John Crnokrak & Associates

How to be


ARE YOU A CATALYST LEADER? Saturday April 4, 2015

Throughout my years in the corporate world I remember vividly how I started out in the same places everybody else did, without superior information, capabilities, our customer contacts. But I believe I set myself up immediately to differentiate and move forward to accomplish extraordinary things. I realized early that it was counter intuitive to what many manager/leaders I reported to have been taught.

I realize by the time I was 32 if I wanted to be a catalyst and differentiate myself as a future leader, I had to succeed by freeing myself from the shackles of business-as-usual thinking in my company. After observing many people, I realized to be distinctive I had to stand out for what I “didn’t do” as opposed to for what I did. I just wasn’t afraid to be transparent, share my thoughts and realize that stepping outside the box was positive.

How many of you leaders today may not agree with me, but I believed by recognizing and cracking the growth code that was standard within the organization, and that internal factors were more of an impediment to growing a business than market conditions or competitors. Naturally there wasn’t much I could do about market conditions and the behavior of the competitors, but I did realize I could do a lot to navigate within our own organization more successfully. Even though most organizations did not make it easy for one to do this.

When I was with Westinghouse Electric in the early 70’s I realize there were two seemingly natural and logical impulses that were somewhat barriers and created gridlock growth. The first was a well-recognized and almost reverential faith in the power of data and analysis. The other was a deep-seated distaste for anything small. Together in my opinion the self-inflicted wounds I felt could be toxic to growth.

I wasn’t one that would worship at the altar of analysis. And naturally in a top Fortune 50 organization in the country I realize organizations were designed for stability. And stability that dependent on rigorous collection, analysis and use of information. In this type of environment managers I worked with who knew how to wield information, how to analyze, validate and justify the use of corporate resources would ultimately succeed. Proceeding without solid data without the analysis to back up an idea was a corporate sin.

What I learned was there are limits to the power of analysis. Exploring new growth opportunities always involved making decisions under conditions of uncertainty; raising the challenge of how to take data from a known past and connect it intellectually to an unknown future.

After four years I left the ultra-powerful corporate environment. Westinghouse was a positive experience and certainly a lot of evaluated experience that I would not use in most situations. I saw too many professional doubters within the corporation using data, and their theories about some not yet existing business managers creating phony numbers based on extrapolations from the past plus various predicted divergence. And of course the game began.

My point, everybody involved knew the game being played so they would deal with their fears and demonstrate their savvy by cutting the projections as they pass by. By decision time somehow, the opportunity did look “big enough”to move the needle more. And to me that was and continues to be a big problem in many organizations, because the second sin in many organizations is being small.

People running big organizations today, or even small ones for that matter, like big ideas. This makes sense. Limiting the number of initiatives under way increases headquarters ability to monitor, prioritize and sustain a clear focus. I am certainly not saying I am totally correct, but I saw thinking that felt if an opportunity is big and obvious chances are somebody else had already seen it. Also, another reality was people (customers, in particular) are terrible at envisioning things that do not presently exist. Yet another reality was if one insists on home runs, chances were they never got many singles (or many home runs). Last, when the ratio of resources invested got too far ahead of knowledge possessed, bad things usually happened and heads rolled. I saw it throughout my career years.

What I am conveying in this memo is I saw managers being vulnerable and on a less than successful path in a doomed quest in pursuit of the truly “big idea” the one that would move the corporate needle. These types of approaches dismissed opportunities well before their potential could be reliably assessed; thus making learning almost impossible. Also it discouraged trying, and almost guarantees that failure would be painfully expensive and highly visible.┬áIf you research Westinghouse today they are totally a different corporation than in the 1970’s. They are a mere shell of what they were in the 70’s.

I visioned myself as a catalyst leader and did not adhere too much to the obsession with analysis and size. I was a risk taker willing to commit to some unnatural thinking and acts. I certainly did not reject the idea of data itself. I knew learning did not occur without information, I just believe in getting it another way. My team used predictive data up top a point and then we strive to seek real data from the marketplace.

In essence I felt initially “small” could be special, as long as our business did not stay small for long. I was a believer that some of the ideas we were working on could become “needle movers” with a disciplined learner mindset whose team established milestones and identified key uncertainties. I made it a objective to teach all I worked with and lead that, “the monkey was not on their back, it was in their head.” I was somewhat of a maverick yo might way; I did not have the “mother may I” mentality.I felt I was hired to make decision and deliver results and learn quickly to get over the thinking that “every move must wait” for an approving nod from corporate.

So to “crack the code” quit complaining about the monkey on your back and worry more about getting rid of the one in your head. The decision “isn’t management thinking differently…it is YOU” Remember most managers are taught to think the “corporate way” to seek certainty and accuracy and rely on data and predict. I’m going on the limb with this statement “I believe that most organizations often push their managers in the directions that make growth riskier than it needs to be.

I had several “monkeys” in my office in my days and would subtly remind those manages who reported to me to “chunk the junk” and get the monkey out of their head, and deliver solutions and results with their team members. Enough for now…John

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