Business Book Review

Monday, October 30, 2006

Book Review: The Third Opinion - by Saj-Nicole A. Joni, Ph.D. - LEADERSHIP HAS CHANGED

Reading Suggestions & CONTENTS
About the Author


The risks to the organization—and the career—of the individual leader who is determined to go it alone are greater than ever. It is not enough to have a brilliant team of direct reports. Leadership in the modern era demands external thinking partners in addition to a top-notch internal team.

What makes it possible for the leaders you admire most to continue to grow—no matter how famous they are, or how insightful, or how often right?

In the twenty-first century, the requirements for successful leadership, according to Joni, have changed. Today, leaders face issues of previously unimagined complexity, uncertainty, and sensitivity, issues that require careful thinking and judgment, yet at lightning speed. The world operates in real time, or almost real time, with technology providing near-instant feedback. Similarly, technological and scientific innovations are occurring at an unprecedented rate. In their turn, these innovations foster disruptive change that transforms business in ways that are rarely predictable.

Globalization is now the norm in almost every industry, which means there is a much greater interdependence of products, services, and economies. Along with the geopolitical implications of globalization, there is also an increased amount of information to absorb in an increasingly networked world. In addition to new opportunities, globalization also brings with it new competition, as well as more mergers and acquisitions. Rapid change and globalization also bring with them new issues of trust—on all levels, personal, intraorganizational, and external—when companies face both cooperation and competition in the same environment. “The competitive landscape is continually being redrawn with temporary advantage shifting to a new competitor each time someone discovers how to exploit a new level of complexity in the offering.” Finally, in the wake of 9/11, the threat of terrorism and the resulting security concerns present issues that did not exist a decade ago.

Leaders find more complexity sooner, and more often, than leaders in the past. They will need to lead in areas in which they are not necessarily expert. And, leaders are regularly, as opposed to only rarely or occasionally, confronted with issues that are highly sensitive. Leaders, therefore, must have expert input and a “safe place to ask hard questions where they do not have to constantly filter for spin, self-interest, and other agendas.” Leadership, therefore, demands not only an excellent internal team, but external thinking partners as well. In this redefined world of business success, she poses two important questions that every business leader must ask: “What kind of leader do you have to be to deliver results and succeed today? What kind of team do you have to assemble to work with you in this new era?”

Working at many levels across diverse industries, Joni has observed that a few talented leaders know how to assemble their advisory network and incorporate it into their leadership team as a powerful and well-utilized resource. However, many promising leaders have not yet developed this resource. To accomplish this, they must develop three habits—the Habit of Mind, Relationship, and Focus—which will build a leadership circle and enable the leader, regardless of his or her level of leadership, to lead with the benefits of outside insight.

As leaders develop their three Habits, the conversations they will have with their thinking partners will fall, generally, into four categories. First, there will be visionary conversations, in which different possible futures are discussed, as well as how to use that insight in present situations. In these conversations, trends, such as micro- and macroeconomics, global and political realities, and scientific and technological innovations, and their effects may be discussed. Second, sounding board conversations will be of great value. In these conversations, leaders and their thinking partners can ask “what if?” by taking a new look at strategy or at supposedly implicit assumptions. Potential actions and decisions can be explored, as well as doubts that may have arisen in a leader’s mind. Third, thinking partners can help leaders with “big picture” conversations, by looking at everything that is happening, and making sure that the organization’s direction is aligned with all the various, and complex, elements that will be part of its actions and processes. Finally, thinking partners can help leaders engage in what Joni calls “expertise in inquiry” conversations. In these conversations, leaders and their thinking partners go a step beyond developing or deepening specific knowledge bases to developing fundamental models and new ways of thinking about the general business terrain.


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