My core goal is to help amplify the effectiveness of CEOs and leadership teams by: (i) helping to identify value opportunities and challenges, and (ii) helping to navigate the fraught, opaque, often-maddening and unexpected constraints, confusions, and detours that arise inside and outside the organization, that can distract from, dilute, or outright derail value-driven visions and plans.
Value-driven leaders tend to face multiple organizational pushbacks. Value comes from being able to continually view the total basket of the organization’s tangible and intangible assets, including people, culture, vision, legacies, governance, customers, the brand totem and core product thesis, and the external environment, and ask what the right solution is. Solutions, in turn, depend on both art and science: they need to be supported by metrics and a model, but leaders need to be able to act based at core on brand vision and conviction. And as opportunities arise, conditions change, and brainstorms occur, optimal solutions can change quickly and dramatically. Virtually every constituency inside and outside organizations conspires against leadership based on these realities.
Boards and investors often don’t understand or respond very well to visions, preferring either to dwell on metrics or to focus on the false rigor of structured planning processes. Core brand tenets are often confused with opinions. Pursuing value involves dynamics that are hard to maintain: flexibility, constant questioning, sometimes-sharp pivoting, triaging - things that generate pro-active organizational resistance. Institutions don’t like pivoting and triage, but that means that leaders get forced to stick with losing policies. Institutions don’t like hard choices, but they are requisites to truly creating value. Institutions tend to push leaders towards positive thinking, incremental change, "consistency," and placating solutions: grow, fix problems without upsetting anyone, be positive. Boards can be free-for-alls of varied "peer" opinion that cause leaders to hide the ball for fear of being undermined, or even take the ball and go home.
My focus is on helping leaders identify value and navigate towards it. On the substance - I try to push back, challenge assumptions, and pose alternatives to help with value discovery. (Leaders can and do get stuck, having internalized some of the above pressures). But I usually conclude that my core value-add has been helping to game out how to adjust, evolve, and guard key priorities given the culture, constraints, uncertainties, and volatilities of the organization. One management team member once said to me: "You're the board member who protects us from the rest of the board.” It was a little bit apocryphal, but there was an element of truth in it.