A friend forwarded to me a Harvard Business Review article titled the “The Focused Leader” written by Professor Daniel Goleman. It was an interesting report about the focus of leaders, but I was struck by an understated, secondary mention about strategy that hit me with a mallet. “Any business school course on strategy will give you the two main elements: exploitation of your current advantage and exploration for new ones.” Let’s first focus on the two action words, “exploitation and exploration”. Those two words, as it relates to our strategy responsibilities, is what made me think about writing this post. When I work with CEOs, one of the most difficult projects is how we can identify and exploit our unique selling proposition. Our viewpoint on our point of differentiation is frequently muddled and clouded by our personal opinions, recent customer feedback from the whiners, and a parochial viewpoint from valued staff members. My point is that we need real clarity, courage, and abounding enthusiasm to define and then defend what attributes makes our firm truly different. Another real opportunity that is over-looked is to devote time and energy to exploring new advantages. This is actually the hardest task for the leader, because it is a Greenfield of creativity and we are chained to our past success and legacy cashflow. Because it is uncomfortable, risky, and out of favor in most companies, we subordinate this important job.
My challenge to you as the CEO is… you should:
- Courageously explore new markets
- Vigorously probe the competition for weaknesses and opportunities
- Find the internal capability and capacity weaknesses
- Identify and carve out new niches
- Experiment, and test and measure results
- Exploit opportunities
- Fight the internal tide that everything is OK.
- Reposition the business
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