Leadership Reading to Start Your Week: 3/9/15

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Here are choice articles on hot leadership topics culled from the business schools, the business press and major consulting firms, to start off your work week. I’m pointing you to articles about leadership, strategy, industries, innovation, women and work, and work and learning now and in the future. Highlights include how and why business simplification is fast becoming a strategic priority, the most troubled industries in the U.S., how innovation is more than magic, five ways women redefine leadership, five myths of great workplaces, 15 surprising discoveries about learning and whether to diversify or focus.

Be sure to look for dots that you can connect.

Note: Some links require you to register or are to publications that have some form of limited paywall.

Thinking about Leadership and Strategy

From Ken Favaro: Diversify or Focus? The Best Strategies Do Both

“Focus and diversification are often presented as a choice: You can have one or the other. Which strategy is right for you? It’s an unfortunate question that puts most companies on a time-wasting merry-go-around. For every CEO who touts her strategy to create a laser-focused company, there’s a successor waiting in the wings to launch a new era of growth and expansion. And for every CEO attributing strength and stability to his company’s wide-ranging portfolio, there’s a successor waiting to usher in a period of profitability and retrenchment.”

From Dale Buss: 8 Leadership Tactics From a CEO Who Orchestrated a Successful Turnaround

“A CEO who’s an expert in communicating goals and ideals with the people in his company can go a long way in advancing progress or in turning things around. For Kim Yost, chief of a major mid-market furniture retailer in the Midwest called Art Van, one key to such success has been his use of symbols, icons, slogans, self-published books and even an internal video network to motivate the troops.”

From Wharton: Business Simplification Is Fast Becoming a Strategic Priority

“Business simplification is a strategic imperative for today’s companies if they wish to unlock innovation and position themselves for future success in an increasingly complex world. Yet, many corporations are not aligning their actions more effectively with their stated goals of simplifying business processes, decision-making and IT functions — and as such risk falling behind nimbler competitors, according to the ‘Simplifying the Future of Work Study,’ a survey conducted by Knowledge@ Wharton and SAP.”

Industries and Analysis

From Mark Cohen: 12 Symptoms of a Dying Retailer

“We all know when a retailer is in trouble financially. If public, their quarterly results invite critical comments by analysts. Their financial disclosures begin to make reference to problems with loan covenants. Their underlying liquidity and solvency comes under fire from suppliers and factors alike. Often these symptoms are noted too late for any effective remediation to take place. The deathwatch is on.”

From Catherine Clifford: The 8 Most Troubled Industries in the U.S.

“Starting a business in an industry that is dying or facing extreme international competition is like fighting those windmills. And there isn’t much money to be made in windmill fighting. In that vein, market research firm IBISWorld has ranked the industries that are expected to see the highest percentage of U.S. businesses close in the next five years.”

From Spencer Stuart: Consumer Packaged Goods: A Bold Pursuit of Growth

“The quest for growth is driving waves of change in strategy, leadership and culture.”

Innovations and Technology

From Joerg Niessing and James Walker: The Eight Most Common Big Data Myths

“The hype surrounding ‘Big Data’ does businesses a disservice by making it all look much too easy.”

From the Economist: How to back up a country

This is a good place to start reading the latest Economist Technology Quarterly

From IBM: More than magic

“Leading organizations have a clear focus on innovation. They recognize that effective and sustained innovation drives both value creation and competitiveness. In a 2014 survey of more than 1,000 C-suite executives and their direct reports conducted by the IBM Institute for Business Value in collaboration with the Economist Intelligence Unit, we found that the most successful organizations do indeed approach innovation differently. The top 9 percent of organizations in both operating efficiency and revenue growth pursue distinct strategies in innovation organization, culture and process. This executive report highlights how the most successful organizations approach innovation and identifies specific strategies that can help all organizations innovate like an outperformer.”

Women and the Workplace

From Pat Wechsler: Women-led companies perform three times better than the S&P 500

“Boston-based Quantopian looked at how well Fortune 1000 companies led by women performed compared to the S&P 500 over a 12-year period.”

From Anne Perschel: 5 Ways Women Redefine Leadership

“Hypothesis: The increased number of women in leadership roles has resulted in greater emphasis on stereotypically feminine attributes associated with effective leadership.”

From Sally Helgesen: At Most Tech Firms, the C-Suite Is Still a Boy’s Club

“Each year as March 8, International Women’s Day, draws near, I like to take stock of developments in women’s leadership over the past 12 months. This year, I’m struck by how often I hear companies talk about ‘spending to stay flat.’ In other words, organizations are devoting resources to programs aimed at attracting and retaining women with leadership potential, only to see them leave prematurely, pull themselves off the leadership track, or not progress as quickly—or as high on the executive track—as the organization had hoped.”

Work and Learning Now and in the Future

From Tom Loeffert: The job is dead: long live work!

“Pity the knowledge worker: an entrenched meeting-based culture and a working day dominated by soulless, siloed email activity are proven to induce cortisol and stress. Mired in bureaucracy and non-productive tasks, it’s hardly surprising that an anti-work sentiment has started to bubble up to the surface. Do we, as employers, really want to perpetuate a situation where the best part of the working day is going home?”

From Ron Friedman: 5 Myths of Great Workplaces

“Suppose that later this evening, after you have stepped away from your keyboard, put on your coat, and traveled home for supper, your organization underwent a magical transformation, reshaping itself into the world’s best workplace. How would you know? What would be different the next time you entered the building?”

From Saga Briggs: 15 Surprising Discoveries About Learning

“What are some of the most encouraging known facts about learning? From taking a walk to learning a new language, there are countless things we can do to improve the way we learn. Below we list fifteen steps toward a better brain:”

More Leadership Posts from Wally Bock

People over Purpose

No matter what Dan Pink said, if you want self-motivation, people are more powerful than purpose.

By and About Leaders: 3/3/15

Pointers to pieces by and about Larry Baer, Mark Bertolini, Alfred Sorensen, Rodney O’Neal, and Larry Griggers.

From the Independent Business Blogs: 3/4/15

Pointers to posts Kate Nasser, Steve Roesler, Jesse Lyn Stoner, Anne Perschel, and Lolly Daskal.

Stories and Strategies from Real Life: 3/6/15

Pointers to stories about YouTube, Tupperware, Miller Lite, Better Health Store, and Michelle Villalobos.

Life and business success is all about telling the right stories well.  If you want to get a book done, improve your blog posts, or make your web copy more productive, please check out my blog about business writing. My coaching calendar for authors and blog writers currently has time open. Please contact me if you’re interested.

Join The Conversation

What People Are Saying

Keith Harcourt   |   09 Mar 2015   |   Reply

Comment on – Symptoms of a Dying Retailer
by Mark Cohen
Sounds like certain supermarket chains. Could it be that however sophisticated the market research, such behemoths have lost the capacity to listen and react rapibly to the individual consumer?

Wally Bock   |   10 Mar 2015   |   Reply

I think that’s part of it, Keith. Another part is that the “sophisticated” research misses the Mark. Too often it listens to what people say, but doesn’t pay much attention to what they actually do and it often fails to acknowledge that switching to something new is not an easy decision.

Phil Lynch   |   10 Mar 2015   |   Reply


I’ve been doing a little catching up on some of your recent posts. As ever, thank you for the care and diligence you take in creating them for us. Big data and business intelligence seem to be a major theme right now, and I worry that the C-suite, and maybe several levels below them, have given up on managing by wandering around, roving leadership, call it what you will. The promise of these tools for execs seems to be that all they need to know will appear on a dashboard, and accurate ‘evidence-based’ decisions will follow.

Chewing this over, I tuned into the radio last night here in the UK to hear execs from HSBC bank explaining themselves to a committee of our parliament. Their Swiss subsidiary has been accused of helping clients evade tax on an industrial scale. The execs’ defence was simple, and breathtaking: “Don’t blame us. We didn’t have a clue what was going on in the business units we were responsible for”.

I wondered whether this was another way of saying, ‘None of this stuff showed up in the spreadsheets and dashboards that tell me all I need to know about business units I have never visited, whose people I do not know and whose working practices are a mystery to me but whose accomplishments I’m happy to claim as my own when bonus time comes around.’

I have great sympathy for managers with large areas of responsibility stretching across different time zones, cultures and legal jurisdictions. It’s an old adage in your former line of work that if the map and the terrain don’t agree, trust the terrain. What if a leader is told the map never lies, and sophisticated, busy managers don’t need to see the terrain?


Wally Bock   |   11 Mar 2015   |   Reply

Good points, Phil. Some years ago I had the privilege of working with Harold Washington who was the head of Oakland, California Public Housing (OPH). OPH had computers and generated reports, but they were only one source of information for Harold.

He once told me that he used the information his system generated but that “no printout can tell if you the eighth floor landing was swept properly.” He also valued relationships with residents and the things they told him that no information system could provide. So every day he spent some time walking around the OPH buildings, talking to residents, riding in the elevators, walking down the stairwells, and peering into corners of every kind.

I’ve always thought he had the right idea. Even if the map is right, it can’t tell you everything about the territory.

Thanks for adding to the conversation.