The role of business thinking in leadership

An unwillingness to engage in deep business thinking can have a negative effect on your organization, writes Adrian Smith

The role of business thinking in leadership
The problem
Martin Luther King once wrote: Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.
We have been working with our clients for many years to assist them in developing organizational capability, particularly leadership skills, and it is our observation that some 50 years after Martin Luther King made his statement nothing much has changed. We often come into contact with managers and leaders who prefer to rely on obvious solutions or past experience as a platform for business thinking and decision-making, rather than undertaking deeper, more insightful thinking exercises.
Often these are the managers and leaders who appear to struggle with the many challenges of our dynamic business environment, and who can be overwhelmed by change and change leadership. We observe that a manager’s lack of desire to or incapacity to engage in deep, hard thinking – to in effect change the way they think – significantly limits their ability to function in our complex business world of 2015. This ultimately becomes a real constraint to their business and people leadership effectiveness and capacity to deal with the dynamic and changing business environment we find ourselves in.
We believe leaders’ and managers’ business thinking must be challenged, and their capacity to undertake ‘hard, solid thinking’ developed as a platform for achieving high-impact business leadership and decision making as well as changing and enhancing people leadership behaviors. Having the right business perspective and business-thinking tools is a must as a platform for high-impact leadership behaviors!
The link with leadership
Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer was a British military commander who fought in both World Wars. He was the youngest ever field marshall and is best known for his defeat of the guerrilla rebels in Malaya between 1952 and 1954. Templer, despite coming from the command and control environment of the military and an era that predates many of our modern leadership theories, saw the leadership imperative as:
• Get the priorities right
• Get the instructions right
• Get the organisation right
• Get the right people into the organization
• Get the right spirit into the people
• Leave them to get on with it
This formula for leadership resonates because of its simplicity, but also because of its balance between seeing the future, planning to achieve it, and engaging others to deliver on it. Templer’s leadership imperative, which covers both business leadership and people leadership, can also be looked at as ‘the what’, ‘the why’ and ‘the how’. The effectiveness of the what and the why are directly linked to a leader’s business thinking capabilities.
We suggest that organizations need to arm leaders so that they can:
• investigate and understand the competitive external market
• understand and articulate key organizational drivers
• describe the drivers of business success for their area of responsibility and for the broader organization
• build a vision of what the future could look like, and the steps to achieving this
• build commercial and financial acumen – hard business-thinking skills
• develop strong, nonexperiential decision-making tools using appropriate systems and linear and non-linear thinking techniques
• make bold and innovative decisions
• communicate the vision, the rationale and the way forward (the what, the why and the how) in a compelling way that drives rational engagement and lays a platform for people leadership that also drives emotional engagement and buy-in
Ultimately these tools are needed to help leaders and managers deliver high performing teams and businesses each and every day through refined business acumen, financial acumen and decision-making tools, and by coaching their teams on business focused behaviors.
This is a slightly amended version of an article written by Adrian Smith, principal of Talent Mondial (Australia). It has been shortened to make it suitable for web publishing.