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Research Triangle Business Advisors

December 2015 Newsletter


I’ve come across many top executives that I would accuse of not having honed their “Executive Think.”  I’ve also come to believe that this shortcoming is not because of the individual’s abilities or intelligence, but rather a lack of skill development when in business school or learning in the “school of hard knocks” (learning by doing). This month I explore actions to improve Executive Thinking and why you should care.  Some of the literature has proposed that, “Executive Thinking is strategic thinking.”  Let see…



  Bob De Contreras




Executive Thinking is Strategic Thinking

We have heard for more than thirty years that a company must have a vision and that it’s the responsibility of the CEO, top executive or business owner to develop that vision. But, recently a couple of authors have tried to move the thinking by suggesting that it is the job of the CEO to have the “dream.” The difference being a nice to have vs. a must have. In other words, you need to have a dream, otherwise how can you have a dream come true? Then these authors point to a couple other needs beyond dreaming that are needed to find success.

1.   CEO’s must trust in the talent and instincts of their entire staff, and if not they should hire new ones, or learn to mine the talents of the ones they have. This is required to have an environment of effective CEO delegation.

2.   Business today is no longer about building a better mousetrap - using “slave” labor. It's about building new products and services from a 360 degree perspective – involving all the resources of the company.

3.   Top executives must have – and must clearly and enthusiastically articulate – the dream of what the company must be in order to get everyone else in the company excited, aligned and actively focused in the right direction.

Beyond dreaming, what can the CEO or top executives do to achieve “Executive Thinking?  What follows is a summary:

1.   Executives must be able to speak to their dream clearly and charismatically in order for others to know where it is that they see the organization going and why. That clear, exciting picture is the one that must be communicated, translated, and demonstrated to the rest of the organization through the actions and words of the executives and their management staff.

2.   Executive Thinking is not conventional thinking, nor is it a conventional organizational process. It is one in which, based on the dream of the top executive, everyone becomes involved as an active participant in the shared dream. It is both tangible and amorphous. It is both process and result. It is the life and breath of the organization.

3.   Executives must realize that, because their dream is iterative and evolutionary, there will never be a time when it is finished.

4.   Knowingly or not, executives form their organization in their own image. The importance for the executive is to realize that the organization adopts what it believes to be that image. This puts a particular onus on executives to be aware of the image they are projecting and to understand that the people in the organization are looking to them to determine the image and actions they must project.

5.   It is useful for executives to think of the dynamics within the organization not as counter-productive or adversarial activities, but as a dance. In so doing, the previously disconnected and adversarial actions become part of a larger choreography wherein everyone performs their steps while always knowing that their part is within the larger dance. This choreography must be designed and determined by the executive.

6.   As humans we are not limited to accepting things in one particular way. We choose to accept things in a way that is most familiar to us. We develop thinking processes that keep us from seeing or hearing all that is there. We limit ourselves by not looking, listening or accepting the totality of what is presented to us. But, just as thinking is a learned skill, our thinking paths or approaches, what we see and what we hear can all be altered and added to.

7.   There are five trust-building behaviors that must be demonstrated by executives. These are critical to Executive Thinking. They are respect, reciprocity, consistency, integrity and involvement. Each is equally important. Unless each behavior is embraced, Executive Thinking will be illusive, and the executive may have some success, but ultimately will falter and possibly fail.

8.   Executive Thinking makes it worthwhile for individuals to challenge their previously held beliefs. Each individual should see and believe that their participation in the dream works not only to the benefit of the organization but to their own benefit as well.

9.   The dream must be positioned so that its intent is clear and its outcomes are of benefit to everyone. In this way, it becomes more than just the dream of the executive. It becomes the dream of each and every person throughout the organization. The paradox of empowerment is that the stronger the executives and their direction and management of the organization, the more empowered the people will feel.

10. It is a mistaken impression that a participative organization is a tolerant organization. There can be no tolerance for behaviors that are not in keeping with the dream, goals, expectations, and commitments of the organization to its people and to its stakeholders.

11. Executive Thinking is a balance between action and results. Problems occur only when and if the executive is wholly biased toward one or the other. Action must occur in the form of thinking and the actions that evolve as a result of that thinking. Results occur based on thinking and actions taken.

12. Decisions are made using the dream as the context. Actions taken are assessed both while in progress and after the fact to determine whether all the factors were adequately considered. Analyzing and applying lessons learned becomes an operating norm for the organization, both for those decisions that worked and for those decisions that did not work as expected.

13. Executive Thinking is the greatest legacy that executives can leave their company. Through their commitment and actions they will have taught the organization how to dream...Executive Thinking will have become a norm.

How to get started dreaming

1.    Know where you’re going

An executive must have a clear vision with established objectives, so the many tasks that they oversee fit and accomplish the dream. Before giving direction, think about whether it helps or hurts the overall organization.

 2.    Don’t do the work; look for those who can

Don’t fall into the trap of doing things for which someone else is responsible. Instead, understand that the executive’s role is to manage the organization and its people as a whole—the executive knows less about a specific function than does the person in charge of it.

 3.    Don’t over commit

Only commit to 10% of what you know you can do, and commit to nothing of what you think you can do.

 4.    Think strategically


Sr. Manager

Jr. Executive

Sr. Executive

Strategic Think




Tactical Think





5.    Make time for Executive Thinking

Believe in the benefits of allocating Strategic Think time. Our beliefs drive our actions, which in turn give us results. Without a shift in belief, you may take different actions but you are likely to get the same results and expend more effort than required. So accepting that Strategic Thinking is equally if not more important than tactical activities is key to achieving the results you want.

 6.    Value intentionality

Make the shift to valuing intentionality over reactivity. Intentionality is your ability to act deliberately: to have desired goals and outcomes, take regular committed action, and manage distractions and circumstances to stay focused on your goals. Executives who deliberately set aside think time are more likely to get the results they want. A key part of intentionality is the ability to anticipate. Executive Think includes anticipating external disruptions, personnel changes, miscommunication, unexpected delays, development or manufacturing failures, missed sales or marketing targets, and much more.

 7.    Think outside the box

As cliché as it may sound, take some time (even a few hours) every week to think creatively and try to generate strategies that will ensure success for your business. But, don’t anchor that creativity in thinking, “this is the way we have always done it.” Think outside the box

.8.    Think like an executive

– The manager administers; the executive innovates.
– The manager maintains; the executive develops.
– The manager focuses on systems and structure; the executive focuses on people.
– The manager asks how and when; the executive asks what and why.
– The manager always has eyes on the bottom line; the executive's eyes are on the
– The manager imitates; the executive originates.
– The manager accepts the status quo; the executive challenges it.
– The manager is the classic good soldier; the executive is his or her own person.

Cary | Raleigh | Research Triangle Park | Greensboro | North Carolina
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