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Watermelon, Zucchini, Keystones, & Strategic Leadership

WatermelonIn The Strategic Leader, I suggest that leaders are responsible to create the conditions by which individuals and organizations can flourish.  Consider these two examples.  

Years ago, the central common bond among my executive team was a love of farming. Having come from a non farming childhood, I had difficulty being accepted into the group on any basis except competence.  I set out to hone my farming instincts and not only participated in hay baling, castrating bulls, and butchering pigs but started gardening.  I got a bunch of books on the subject and set out my plants, and watered as directed in a small space in my yard.  Lo and behold, I soon had giant watermelons, corn as high as the sky and more tomatoes and zucchini than I could eat in two years. 

As a way of seeking recognition for my new prowess, I took the pictures and produce into work and showed them to my colleagues. They were impressed and congratulated me on finally joining their team. But, as with many things, the dream vanished.  One evening while I was in the garden my next door neighbor stopped by and noted how great the garden looked – and before I could respond he burst my bubble.  He said, you know the people who owned this property before you used to bury their kitchen leftovers, coffee grinds etc in that exact sport where your garden is.  What I thought was Productivity based on Competence was really Productivity based on Context.  The conditions for my success were laid by those that came before me.

The second example, took place just a year ago.  I planted a yellow rose bush in a container on my deck to honor my wife.  The rose bush stagnated for over 6 months until I recalled my earlier exploits in growing vegetables.  Perhaps I should find a spot with different growing conditions. So I moved the rose bush in direct sunlight and next to a watering spigot so it got watered when the lawn did.  Sure enough in a month I had a bush with many beautiful roses.

The lesson from these two stories is that context makes a difference.  It is the leader’s [gardener’s] role to find or create the conditions so individuals, teams and organizations can flourish. As a member of our Strategic Leader Learning Community you know the importance I place on cultivation of Agility and Artistry as the keystone competencies that enable leaders to cultivate and grow their team/organization. 

A keystone is the architectural piece that locks other pieces into place. Thus the placement of keystones is extremely important structurally.  I use the term figuratively to refer to the central supporting elements of strategic leadership without which the whole structure would collapse.

Agility is the keystone of strategic thinking. It refers to the ability of leaders to use three strategic thinking skills: systems thinking, reframing and reflection in ways that combines rational knowledge with intuition, and promotes individual and organizational self-discovery, and open mindedness. The result of using these skills is a mindset that guides thinking and is successful in interpreting environmental forces and identifying strategic initiatives.

Artistry is the keystone of strategic execution.  It refers to the ability of leaders to use five leader actions: managing, transforming, bonding, bridging, and bartering. Leaders use these actions to embed their strategy into the everyday work behaviors and practices of their organization to be successful. Artistry takes its cue from the assumption that leaders operating in quicksilver must possess and use a wide variety of actions that depend on what the context and situation requires. They are involved in a constant cycle of leading and managing; sometimes simultaneously. They must also juggle the political realities required to sell their ideas to those who enact them while following the values identified as important by themselves, their colleagues, and the organization.

Agility of the Mind and Artistry of Actions are the keystones upon which must be in place to think and act in a strategic way.  No amount of thinking will make change happen. A multifaceted world requires a multifaceted repertoire of leader actions.

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