3 Keys to Developing the New Must-Have Executive Skill: The Final Cut

By Mary Ottman

In this three-part blog series, we previously covered two of the three keys to developing the new must-have skill for executives.  What is this new must-have skill?

In 3 Keys to Developing the New Must-Have Executive Skill: Part 1, we learned that this must-have skill is resilience.

Note: If you have not had a chance to check out Key #1: Lead with Authenticity or Key #2: Emotional Intelligence: Managing and Regulating Your Emotions, you missed some great tips that can help you to be a more effective and resilient leader in today’s rapidly changing world.

You may recall that resilience can be defined as the ability to quickly bounce back from failure and continue undeterred on your original course with forward momentum.

Effective leaders need resilience to deal with the surprises, constantly changing requirements and other obstacles that continuously disrupt productivity and threaten to derail their teams’ efforts to meet deadlines.

So without further ado, the final key to developing resilience is Agility.

Key #3: Agility – the Ability to Flex and Pivot

The first two keys dealt with managing and regulating your internal personal leadership authenticity, your emotions and the alignment between your leadership actions and your values.

This final key, agility, takes the first two keys and then applies them in a strategic framework that requires the leader to forecast, monitor, take predictive action and also corrective action to respond to ever-changing workplace, organizational and programmatic requirements.  In other words, a leader has to be able to flex and pivot quickly.

What do I mean by that?

Savvy, effective executives must be able to determine when, how and how much action to take in order to successfully lead an organization or a business.

In short, when everything at work starts to show signs of falling apart, the successful leader has already led the up-front assessment that allowed for spotting the red flags early and adjusting to alternative plans that enable successful outcomes for the team and the customer.

4 Essential Leadership Tools That Enable Agility

#1 – Strategic Planning.  Successful leaders use strategic planning to look at the internal strengths and weakness of their organization.  They also look at opportunities and threats that exist due to factors outside their organization.

For example, when Netflix first came on the scene, they disrupted the existing “brick and mortar” movie rental industry because Netflix offered to mail DVDs directly to your home versus the customer having to drive to a store to rent a DVD.

At that time, brick and mortar rental stores typically did not have older movies in stock .  It was also extremely difficult to find new releases in stock since the supply was extremely limited due to limited shelf space and high customer deman at the store.

Using this new business model, Netflix became a major force in the movie rental industry.

Now, if Netflix had stopped their strategic planning at that point and stuck with the DVD-by-mail method, they would have been later surpassed by online streaming capabilities.

However, Netflix saw that technology shift coming and adapted their business model.  They invested in the technology infrastructure necessary to provide streaming of movies over the internet instead of mailing DVDs to customers and the rest is history.

This example demonstrates that leaders must conduct regular strategic planning activities for their organization or business in order to remain agile and responsive to opportunities in the competitive marketplace.

Tip: For more information about a widely-recognized tool for performing strategic planning, check out this article describing the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Analysis process.

#2 – Assessment Tools.  As we have seen, successful leaders oversee strategic planning activities and put those strategic plans into action.

However, the key to reading the signs of a detrimental change on the horizon requires assessment tools.

In our example above, Netflix had systems in place to analyze the competitive environment and recognize that they had more competitive factors to consider than just the price to rent a DVD and the time it took for the customer to receive the DVD in the mail.

Netflix’s forecasting processes indicated they also needed to heavily invest in their technology infrastructure to enable digital streaming.  If they did not have assessment tools to monitor not only their internal systems but also the competitive environment, they might have gone the way of the Pony Express after railroads took over delivering the mail from coast to coast, i.e. they might have become extinct.

The SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Analysis is a tool that can be used for assessing an organization’s competitive environment.  It is used to assess an organization’s inner strengths and weaknesses along with opportunities and threats that exist in the competitive marketplace.

The key is to update the SWOT Analysis at a rate that makes sense for your industry so that you can spot trends and monitor for up and coming opportunities and threats in your target niche.

For example, the number of times a paper clip company performs a SWOT analysis will be less than the number of times a computer technology company performs theirs (within a certain timeframe).  Why?  Paper clip technology does not change nearly as rapidly as computer technology.

Tip: A typical mistake that many leaders make is letting the time spent putting out the everyday fires take over the strategic planning time slots they carve out on their calendars. 

 This is one of the major differentiators between being a manager and being a highly effective leader. 

 Leaders MAKE the time for strategic planning.

Managers react and push paper in the office to comply with existing processes.  Leaders proactively set the vision and lead the strategic planning efforts to plot the growth and success of their organization for the next 1, 2, 5, and 10 years and beyond. Then they adjust existing processes to support their vision for their organization and their teams.

#3 – Contingency Planning.  This is a critical step that has saved my proverbial bacon many times.  I have seen leaders fail miserably because they have bet all their chips on one plan.  I watched as they committed all their resources to one path forward and then something out of their control tanked the entire effort.

By not developing contingency plans, they severely hampered their agility and the ability to flex and pivot when things went wrong.

Murphy’s Law states that anything that can go wrong will go wrong.  Murphy has a way of showing up when you have only considered one alternative.

Tip: Risk assessment and contingency planning are essential tools of the agile leader.

What do I mean by risk assessment?  For example, if your organization sells electronic gadgets, what are the potential risks to your supplier’s production line?  Do they have more than one supplier on contract to supply the parts?  Is your supplier’s organization staffed and cross-trained such that they can support the production line schedule needed to deliver your orders?

What happens if the key personnel who are trained on the processes to assemble your gadgets decide to retire or take a job somewhere else?  Would that fatally impact your delivery schedules?

Tip: Effective leaders research and understand the needs and challenges of their suppliers to help them identify road blocks early enough that potential issues that can be resolved successfully.

Examples of contingency plans that you might consider for this production line example include considering splitting the parts order across two suppliers in the initial purchase.

This will give you two sources for the parts and diversify your risk so that you are more likely to get some parts instead of no parts, if something goes wrong.  You will be ordering less parts from each supplier, so your cost will most likely be higher, but your risk of complete failure to make your deliveries is lower.

I spent a lot of time walking you through this production line example, but I am sure you can see how contingency planning can help in your niche as well.

If you are a florist, this would be similar to lining up multiple suppliers for your flowers.  If you are an independent consultant or a coach working from home, contingency planning could involve having more than one computer at home.  Then if it crashes, you have another computer ready to go and you do not lose the ability to support your clients.

These are the types of decisions that you, as the agile and resilient leader, must make.

#4 – Network Nurturing.  All the plans in the world do not mean a thing if you do not have a network of people under you, over you, and alongside you in your network that you can count on to help you execute your vision.

As a savvy, effective leader, it is imperative that you take time during the week to step away from the never-ending routine of putting out management fires and spend some time nurturing your network.

This means stopping to take time to do things like meet a potential collaborator for lunch, even if it means walking away from a desk loaded with documents for signature and an inbox overflowing with messages you need to return.   Trust me, they will still be there when you get back.

If you are like many women aspiring to leadership roles, you are probably working very hard to earn the credibility and respect you need to be a contender for that promotion.

If so, you probably just read my advice above about walking away from your inbox to spend time with colleagues and customers and thought, “Oh no, I do not have time for that.”

I am sure some of you thought about your son’s ball games or your daughter’s dance recitals.  You probably work through lunch, so you can leave the office early to pick them up from school and get them to their events.

Whether you have kids to taxi around or not, I am betting that every second of your day is probably allocated to something important that has to get done.

I get it.  Truly, I have been there.  Our lives as women, parents, wives, daughters, volunteers and students are rich, full, sometimes exhausting, fulfilling and did I mention full?  Sometimes you probably feel that you cannot fit in one more thing.  I know I definitely have.

But here is the thing, and this is important.

Nurturing your network is a requirement for climbing the corporate ladder or running a successful business.

The saying really is true that it is not so much what you know but who you know.  Many women think that by increasing their knowledge that they will automatically qualify for the higher positions, and that is just not the case in today’s environment.

Real Talk Tip: If your goal is to get that big promotion or massively scale your business so that you have a bigger influence in your organization and your community, or if you want to increase your income and provide more opportunities for your family, then you have to figure out a way to make the time to network. 

Nurturing the people that are important to you, along with nurturing win-win relationships with those who are imperative to your success, is a key differentiator between managers and successful leaders.

What does network nurturing look like?  It might look like going out for a drink with your colleagues, customers, potential customers and, as appropriate, your leadership. Another option might be having lunch with them.

Nurturing your network might include introducing two of your connections who have what the other is looking for, even though you do not have anything to gain from their connecting.

You have probably heard this called “pay it forward”.

The key here is that to develop agility, all the best-laid plans also involve people committed to your success.

Developing goodwill and trusted relationships are a hallmark of the resilient and agile leader.

Tip: A great book that talks about ways to network and build strong connections is Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferazzi. 

And there you have it.  The three keys to developing resilience, the new must-have executive skill, are:  Leading with authenticity, using emotional intelligence to manage and regulate your emotions, and developing the agility to flex and pivot to capitalize on strategic opportunities and avoid oncoming catastrophes.

One final thought: In addition to resilience being the new must-have skill for executives, it is also extremely valuable when dealing with challenges at all levels career levels.

Career Tip: If you develop resilience before reaching executive status, it is extremely likely that you will also increase your chances of becoming an executive faster than you might have without it. 

Employees that demonstrate authentic leadership, emotional intelligence and are agile and able to flex and pivot are exemplary candidates for leadership positions.

Mary Ottman is an established, well-trained women’s empowerment and leadership expert with a focus on systems for speakers. Mary retired in 2017 after a successful Army civilian career, where she served as an executive leader to notable accolades and single-handedly turning around the diminished gains of her personal health, finances and lifestyle. 

Now, purpose-filled, overwhelmed professional and entrepreneurial women hire Mary to revamp their clarity & confidence, to speak up, move up and start earning the zeroes in their bank account that they so richly deserve!

If you are ready to start taking action NOW to get CLEAR, find your voice, and get experience speaking in a safe, private online group, Mary invites you to check out her 5-Day “Choose. Change. Cha-Ching!” Visibility ChallengeThis challenge provides a fun and unique twist on getting confident, visible and taking ACTION NOW to speak up and move up to start reaping the profits you so richly deserve! 


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