About That Horse You Rode In On…

What’s your second act?


In 2001, at the time of the 9/11 attacks, it’s arguable that Delta Airlines was sitting in the best position of any other airline in the industry.  With a strong balance sheet and strong industry positioning, Delta was arguably best positioned to weather the impending shocks to air travel that 9/11 would bring.  Only the world changed even more than a strong balance sheet would cover…and Delta’s longstanding brand and culture were forced into bankruptcy.

You could call it a lack of agility.  I might call it a lack of awareness.  The company had seen many changes to airport security and customer mindsets before and was in a strong position.  Its leaders probably didn’t think they needed to change all that much…and that inertia was fatal. Delta’s leaders knew where they were, but failed to understand that how they worked would not work in the new world.

So, as for you: You may know where you are.  You might have a view of your “strategic context.” That’s usually the starting point of a solid strategic plan…assessment of where you are today. The tools are legion: SWOT, MACS, SCP, etc. etc. etc.  Call me, I’ll probably be able to name a few more.

But, strategy isn’t about the tools, it’s about knowing what you want to BE and finding out what you are going DO in order to BE that thing in the future. In other words, it’s about figuring out what the future requires and getting to it.  Having a vision for where you want (or need) to be is all the more important if the world is changing quickly.

So, if you are like the average executive, you’ve probably figured out a play that you run for success. You probably have a routine, an approach to leading people, and a default set of questions you ask…no matter the context.  And, just like the average executive, you probably really can’t figure out how to change your routine.

I’ve got bad news for you…The horse you rode in on is probably tired.

You need a new horse.

So, how do you do find it?

As an individual executive you have to find a source of renewal.  You have to be able to look at the world and try new things.  It’s not a bad thing, and it might even keep you young. That guy who won’t shut up about something new he wants to try?  He might be your key to flexing your muscles a bit.  That advisor who just might have a new idea or two, perhaps you should listen to her.

Organizations are different, and in some ways harder to cause to switch horses. Why?  Well, put simply, they are a collection of individuals.  If it’s hard to get an individual to change, then that level of difficulty is compounded in organizations.  Some executives might be energized to change at one point, while others are not…the whole organization, then, starts to look like a slow speed traffic jam…where some executives are speeding up while others are coming to a stop.

What to do? Half the battle is admitting it. The other half is being thoughtful about how much horse you really have left, and what your next horse really needs to look like.  In our practice, we take the time to listen to the context of an organization before working with our clients on the next step.  If the next step means a new horse, it’s certainly important to know the rider’s style of riding.  Otherwise, the attempt to switch horses will fail.

I encourage you to think about where you are, and (if indicated) be proud of what got you here. But, I encourage you to realize that the horse you rode in on is probably tired.  The chances of that are much higher if you are in a rapidly changing (or shocked) sector.

One thing is certain: the world is change.  That horse you really liked is probably going to mature and decline.  That is true whether the horse is a business, a technology, or even a set of management practices.

You need fresh horses.

Be willing to get help looking for them.

What do you think?  Have you ever seen an organization run out of horse? 

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