The Unintentional Executive, Vol. I

Earlier this week, I sent out a communication to everyone at work; basically a retrospective on 2010 and thoughts for moving forward into 2011. Among the feedback was one particular comment that got me thinking. She said, and I paraphrase, “You know, you have a very straightforward way of describing business problems. You make your points very easy to understand. Have you ever thought of writing a business book?” Well, if I thought the world could really ingest one more business book, and if I thought I really had the credentials to write a business book, it actually sounds like an interesting proposition.

The reality is that I am not your schooled and pedigreed executive. I did not set out in my career to become the C-level anything. When I read much of the conventional wisdom propagated by those intentional career executives, I guess I am somewhat skeptical and am struck by the needless complexity introduced into most topics. Yet I do have some perspective to provide; beginning with a two-person software startup (out of the master bedroom of our home no less), all the way to some of the most impressive private equity and banking firms in the world – from San Francisco, Dallas, London, and Singapore to the 49th floor on the south end of Central Park in New York City. What a view … literally and figuratively.

Since I did come from very humble beginnings, clearly my perspective is going to be more grounded, more people oriented, and more simplistic. But I think that is fine actually, because business isn’t really that complex. For this entry, let’s just talk a minute about the perspective you take as an executive. I do believe there are two basic perspectives, the simple, bottom’s up perspective that I find myself thinking from most of the time, and the top down, big picture perspective that I see coming from the more traditional executives. I don’t necessarily think there is right and wrong here, just different perspectives … and I have to admit that I flip between the perspectives when checking my thinking process.

Essentially, from what I’ll coin the unintentional executive perspective, you are woven throughout the work, not hovering above it. You are looking at the fine grain components and trying to determine what is working and what isn’t. You are proceeding from a position of making all of those puzzle pieces work better together, regardless of organizational hierarchy or boundaries. You are mining data, listening to individuals, and examining processes to make better directional leadership decisions. Most importantly, since you are immersed, your perspective makes it almost impossible to make decisions that would be detrimental to any part of the organization. You will always be motivated to prioritize the betterment of the entire organization ahead of any personal or professional goals you may have.

Who knows, as my good buddy Mark always responds when I ask him if my thinking is crazy, “You may be crazy, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t right.” From my perspective, and from how I have operated in my career so far, you have to focus your energy on how to make the people, products and processes in your organization the best they can be. You have do it from a vantage point that provides you true understanding. And you have to make sure you are always asking yourself if your decision is for the advancement of many interests, or just a few. You really don’t need to worry about the shareholders’ interests, for if you focus on what really matters, the rest will follow.

Go to Vol. II

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