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Wanna rock the world?

I recently spoke to a CEO who had a limiting mindset around defining his company’s vision, strategy and direction. A little voice in his head said something like, “You’re the CEO! You’re supposed to be the smartest guy in the room! If you can’t figure out where this company is going and how to get there, you shouldn’t be in the job!”

This guy had what I call the “Stalinist Centralized Planning One Big Brain” view of the CEO’s office. Centralized planning — whether for a country or a company — doesn’t work. Eventually you must resort to Gulags and terror to control, oops … “help,” the poor bastards whose lives you’re trying to improve!

A recent Wall Street Journal article (Alberto Mingardi, “The European Union According to Hayek,” March 24, 2012) uses lessons from famous economist Friedrich Hayek to illustrate the folly of bureaucratic leadership trying to run welfare states. It’s a darn good argument for avoiding the ills of some of the EU countries, but there’s also a central tenant of the argument that works nicely in business: One person cannot possibly know enough to effectively plan and run a complex enterprise. The skills and actions to pilot a canoe don’t work so well in a battleship.

As an organization grows, it becomes increasingly important to listen more than you talk and use collaborative management techniques. The solo entrepreneur mindset doesn’t scale well. Archimedes said, “Give me a place to stand and a lever, and I can move the world.” As you grow, you need different levers.

The levers of solo entrepreneurs are often their ideas and capital. The levers of  midsize or large company CEOs include ideas and capital, but the ideas don’t (and shouldn’t!) always come from them. In addition, without understanding and using the levers of communication, collaboration, systems and motivation, their world won’t budge!

If you’re trying to move the world, channel Ronald Reagan, not Joseph Stalin!





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Todd Ordal

Todd Ordal is President of Applied Strategy LLC. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He speaks, writes, consults and advises on issues of strategy and leadership. Todd is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Follow Todd on Twitter here. You can also find Todd at http://www.appliedstrategy.info,  303-527-0417 or todd@appliedstrategy.info

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