Parable of the Non-Visionary Leader

Many years ago, in the early 21st-century, were two people who ran medium-sized companies that competed against each other.

It was a day of simpler times—when PowerPoint was the de facto corporate communication tool and LinkedIn managed your professional network.

This was in the age before artificial intelligence created all revenue projections. It was long before corneal projection technology. The ubiquitous smartphone owned the most timeshare of anything a professional owned.

The first executive was setting his strategic priorities to achieve blowout performance by the year 2020. Income projections looked exactly like what his board expected, a fast rising slope that easily outpaced GDP. They should expect triple their current revenue over the next several years.

The second executive was also setting her goals, and while they weren’t as aggressive as the first’s, they had an impressive trajectory. It was an excellent growth rate for a business of their size and was ahead of what the industry growth rate was.

Revenue projections are usually based on what executives want to achieve, what they think is expected of them, and what their bonus structure enables. Unfortunately, the disconnect usually begins there. They fail to have strategy trickle down to tactics that achievef financial goals.

Executive one had climbed the ranks through sheer force. He knew the company’s service well but wasn’t the strongest leader. The exec struggled to succinctly develop and convey a game plan to achieve growth. He was an operational specialist, and this always seemed easy before he was in the top position. The words to describe his growth plan were plenty and his explanation plausible but his associates were skeptical. After a couple years of rocky performance, he was returning to the strategy and tactics of the glory years, a time of unprecedented growth for his company. It was based on what his predecessor had done many moons ago.

Executive two had a difficult climb to her position. This was years before gender equality had been achieved but still she had made it. Her number one trait was that she was visionary. She knew the world was changing fast and her company had to adapt. She made bold moves, quickly changing the strategy to align with the reality of the market. It was a gamble but one she knew she had to take.

2020 arrived. Executive one came nowhere near his projections. In fact, his company was slowly whittled down to a fraction of what they had been and was bought for pennies on the dollar.

Executive two beat her projections. Her gamble paid off. Her choice to restructure and refocus had impeccable timing. Their stock value had skyrocketed.

Stuck in the past or a visionary? The early 21st century taught us one thing. That successful CEOs were always the latter. Anything else and you’re company descended along the glide path to obsolescence.

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