On Career Development: The Ability to Execute



When companies fail to deliver on their promises, the most frequent explanation is that the CEO’s strategy was wrong.  But the strategy by itself is not often the cause.  Strategies most often fail because they aren’t executed well.  Things that are supposed to happen don’t happen.

~ Larry Bossidy

Guessing what the pitcher is going to throw is eighty percent of being a successful hitter.  The other twenty percent is just execution.

~ Hank Aaron

Execution, the discipline of getting things done, is the fourth FACE IT* leadership attribute to accelerate your career.  I’ve seen many great strategy meetings at all levels of companies.  The best meetings are the ones where there was great dialog and debate to come up with a sound strategic plan. However, as Mr. Aaron points out, to be successful with your strategy, you have to execute.  You have to follow through on the plans you made otherwise the strategic work was ineffective.

You might wonder how this is different than being Accountable (the A in FACE IT).  Accountability is really the frame of mind and personal commitment to take ownership for a task or problem.  Execution is the ability to actually get things done.  The basic discipline of execution is just you staying focused and knocking out the task.  More advanced execution is your ability to manage a project and complete it on time and on budget.

I studied the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) governed by the Project Management Institute (www.pmi.org) and recommend it for deeper understanding of project management principles.  In particular, I recommend study on the Agile Project Management method as it is in common use today with technology projects.

A key executive skill is strategy.  I’ve seen good strategy with poor execution.  I’ve seen poor strategy with good execution.  Good strategy with good execution will give you consistent success.  If you work hard you may get lucky and achieve great strategy and great execution.  When that happens, you achieve extraordinary results.

Learn how to execute.  Learn how to lead and manage projects.  Projects are what integrate strategy into ongoing operations.  This is a key skill for progressing into leadership opportunities.


* FACE IT: Focused, Accountable, Customer-Centric, Executes, Innovates, Teacher

2 thoughts on “On Career Development: The Ability to Execute

  1. Reblogged this on The Career Mentoring Project and commented:
    What this post is about is leading change. Identifying the needed changes is the strategy development. Executing those changes, leading real change, it ain’t for sissies!

    The PMBOK is just a very basic handbook of project management techniques. Learning how to apply those techniques to bring about lasting change provides a person the the 20% execution skill.

    Leading change can be dangerous career work. Hank Aaron’s 80% is right on: you have to be able to guess the next pitch. Even if the pitch comes from behind you. You have to have all your ducks in a row. If you represent change you better be ready for the microscope!

    This takes incredible strength of mind. Unlike baseball, the only rules opponents of real change have to conform to are the ones imposed by leadership. There are a lot of reasons to oppose change and some of them have to do with ambition or fear. . If leadership isn’t aligned then there are even fewer rules.

    As you gain experience as a change leader you will see smaller and smaller clues and those clues will help you guess the next pitch. Remember that you will pick up battle scars along the way; the times you failed to guess correctly and sustained an injury. The fastball might hit your head, knocking you senseless for a few minutes. And, if you are leading change, there will be injuries.

    The reason so many people don’t engage in change, hold back, is they see an injured player on the field and determine the game is too rough. Making change safe to participate in is what sets great leadership teams apart from ones that don’t achieve strategic results.

    There’s always a choice to be made when leading change and mostly it has to do with courage. Courage to step into the “you have a tiger by the tail” situation and knowing there will be injury from experience still having the internal strength to bear whatever comes in the name of making life better for the people around you. And because you said you would.

    There is no glory in being a change leader. That’s the truth of the matter. But it’s the work that keeps our companies fresh and competitive.

    Look around you. If you see a change leader bearing an inordinate burden then step up to help. Screw your courage to the sticking point.

    That’s what made our country great throughout history. Why would it be easier now?

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