by Dan Parisi, Executive Vice President at BTS
A few years ago, I had the privilege of visiting the US Army Command & General Staff College, where senior officers receive their leadership development. In a discussion with the Dean of Academics at the College, I asked him which leadership capability he considers most critical. He answered, “We need our officers to be able to ‘visualize the battlefield’. Without being able to do so, all other decision making is compromised.” He went on to explain how important it is to visualize terrain conditions, climate conditions, location of enemy forces and location of friendly assets, and then, to be able to maintain that vision in their mind’s eye when things go volatile, uncertain and ambiguous. He emphasized that even though the officers have hardware, software, satellites and GPS to assist their decision making, nothing on the field can replace a senior leader who can see the bigger picture and make accurate decisions even under shifting conditions.
I was delighted to hear this point of view in another domain because we have a very analogous point of view in the BTS Strategy Alignment practice. For years, BTS has espoused the virtue of senior business leaders being able to visualize and take a broad perspective on the interdependencies that exist within their business. Our shorthand term for this concept is simply: ‘Perspective & Interdependencies’. These two words are a vital first step in developing business acumen in senior leaders, and a key pillar to “Lead Your Business”, the first step described in BTS’ Business Acumen for the 21st Century point of view.
Our use of the phrase ‘Perspective & Interdependencies’ is directly analogous to the Army’s ‘Visualize the Battlefield’. At BTS, we believe this is a vital business leadership capability, and without it, all other decision making is potentially compromised. In a business context, can a senior business leader anticipate the implications of a strategic decision across functions and boundaries? Can they ‘visualize’ the impact of a key decision on their internal operations, supply chain, customers and competitors, and finally, financial results? Without a broader enterprise perspective, managers are at risk of simply ‘optimizing for their function’.
The Biggest Barrier to Developing Perspective & Interdependencies
In a discussion with a high-tech CEO on the concept of ‘Perspective & Interdependencies,’ she said to me, “Yeah, you are talking about the ability to ‘connect the dots’ at the enterprise level, and that’s so rare, especially in technical fields.” We went on to discuss how corporations give future leaders ‘mixed messages’ on this as they move up the career ladder. As a manager moves up in a typical company, they are rewarded and promoted for their technical and functional expertise. If they perform well in their function, they get promoted, and eventually become a VP. At that point, the typical corporate approach is to say, “Hey, you made it to VP, and we know you made it by being a technical expert in your function, but guess what? Now we need you to be an ‘enterprise player’, to make decisions across boundaries and to be a great collaborator with other functions.” This pressure is especially felt by high potential leaders going into more senior roles where they need to collaborate across functional silos and business units. Yet, nowhere along the functional journey has the manager been able to develop a strong sense of enterprise level ‘perspective & interdependencies’.
For the above reasons, the first step on the BTS Business Acumen for the 21st Century point of view is “Lead Your Business”. This first step is about enterprise level business acumen and helping leaders ‘open the aperture’, see the broader business, and connect the dots across functions. “Across functions” includes all the way to enterprise value creation and financial results. BTS uses business simulations so all leaders making the transition to bigger enterprise level roles can practice gaining ‘perspective & interdependencies’ and make enterprise-level, interdependent business decisions. They can study cause & effect, understand the broader implications of function-level decisions, and anticipate business impacts down the road. This critical enterprise-level business perspective is a first and vital step to becoming a senior leader and making better business decisions.