working in the area of strategy and planning for the
past 17 years and I would have thought I had seen
everything at this point. I have worked with many
companies which at some point have been considered to be
the most innovative companies that the world has ever
I had a client whose company was once known as the
leader for lighting after World War II and was one of
the pioneers of the compact disc in the 80s and 90s only
to suffer in more recent days to commoditization as
cheaper products, most of which are copies of their own
designs, are flooding the markets from China.
One thing is inevitable and that is “change”. There are
no hard feelings about it, when we realise that we
simply have to innovate.
Industry structures shift and those who fail to see
these changes early when they start to happen usually
are the ones who are hurt the most.
This failure to see the shifting environment has
resulted in some of the most harrowing examples of
restructuring and lay-offs in corporate history.
Leaders need a better vantage point to see what is going
on. Change management gurus have headed up the
boardrooms to develop breakthrough strategies and
introduce game-changing strategies to steer the company
in new directions.
Some have been more successful than others. Many,
however, always attribute successful changes to leaders
who had ability to see the big picture and determine
industry shifts that were going to change the rules of
The likes of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were able to
usher in the era of personal computing in the 80s
through their forward thinking perspectives.
The airline industry is close to 100 years old and the
industry still continues to shift on both extremes from
the highly differentiated Virgin Atlantic to the
reconstruction caused by the budget airline segment led
by the likes of Southwest Airlines and AirAsia.
The ability to see the big picture and go beyond what
everyone else is thinking has been the determining
talent that has led to the prosperity of innovative
companies, many of which were able to thrive in periods
of volatility and challenge.
The role of leaders in having to identify changes that
will affect their organization and industry for better
or for worse cannot be understated.
While it is very unlikely that we can have a
reincarnation of Steve Jobs or have the divergent
creativity of Sir Richard Branson on demand, the ability
to see big picture is a key talent of any strategic
The question that remains however is whether or not
having the ability to see the big picture is enough? It
is obviously a “yes” in a situation where the
organization has a crisis of innovation and needs to get
unstuck from its status quo. A fresh perspective is
The importance of having a good vantage point is that it
allows the leader to take a step back and look at the
It allows him to see what is happening in the world
outside the organization and its impending effects to
the current strategy.
It allows the leader to get out of their own processes
and go deeper into the employee and customer experience.
This is an ability that we would like to call “Seeing
the Forest and the Trees”.
The former notion is that a leader does either-or.
Either he focuses only on the big picture (forest) or he
sees them for the trees (internal processes). There is a
danger of being too much of either.
When you only see the bigger picture, you might find
yourself in a position where you believe you have
motivated people on the new strategy, only to find
months later that nothing seems to be moving.
On the other hand, if a leader is too caught up with the
details, processes and procedures, there is a great
danger that the organization might not respond quickly
enough to changes in the industry and customer demands.
Worse still is when stakeholders get impatient in not
seeing immediate results of the intended changes and
lose confidence on both their leader and the team.
Pink slips are being issued, the leader is replaced and
the company starts all over again, and that is if it has
This then sends ripples outside in the marketplace and
the public loses confidence in the company and its
management. Everyone says goodbye.
Seeing the forest and the trees is having the ability to
view things from different lenses at different points in
time when they are needed:
Situational appraisal and scenario analysis:
Use a big picture perspective and engage your team in
looking at the facts together and have a shared
appreciation to determine a broad strategy. Develop a
broad sense of vision and direction amidst the sea of
competition. See the future through a telescope and
build a navigational roadmap.
Use other people’s perspectives in visualizing different
scenarios that could affect the execution of your
In this case you are not using your own lens but that of
your Cross Functional Team (CFT). This gives a leader a
chiastic perspective across the organization. This helps
the leader anticipate barriers to execution.
3 Have a
Sometimes a leader needs to take a “deep-dive” into
their own organization to identify constraints to
execution. These constraints could be motivational or
systemic. They could also be resource based. At this
point a leader needs to have a lens similar to a
microscope to get to root causes of problems and deploy
measures for corrective action.
Have a dashboard for navigating the strategy. Build a
system for measuring progress and milestones. Have the
necessary indicators for strategic traction that measure
finances, learning and growth, customer perspective and
internal processes. Use a balanced scorecard
The good news for the leader is that he does not have to
be omnipotent to see the forest and the trees.
He needs only to have the right perspective at the right
given time and if he chooses to specialize in certain
aspects, then a true leader recognizes the need for the
other perspective and give way to empower others to
formulate and execute strategy.
Gone are the days that one leader does all. Leadership
in the Age of Executive as I wrote about earlier demands
more collaboration and a broader cross-sectional
perspective to make things work.
This demands a certain level of leadership from all of
us and we cannot have a zero-sum perspective of power
Having a leadership vantage makes us realize that
strategy goes beyond the self or the leader. And while
it may take a visionary to cast direction, it takes a
whole crew to navigate a ship to its destination
especially in troubled waters. Use the right lenses and
get the right perspective.