Consulting Lessons

Let’s take a look at recent events and see what they teach us as consultants.

1. Toyota
Ultimately, leadership relies on judgment. Judgment should always be in the customers’ favor. The first reaction to adverse feedback or conditions can’t be to adjourn to the bunker or begin to “spin” the facts. You can’t blame floor mats and driver incompetence for engineering errors that represent a frightening expense to correct, because sooner or later the truth “outs.” Get off the floor and hold your head high, where you can truly see the landscape. As of this morning, Toyota released a statement claiming the problems “aren’t as bad as the media report.”

2. The Olympics
In short-track speed skating, as the Koreans were headed for a sweep, the second and third-place skiers took each other out on the final turn. The fourth skater finished second. In the prior Olympics, the American woman far ahead in the snowboard competition fell on the final small jump when she mindlessly tried an unnecessary move, and the woman in second by 50 yards won the gold. The downhill ski competition and luge competition were decided by hundredths of a second. You need to play hard through the finish line and stay focused all the while. And even then, you only need to win by an inch.

3. Sarah Palin
No matter what your politics, this woman is a lightening rod of attention. I’m convinced that a great deal of the attention is actually generated by her detractors and the opposition, which in turn fuels media attention, and re-stimulates the cycle. The opposition keeps asking what is it about her that can possibly attract such interest and publicity. Maybe they should stop asking that question, stop attacking, and stop talking about her, and see what happens. One of the best ways to deal with your competition is to ignore them.

4. Late Night NBC
The decision to move Jay Leno to prime time and the ensuing mess has to rank as one of the worst programming decisions in the history of prime time television, and will wind up costing NBC hundreds of millions. Jay Leno will be back where he started, where he’ll try to regain that time slot’s old lead over David Letterman. Conan O’Brien is gone, with $30 million in his pocket but a questionable future in the medium. And Jeff Zucker, the executive who did it all, is still in place, still making decisions, and will probably be “promoted” and given more money when Comcast completes its acquisition of NBC. Bad decisions are not the fault of the implementers, and the higher the position you hold, the more you should be accountable. How do you improve with this guy still in a key position of any kind? Who’s accountable for THAT decision?

5. Steve Jobs
My understanding is that Steve Jobs is cooperating with Walter Isaacson to write an authorized biography. Isaacson’s credentials are impeccable—CEO of the Aspen Institute, former CEO of CNN, award-winning author and biographer—and the resultant work should be fascinating and, I suspect, overall, quite laudatory. Organizations and individuals should establish and control their “story” and image, and not leave them to others by default.

It’s not difficult for consultants to develop material, approaches, and examples. They are in the headlines every morning.

© Alan Weiss 2010. All rights reserved.


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