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6 Things The Smartest Managers Already Know But Keep Getting Wrong

When will we get it right?

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BY Marcel Schwantes - 08 Oct 2018

6 Things The Smartest Managers Already Know But Keep Getting Wrong

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Tom Peters is a business and leadership legend widely known for his historical bestseller, In Search of Excellence, which has been called "the greatest business book of all time" by Bloomsbury Publishing.


Author Tom Peters. CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons

In 2014, Peters was named one of "The Most Influential Thinkers" of our time, placing No. 32--ahead of Elon Musk (No. 69) and former Google executive chairman, Eric Schmidt (No. 82). For curious minds, Pope Francis landed the No. 1 spot.

In an interview with Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, Peters didn't mince words on the current state of leadership, saying that "nothing has changed in 50 years, including the maddening fact that all too often a business strategy is inspiring, but the execution mania is largely AWOL."

In his latest work, The Excellence Dividend, Peters collects everything he's learned in his 35-plus years of writing and speaking on the best practices for businesses and their leaders. He also puts the finger on the most common offenses people in management roles have made--and keep making.

1. Inability to execute well.

"Poor cross-functional coordination and communication is the principal element in the delay of everything," Peters says. If your organization's health is suffering due to internal conflict and too many obstacles in the way of progress, leaders aren't actively working together in a coordinated way to effectively execute.

2. Seeing 'excellence' strictly as long-term strategy.

How do you interpret excellence in leadership or business? Most leaders think "strategy," "planning" and "vision" are pathways to achieve excellence "out there." But Peters says managers fail to capitalize on immediate excellence--how we connect, listen, inspire, and admit mistakes on a human level to employees or customers. "Excellence is conventionally seen as a long-term aspiration. I disagree. Excellence is the next five minutes," says Peters.

3. Failure to develop a thriving culture.

"CEO job No. 1 is setting -- and micro-nourishing one day, one hour, one minute at a time -- an effective people-truly-first, innovate-or-die, excellence-or-bust corporate culture," Peters says.

4. Failure to put employees first.

Peters says excellent customer experiences rely entirely on excellent employee experiences because it's the employee who makes or breaks the customer connection. This means leaders must see extreme value in them and pour into their career growth and development. "Training is any firm's single most important capital investment," adds Peters.

5. Failure to listen.

I've often written that effective communication isn't just about talking; it is also the ability to listen and understand what's happening on the other side of the fence. That's what great leaders do. "I always write 'LISTEN' on the back of my hand before a meeting," Peters says.

6. Ignoring women as potential leaders and consumers

On a more strategy level, Peters says "women buy everything" and make up a majority of consumer and business purchasing decisions, yet are largely underserved. But his conclusion hints at the underrepresentation of women in the C-suite: "One indicator of readiness to embrace this colossal women's market opportunity comes from conducting what I call a 'squint test.' One, look at a photograph of your exec team. Two, squint. Three: Does the composition of the team look more or less like the composition of the market you aim to serve?" Now there's a reality check.

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