Emerging leaders often have the ability and real-time knowledge to run a team of high performers but they less often get the support they need to grow and thrive. More established leaders often push strategy down and less often have the actual information they need to design a plan that works. How do we cross that chasm?
In my first year of design school our program director Dale Taylor made the kind of seemingly nonchalant statement that could qualify as a Zen koan: "I prefer wisdom over knowledge". I spent my five years of design school and the first part of my coaching career trying to crack it. So I kind of get it finally.
We trade knowledge for wisdom as we evolve and grow.
A start-up venture reaches a critical mass and graduates to being a scale-up when it succeeds at generating a convincing level of revenue that validates its business thesis. That critical mass also generally means that there are too many people on the team for ad hoc communications and decision-making to be efficient and effective. At this point a gulf begins to open between the older owners who manage the business and the newer staff who execute it.
Ineffective execution remains a classic business problem.
While owners and managers–the SLT (senior leadership team)–fret about lagging performance, a chief complaint of people at "the bottom" is that the people at "the top" do a poor job of supporting them to do their jobs well.
Language betrays attitude. I don't think of front-line operators as the bottom of an org chart, where they traditionally languish. For me, the Forward Leadership Team (FLT) are the people who run the front-line operating teams working to scale the model: they are closest to customers and possess real-time knowledge about what is working and what is not.
The real job of senior leaders is supporting implementors.
Senior leaders often advance in an organization as they gain experience and demonstrate good judgment that lead to good results. Promotions are thus the result of demonstrated wisdom. The cost of the "ascent" is frequently a less intimate appreciation of reality and the arrogance of superiority.
The Supporting Leadership Team (our new name for the SLT) are generally the people with the most business experience. This does not mean they are the best people to craft strategy. The most workable strategy–and the plan most likely to get executed well–is an expression of a partnership between the supporting leaders and the forward leaders. Wisdom guides the successful application of knowledge.
Great strategy is the child of the marriage of wisdom and knowledge.