The C suite in corporate America is rarely plagued with a “crisis of confidence” and thus, while not always right, is rarely in doubt.

The year 2016, however, shook the foundations of conventional wisdom. Chicago Cubs won the World Series, even after going down 3 games to 1. Brexit caught the EU and the world by surprise by such a populist outcome. But the greatest shock was the biggest US political upset in 60 years, if not in US history. So, how could so many be so wrong, and what lessons can corporate America learn from this?

  1. Make sure you have based plans and decisions on correct data. The science of polling was set back decades by the election results as Hillary Clinton was repeatedly reported as a virtual sure thing even hours before the election. Whether you believe that broadcast and published media have a bias in the reporting, few got the forecast correct. Certainly, social media and fake news were instrumental in such a radical populist movement, but few if any corporate plans for 2017 had THAT outcome in their assumptions. 
  2. Be nimble. No matter how sure you seem to be about your assumptions, wise leaders always consider a contingency plan and should always ask the question, “What if I am wrong?” Some of the greatest opportunities have risen in early stages of industry seismic shifts and “black swan” events. The vision of a Bill Gates to see the software opportunity secondary to the PC technology explosion and Apple’s transformation of the music and cell phone industries are recent examples. With the rapidly changing political landscape, planning sessions need to be a happening regularly and not just at annual offsite retreats. The playing field is shifting too quickly.
  3. Transform rather than continually improve. The caretaker approach to a continuous improvement business model is now no longer sufficient to building a world-class organization. Successful companies today implement transformational approaches that rethink the status quo, model servant leadership, and inspire and challenge followers to explore innovative and creative solutions to achieve high levels of performance. When disruptor Henry Ford transformed the transportation industry in 1908, buggy whip companies focusing on making better whips, cutting costs, and continuously improving efficiency failed to reinvent themselves and subsequently disappeared from the competitive landscape.

Our president Trump has confirmed in this first 10 days that this will be a most unconventional administration. He will definitely disrupt and transform. He has surrounded himself with some of the most gifted minds in America; strong leaders who do not necessarily share the same opinion as this outspoken President on all issues. That is wise leadership. It appears he seeks counsel from top business leaders on what policy changes are necessary to improve the economy and the quality of life for US citizens. It is clear he will MAKE things happen. Some good… some perhaps with unintended consequences. Regardless, change will occur. Nimble leaders will evaluate quickly and adjust plans to take advantage of evolving opportunities. Caretakers sit back and simply WATCH what happens as they are left behind and later WONDER what happened. 

Which will you be?

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