25 December 2019

Lessons learnt as a CEO – part two of three

If last week was about the childhood sea-saw, this week is all about teenager years. Specifically calculus! Yes, calculus!!

Lesson 2: Don’t forget your derivatives from the calculus class in high school

To quote the much hackneyed statement – change is a constant. As a leader, your worry is not change per se. Whether you like it or not, change will happen. Even if you or your company desire not to change, the market will, technology will, customers will and competition will. You simply have no option.

And chances are that as a CEO everywhere you look, you can see the writing on the wall about the changes that you need to bring or would like to bring. That is given.

Change of status is a first order algebraic equation. One of the lessons I have learnt as a CEO is to get a deeper understanding of the first derivative. What is the “right pace of bringing in change”? The rate of change, if you will. (First derivative, if you remember your calculus)

You cannot ride a speedboat like you are steering a ship. You will lose out on the potential progress and fun you could have had. On the other hand, you cannot steer a ship like you are riding a speedboat. A couple of hard turns and you are going to break the ship into pieces.

Setting the direction (change required) is relative easy. You can hire one of those management consulting firms and they will wax eloquent on what change you need. Figuring out at what pace you want to turn the ship and what is the speed you can push the organization to but no more requires a deep understanding of the company and its culture.

As a CEO, this can often be very frustrating. You know what you want and have a rough idea how to even get there. But you cannot dictate the speed. Turning organizations has as much angular momentum as rectilinear momentum. You do not want to spin it out of control – but you want to keep the force on.

You have to apply the right throttle and the right steering. All the while, trying to change the culture, re-equipping the talent inhouse to be able to deal with a little more throttle and a little faster steering.

You will not get all changes right all the time. That is okay. Going back to the ship metaphor – you will pivot and change directions multiple times. But if you pushed the ship beyond its limit of handling change and broke it in two pieces (or even some major component of it), that is irreversible. You will have no chance to pivot any more. Or make anymore forward progress, for that matter.

So, the key lesson is, it is not about the change. It is about the “rate of change”. Not the “delta”. The “d – d – t”, in your teenager math speak.

Posted December 25, 2019 by Rajib Roy in category "Reflections

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