’s ‘committed’.
In my coaching days I noticed three types of athletes.
One type was the athlete who made it up as they went along, training each day depending on how they felt. They didn’t seek coaching or mentors but went at the process on their own like a lone wolf.
Even though the science of exercise physiology has given coaches and athletes definitive insights into how to boost performance, leveraging heart rate and power training, these athletes chose to ignore these principles and just wing it with no structure or method to their training routine. They were the classic example of “Building the Airplane as they flew it.”
On the opposite side of the spectrum were the athletes fully immersed themselves in the science and the experience. These folks hired coaches, received VO2max and other performance testing in the lab, engaged in high tech bike fitting programs and attended training camps and seminars throughout the year.
They were dedicated to the science of performance training and rarely deviated from the data. Hard core! Remember Ivan Drago in Rocky IV? That’s what I mean.
In the middle ground were the athletes who embraced science, technology and coaching, but also relied on learning from their peers (they joined a trained with a triathlon club). They were both intuitive (listened to their bodies) and used scientific principles, but in a comprehensive manner that provided room for both to dictate their progress.
Guess who the most successful athletes were based on my personal observations and experiences? If you guessed the athletes in the ‘middle ground’, you are correct.
These athletes benefitted from the technology and science of training and racing while also remembering that every athlete is an ‘experiment of one’ and sometimes one size (or training program) doesn’t fit all. They were easily able to adapt and pivot as needed, never being so rigid in their approach to training that they missed an opportunity to ‘do different’ and grow as an athlete even faster.
Nowadays in my practice as an Executive Coach and business consultant working with CEO’s and business owners of varying size companies, I see striking parallels to my former work as a sports coach.
Three Types of Business Leaders
On one hand, you have business leaders (we’ll call them Type MP’s) who are very rigid and exacting in their approach to running their business. They hire a team of consultants and coaches, run three day strategic off-sites, measure every aspect of the business with scorecards and have systems/ processes in place for everything. They run a super air tight ship. “Military Precision” is a way I would describe how these businesses are operated.
On the opposite side of the spectrum are the ‘lassaiz-faire’ style leaders (We’ll call them Type LF’s) who are very hands off, unstructured in their approach to leadership and allow the organization to find its own path with a light touch. You find a lot of entrepreneurs fit this category who tend to work ‘in the business’, constantly focused on putting out fires. They might engage coaches and consultants, but usually won’t because that would mean require the dreaded words, “structure” and “accountability”.
Strategic planning isn’t very important to this type of leader as they prefer to just let things happen as they will. And if there is a Strategic plan, it’s usually not executed as other shiny objects fly by and grab their attention. Let’s just say that ‘operations’ is not this type of leader’s strength so systems and processes aren’t very tight! Things are working out well for them because of the demand for their product and the success is coming easy… so take time to build a foundation for the business? Let’s just ‘wing it’ instead, because that’s always worked.
In the middle is the intuitive leader (Let’s say Type IL’s) who understand the value of building a firm foundation, having a strategic plan and systems in place to run the organization. They also see value in using their ‘gut’ and intuition to pivot and innovate, responding to changing markets and other conditions. Culture is a focus for this leader… one in which people feel supported and appreciated while also knowing what the companies objectives are and what their expectations are in order to contribute to the overall success of the organization. Accountability is huge in this type of org. as peers push each other to ‘level up’ and perform quality work.
From my observations, each leadership ‘type’ described above has certain advantages and disadvantages. Let’s have a look at each one in terms of strengths and weaknesses.
TYPE MP – MILITARY-LIKE PRECISION LEADER
The business leader who builds a foundation for the business, has a plan and is 100% focused on execution with a command and control style.
· Focused on building a firm foundation on which the business can operate
· Sets a vision for the org. and gains alignment from their team
· Very operations oriented with an eye on the details
· Creates a high-performance culture where team members are focused on results
· Builds scalability and equity in the org.
· Lack of flexibility stifles innovation
· Risks burn out with employees due to fast paces, metric driven culture
· Command and control type of leadership needs to evolve to achieve better results
· Close minded to new ideas. Rigid and less likely open to change.
TYPE IL – INTUITIVE LEADER
The business leader who understands the value of planning, process and systems but also uses intuition to innovate and drive and effective cultural dynamic.
· Takes time for strategic planning process and setting a firm foundation for growth
· Knows their wheelhouse and hires the right people to shore leadership gaps
· High EQ and Culture centric
· Has an eye on innovation and pivots when necessary
· Collaborative and supports the growth of people on the team
· Creates a business that is scalable.
· Work/life balance a focus
· Has a difficult time being decisive at times
· Perhaps relies too heavily on those on their team
TYPE LF – LAISSEZ-FAIRE LEADER
The business leader who allows the business to flow in the direction it wishes to take without force. Isn’t concerned with systems or operations.
· Highly innovative and quick to pivot according the market
· Attracts entrepreneurial minded, innovate thinkers
· Fast paced and high energy culture
· Creates visionary products and services
· Good at putting work aside and focusing on pleasure activities
· Fun, ‘sky is the limit’ workplace
· Lack of planning and execution
· No focus on systems
· Hard to scale the business
· Always chasing the next shiny object
· Can be easily manipulated to change course
“Failing to plan is planning to Fail.”
As you can probably already glean, the world of athletics is similar to the world of business when it comes to leadership, personal or organizationally. Some people are very focused on planning, process and precision while others tend to the other end of the spectrum with freedom, flexibility and innovation.
IT’S ALL ABOUT RESULTS
In my experience in the Triathlon world, those athletes who landed in the middle ground tended to have the best results. They were usually able to strike a training / life balance, avoided injury (per listening to their body), saw continual performance gains and seemed to enjoy the sport more.
On the other hand, those athletes on either extreme either burned out faster or seemed to get injured easier.
In my observations and consulting with business leaders, I find similar results. Those business leaders who are ‘Intuitive’ but also understand the need and value for planning / process and execution drive scalable, well-run organizations where people enjoy working.
On either extreme while people can be and are successful, I am seeing pitfalls and gaps in potential for achieving even stronger long term business results. This is why my mission is to help my clients develop awareness around these issues and to find their ‘sweet spot’.
The question I pose to you as a leader is to assess where you land in terms of your business leadership style, Type MP, Type IL or Type LF. Are you prone to ‘Military-Like Precision’ focused exclusively on process with a low tolerance for flexibility and perhaps an inattention to culture dynamics, “Lassaiz-Faire” leadership where you go with the flow, never laying down a firm foundation for your business to grow, or will you hit the middle ground as an “Intuitive Leader”, pulling from the best of both worlds to create a business that scales and grows?
Grow your business with passion!
A former professional IRONMAN triathlete and coach, Troy Jacobson is an Executive Coach and consultant, leading the Jacobson Leadership Academy where he provides services for business leaders to optimize performance. Reach out to him to find out your leadership style and how to adapt to one that might suit your needs better. To learn more, visit www.troyjacobson.com