The ability to think at the enterprise level—across the entire enterprise—is crucial for Army leaders. While many of us may not become enterprise leaders, we can become enterprise thinkers who appreciate and understand the big picture and act in the best interests of the overall enterprise—the Army.
We all encounter opportunities in our work and daily lives to engage medium and ill-structured problems requiring strong thinking skills. The stronger our thinking skills, the greater our chances of success in supporting strategic and enterprise leaders. Many of us spend the initial stages of our career buried in departmental silos chasing objectives in our respective functional areas. The most vital objectives, however, are enterprise objectives, those that are established at the highest echelons of the Army or DoD to accomplish the overall mission and support the National Security Strategy.
We need to grow and develop leaders who see strategic issues and analyze them, then act with the interests and perspectives of the total enterprise to address capability gaps and create value. This requires the ability to prioritize important and urgent problems and decide how to allocate resources accordingly. We need leaders who avoid narrow business unit interests as well as functional or geographical interests in favor of doing the right thing for the enterprise.
Born or Made?
Developing an enterprise perspective can be improved with education, training and experiences. But the ability to shift through different levels of analysis, recognize patterns and construct mental models requires some natural propensity. This is not to suggest that an individual who does not have an inclination or natural tendency won’t be able to develop into an effective enterprise leader.
In reporting on a study in a June 2012 Harvard Business Review article, “How Managers Become Leaders,” Michael D. Watkins looked at functional leaders who moved into leading an enterprise. Borrowing from Watkins’ study, here are “seven seismic shifts” necessary to become an enterprise thinker:
1 Specialist to generalist
The challenge here becomes shifting from leading a function to leading a set of functions. Rather than staying in one’s functional comfort zone, enterprise leaders must take on a broader role. Enterprise perspective turns specialists into generalists who know enough about all aspects of the functions to run an organization with a broader perspective. This shift in thinking requires an organizational mindset that sees how the various areas of an enterprise link together and affect one another.
How do you take this step? For starters, step out of your functional area to help yourself grow from a functional specialist into more of a generalist. This would help with building more breadth and depth in your experience base. Consider volunteering for taskings or areas that are outside your comfort zone. Seek broadening assignments and broader perspectives. In the context of Army design methodology, sharpen your ability to look across an enterprise and understand the major issues in each functional area’s current state as well as the desired future states in each domain.
2 Analyst to integrator
Where functional leaders manage people who focus in analytical depth on specific problems, an enterprise leader’s job is to manage and integrate collective knowledge to solve important problems. This may also include the shift from personally being an analyst to being an integrator—moving from “doer” to “synchronizer.”
How do you take this step? Having a general knowledge of various functions is a good start. The skill set needed involves understanding how to make trade-offs and explain the rationale for those decisions. The ability to collate knowledge and ideas is part of this process. A developmental assignment working with a senior leader would be helpful as well.
3 Tactician to strategist
The challenge here is letting go of the comfortable role of a tactician in the trenches every day getting results. Tactically strong leaders develop a strategic mindset by cultivating four skills:
- Level-shifting—the ability to move fluidly among levels of analysis to know when to focus on details and when to focus on the big picture and how they relate.
- Strategic focus—the ability to understand how your position or department’s mission nests with higher headquarters and strategic-level goals.
- Pattern recognition—the ability to discern important relationships and patterns in business and the environment.
- Mental simulation—the ability to anticipate how others will respond to what you do and to predict reactions.
How do you take this step? Key here will be securing developmental assignments and positions that expose the leader to crossfunctional projects and positions of greater responsibility. Advanced educational opportunities like senior service college, Senior Enterprise Talent Management programs and others can contribute to developing your skill set.
4 Bricklayer to architect
As you move up to the enterprise level, you become responsible for designing the architecture of your organization—its strategy, structure and processes. As effective organizational architects, enterprise leaders need to practice systems thinking by avoiding simple linear cause-and-effect reasoning. The Army Organizational Life Cycle Model is a good example that depicts the linkage of systems for acquiring, developing, employing and then retiring resources—a system composed of systems within a system.
In addition, enterprise leaders must know the principles of managing and leading organizational change, including the mechanics of organizational design, business process improvement and strategy development.
How do you take this step? Few leaders rising to the enterprise level get formal training in these disciplines, leaving most ill equipped to be the architects of their organizations. Leaders are advised to consider formal education programs or courses that teach organizational change, for example, to help better prepare for this shift.
5 Warrior to diplomat
As an enterprise leader, you also face the challenge of being a diplomat for the enterprise. This involves using the tools of diplomacy such as negotiation, persuasion, conflict management and building coalitions to shape the environment to support strategic objectives. Enterprise leaders find ways that interests can or do align, understand how decisions are made in different kinds of organizations, and develop effective strategies for influencing others.
How do you take this step? By first understanding these skills and competencies, the aspiring enterprise leader can begin to lay out a development plan through formal education, developmental assignments and positions of increasing responsibility throughout his or her career.
6 Problem-solver to agendasetter
Many managers are promoted to senior levels on the strength of their ability to fix problems and get results.
When they become enterprise leaders, however, they must focus less on solving problems and more on defining which problems the organization should tackle.
How do you take this step? The skills honed as a functional leader are not enough. The skills required as an agenda-setter require the leader to navigate a far more uncertain and ambiguous operating environment. The leader needs to help frame the environment, the problem and the broad operational approach.
7 Cast member to lead role
Becoming an enterprise leader means moving to center stage under the bright lights. You serve as a role model by defining a compelling vision and sharing it in an inspiring way.
Your leadership will promote a culture that encourages and rewards creativity, innovation, intelligent risk-taking and critical thinking throughout the enterprise.
How do you take this step? This shift requires a greater awareness of the impact enterprise leaders have as role models. Your influence is greatly magnified. Everyone looks to the leader for vision, inspiration and cues about the “right” behaviors and attitudes. You are “on stage” every day. Everyone is watching.
Enterprise thinking is a key competency for Army leaders. We all have the potential to elevate our thinking. Continue to learn and grow. Take advantage of every learning opportunity the Army offers. Enterprise leaders see the enterprise as a whole and act for its greater good.