In a previous article, I shared with you my perspective about what is Executive Intelligence and why and how it is important to deliver and achieve. However, today in this article, and in future parts, I will focus on one very important skill, which in fact is back bone of Executive intelligence. What is it? Please keep reading, it is just round the corner.
Before I proceed it will be of interest for you to know that lot of turbulence was happening in the business world in year 2000 -2001. Thousands of pages were printed on various businesses’ disciplines and taught in business schools around the world. The common question was, Why companies, headed by suave CEOs and bunch of talented people sporting inspiring visions and clear cut missions, aided by an army of best consultants in the market were failing? Why others were skyrocketing with less known or unknown CEO’s with meager resources comparing giants? It was, therefore, in early 2001 that Execution “started gaining currency” and “Executive Intelligence” emerged – as a buzz word in the corporate world. Realizing the importance, National Association of Corporate Directors, USA, required CEOs to focus on “EXECUTION” in performance evaluation.
Execution is simple. This is not rocket science. This is about sticking to plans, doing things in finest details, sticking with manuals, managing the company etc. But when you probe deeper, the dialogue will start to fizzle. So am I suggesting that it is rocket science? No, definitely no. what I am trying to convey is that it is about core processes i.e. people, strategy and operations, which are all interwoven. In the words of” Larry Bossidy” , former chairman of Honeywell corporation, “Execution is systematic way of exposing reality and acting on it” .
If you proceed with reading this article without asking, what does it mean? You are off- track. I bet you are. Because when you delve deep, after you peel the skin of the above simple statement of Mr. Larry Bossidy, to get into the core of an argument, you are on the track. Do you know why? Because consciously or subconsciously your mind is getting geared towards a core discipline of Executive Intelligence and that is “CRITICAL THINKING”. Believe me, this is the building block one in the process of Execution. This, in the words of Jack Welsh, former CEO of GE, is “GRANULAR STUFF OF BUSINESS”, a set of cognitive skills.
Before we proceed further let us see what does the above statement of Larry Bossidy mean? Just peel first layer. You see two core colors:
First. “Execution is systematic way” and Second is “Exposing Reality and acting on it”.
The First part means that Execution is asking yourself and your team of How, What, Why, of any assumption, thought, Strategy, Plan, Action, Capabilities, competition, environment etc, and once done with it, ensuring accountability of people, process and strategy. This also includes adapting to changing environments and changing assumptions and strategies, as realities unfold. That does not mean changing vision or moving the goal post. It is about synchronizing all processes to reach the goal, some time, if necessary, taking a detour. This brings us to a second color i.e. exposing reality and acting on it. This second part is very fundamental and most people from across all walks of life and most corporate entities just fail on this part when they don’t face reality. This argument applies to Governments, States and other organizations as well. Result is either dismal performance or utter failure. Therefore, we can safely conclude that “Reality perception” is very cardinal to executive intelligence.
Now let us see what is “Critical Thinking”? What is that Granular Stuff? If it is about few Why’s? and few How’s ? Is it about simple logic games, as people understand? No. This is not that simple. It is a comprehensive set of Cognitive skills which determines effectiveness of persons, Organizations, etc. Mr. Michael Scriven, an accomplished academic and former professor of psychology at UCL Berkley, in his book “Reasoning” has defined Critical thinking , in a business role, as: “The skilled, active interpretation and evaluation of observations, communication, information, and argumentation as a guide to thought and action”. In its simplest forms, critical thinking is a rigorous process of thinking, by skillful gathering, processing and applying information, to get to best answers possible, in a given situation and set of circumstances. That is about Building the capacity to think skillfully and applying it as a whole and creating an aura around you, which exudes Clarity, confidence and accomplishment, not only in you but in people around you.
This again pops up a question that when all MBA’s are taught all such cognitive skills, analysis, and decisions matrix then why they still fail to perform? Do we have a definitive answer? No we don’t have. But we can assume that may be because they probably scratch other’s heads; reach out for readymade decision making models, stick to do and don’ts but still fail. Why?
The answer, to put it simply, is: they try to apply such models and look at various paradigms from other’s perspective, lost in the maze of graphs, charts etc. They don’t delve deep into themselves, don’t scratch their own heads and challenge assumptions from competition’s perspective, and don’t see the situation from their own eye and angle. Result is failure. Then what is the secret? If there is any?
The secret is the ability to create tailored solution as the situation warrants. Because this is, as I said earlier, a continuous process, evolving and growing organically. There are no readymade recipes. Such readymade step by step processes have their limitations, and can be applied in certain situations. But when it comes to executive intelligence, and execution, the process is intricately woven. The perfect mathematical formula of “Critical Thinking” is not available anywhere in the world. There is no Black and white, red and green diagram(s).
We just need to accept that this is pulsating world, where nothing is and nothing can remain constant except laws of nature. Every moment, situation changes, so the process has to take detour. The key to success lies in superior cognitive skill i.e.”Critical Thinking”, and that the set of such skills are sharpened by practice and rigorous self accountability. This, as I said earlier, is a continuous process. Therefore, it requires continuous rigorous thinking, as there cannot be any sequencing of activities before hand. The “star” performers can be evaluated, but they cannot be emulated and replicated, though every STAR shines despite being different from other “STAR”.
To conclude, I will say that critical thinking is a core building block of executive intelligence and that it is constantly evolving organic process, which inter alia also includes intuition; that Jack Walsh calls GUT FEELING.
I am sure we are all intelligent enough people and gifted by God in one way or the other. We just need to scratch our heads, keep asking questions, get ready and get going. Please keep in mind that those who keep on asking and asking questions, unabatedly, and looking for one hundred percent perfect analysis, fall in the trap of “ANALYSIS PARALYSIS”, in the words of Jack Walsh. There comes a point where we feel tickled by our Intuition and that is the point where we need to listen to our heart as well, which great Leaders, in the history of world call “Gut Feeling”.
So the first skill is Right mix of CRITICAL THINKING with dash of INTUITION in right proportion. What is right proportion of this for you? You have to figure it out yourself, as you know, hopefully, yourself more than anyone else. And last advice. Please don’t let anyone make this combination for you. No one can do it. It is only you who have to do it yourself. “DIY” (Do It Yourself).
In our next article we will discuss more about the topic in hand and will move on to the next ingredient of the recipe. I will suggest you read more and more on critical thinking and start preparing yourself to live your dreams.
About Ayaz Gajani
Ayaz Gajani is a former civil servant, entrepenuer and an academic.