Skip to main content

Book Excerpt: The Good Struggle: Responsible Leadership in an Unforgiving World

book excerpt


In a turbulent, sometimes dangerous world, responsible leaders need a broader view of critical decisions. This means viewing these decisions as commitments, but in an unconventional way. We typically think of commitments as deep, abiding pledges that individuals and organizations will do absolutely all they can to make good on. In contrast, the kind of commitments that matter critically today are paradoxical: they are evolving commitments.
An evolving commitment is a pledge, by a leader and an organization, to move in a particular direction, but to do so in a flexible, open-ended way. High-stakes, highrisk, once-and-for-all decisions—the contemporary versions of the "big factory" decisions—are sometimes unavoidable, but evolving commitments are far better suited to a world in which leaders are immersed in a stream of possibilities, surprises, opportunities, and deals in the active, fluid markets that surround and pervade their organizations. Commitments require data, analysis, and experienced judgment, but, all too often, these are far from decisive.
In more and more cases, when leaders make critical decisions, they are not choosing among specific, detailed options, each supported by in-depth analysis, nor are they expecting to implement the option they choose in a familiar, predictable, or managed environment. All they are doing is making an initial choice, for themselves and their organizations, among broad, flexible, open-ended directions.
This initial direction will evolve, sometimes dramatically, in response to what is learned from first steps, hard-to-predict developments in the churning, recombinant markets around companies, and reactions in the markets for funding, talent, partners, and meaning.
Evolving commitments have always been central to entrepreneurial success. Leaders of new organizations have never been able to see very far into the future. They have usually been surrounded by intensely competitive, often turbulent markets—a far cry from the buffer zones and spheres of influence surrounding the large twentieth-century hierarchical organizations. They typically didn't know whether their product would work, what it would really cost to make and sell it on a large scale, whether a large, established firm would copy it or use influence with government to create obstacles, whether other entrepreneurs were on the brink of introducing something similar or better, and whether they would even have enough cash to operate beyond a few months.
Under conditions like these, all a responsible leader can do is whatever analysis is possible, commit to moving in a particular direction, carefully plan the immediate next steps, work hard to learn from execution and experiment, seize opportunities along the way, and be prepared to recalibrate an organization's efforts, again and again, to match emerging realities. Decision making has to be as fluid as the markets around an organization.
Related Article
Instead of periodic big decisions, responsible leaders make or orchestrate an unending series of smaller ones—all aimed at some larger, broad, flexible objective. Gary Mueller, the founder of ISI Emerging Markets, which provides hard-to-get information on companies in emerging markets, said, "You have to make decisions because indecision is a decision. So you say this is the direction we're going in, but you're constantly asking if you're doing the right thing and adjusting what you're doing."
In a world of heightened hazards and uncertainty, leaders who make commitments to other parties are basically saying, "This is the overall direction we plan to pursue and this is what we specifically plan to do and accomplish in the near future, but a lot will change, perhaps dramatically."
Commitments are serious pledges. They have real legal and ethical weight, and responsible leaders and their organizations work very hard to make good on them, but these commitments, in a recombinant world, are inescapably flexible and fallible. The bolder the initiative or the more turbulent the environment, the more appropriate and inevitable these types of commitments are.
From a broader perspective, an organization today is not simply what Michael Jensen and William Meckling called—in an insightful and widely cited phrase—a "nexus of contracts." It is also a nexus of commitments, and sophisticated parties understand this from the start. There is often too much uncertainty and turbulence in market-driven economies to rely on contracts and contingencies to specify who will do what and when. Without ongoing, flexible adaptation, entrepreneurs and the market actors who support them would have only one shot at success, and this would typically be a shot in the dark, given the many uncertainties new ventures face.
Evolving commitments are basically the managerial version of a longstanding view of military strategy. Almost two centuries ago, Carl von Clausewitz, the brilliant Prussian general and strategist, wrote, "War is an area of uncertainty; three quarters of the things on which all action in war is based lie in a fog of uncertainty to a greater or lesser extent." His view was that the principal value of careful military planning was to prepare a force for the first engagement with the enemy and little more. It is no coincidence that some entrepreneurs today echo Clausewitz's observation and say the purpose of a business plan is to prepare a new organization for its first engagement with a customer. In other words, entrepreneurs can raise their chances of success by gathering data, studying customers and their industry, trying to assess likely competitor moves, and trying to understand where and how they can best focus their limited resources. At the same time, however, they have to keep their thinking loose, broad, flexible, and revisable.

Next Right Steps

Leaders rely on evolving commitments for three practical reasons. First, they can. Knowledge-based organizations are more flexible than traditional manufacturing firms with dedicated factories, and firms that sell products today can rely on outsourcing and flexible factories to "produce" them. Second, they often have to. A wide range of actors are typically involved in monitoring and shaping an organization's decisions; these parties want a say in what the organization does, and their own agendas are continuously evolving in response to the continuously shifting, sometimes turbulent markets around them.
The third and most important reason for leaders to rely on evolving commitments is that they should. Responsible decisions should not outrun visibility, and, in a recombinant world, it is hard to see much of the future. In addition, there is a great deal to be learned from execution, experiment, and actual experience. Finally, going step by step provides people inside an organization and all the parties in the multiple markets around it with clear, immediate objectives and even metrics.
This enables all these parties to concentrate their efforts, focus on meeting specific objectives, and not be paralyzed by endless possibilities. The greater the uncertainty, the more important it is for leaders to provide a clear path, even if it is almost certain to be adjusted and readjusted, to enable others to commit, plan, and work with a strong sense of confidence

Popular posts from this blog

Overview of Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing refers to the process of gaining traffic or attention through social media sites. Social media itself is a catch-all term for sites that may provide radically different social actions.

Use social media marketing to listen, analyze, publish, and engage across networks. Align your marketing, customer service, and sales efforts on social — strengthening customer relationships.

Listen and analyze. Hear conversations from over 650 million different sources with social listening tools. Discover what consumers are saying about your brand, your products, and your competitors. Discover trending topics and influential conversations — then use that information to inform your marketing decisions.
Plan and publish. Plan, execute, and track social media marketing campaigns. Customize and craft your content from multiple sources, while protecting your brand with configurable approval rules and a full audit trail. Manage social strategy, tailor campaigns, and drive social awareness…

Future Of Digital Marketing

The Origin of Digital-Marketing: The term 'digital marketing' was first used in the 1990s. In the 2000s and the 2010s, digital marketing became more sophisticated as an effective way to create a relationship with the consumer that has depth and
While the term 'digital marketing' may not have been used until the 1990s, digital marketing itself has roots to the mid-1980s when the Soft Ad Group, now ChannelNet developed advertising campaigns for several major automobile companies, wherein people would send in reader reply cards found in magazines and receive in return floppy disks that contained multimedia content promoting various cars and offering free test drives.
The rapid evolution of digital media has created new opportunities and avenues for advertising and marketing. Fueled by the proliferation of devices to access digital media, this has led to the exponential growth of digital advertising.
In 2012 and 2013 statistics showed digital marketing remained a gro…

Why Digital Marketing and Web 2.0 Important To Business?


Digital marketing technology helps you understand and reach your audience most effectively so you can generate the most revenue.  For advertising campaigns, ad serving technology makes it possible to serve the right ad at the right time to right person.  That means your advertising is being as productive as possible. When technology is working for you, you’ll understand your audience at a whole new level, and it will show up on your bottom-line.

NEED FOR THE STUDY The pace of change in today’s business environment is faster than ever. New markets, technologies, and opportunities are arising on a daily basis. Current ways of doing business need to be adapted or they will become outdated. Organizations and enterprises have to become agents of evolution to be successful; as victims of evolution they risk failure. With so many dynamics operating in the global economy, Digital Marketing is now more than ever an effective tool to make a company stand out from the pack.

The pe…