The Course of Action: Know When to Turn

While briefly considering taking an online short course at MIT Sloan, Leadership in an Exponentially Changing World, I realized that any course of action taking by leadership during times of great volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (known as VUCA) comes at a risk. But what got me curious was the word ‘inventing’ in MIT Sloan’s framework on leadership. What was it doing there?

MIT Sloan proposes the 4-CAPS+ leadership framework, developed by Professor Ancona and her MIT colleagues, Thomas Malone, Wanda Orlikowski, and Peter Senge to help leadership in making the right decisions when time is short, information scarce, and disruption lurking around the corner.

Let’s have a quick look at their framework:

To make a comparison, I’ve added three more similar frameworks. Click on the tabs.


How do these leadership frameworks compare to ROUNDMAP’s Vision, Strategy, Purpose, and Mission?
ROUNDMAPMIT SloanFranklinCoveyStephen CoveyCCL
VisionCreate VisionCreate VisionClarify Purpose (?)Inquire
StrategyInventingExecute StrategyAlign Systems (?)Direct
PurposeSensemakingInspire TrustInspire TrustInspire
MissionRelatingCoach PotentialUnleashed TalentDo

As you can see, all leadership frameworks play a similar chord. When we use the Vision, Strategy, Purpose, and Mission framework, we value each of these minor variations.

However, Stephen Covey’s framework seems to lack the vision part. That should not come as a big surprise as Michael Hyatt, author of The Vision Driven Leader, found that the majority of leaders lack a compelling vision. It’s an “essential ingredient for successful leadership,” that is hardly taught at business schools.

So, what about inventing? It is a role of leadership to create a culture and facilitate an environment in which creativity and innovation can thrive. Especially during times of VUCA, leaders may be forced to favor the innovative capacity and the firm’s readiness for change over continuity and consistency. Inventing, in my opinion, could therefore be seen as the ruling strategic direction.

What's at the Core?

While each framework places something in the heart, be it credibility, trust, or talent, others believe it is purpose, or values. We’ve come to the conclusion that is the Positive Core, a term coined by David Cooperrider in 1987, that best describes what’s at the heart of business: it is the sum of strengths, including credibility, capabilities, culture, values, skills, unique systems, successful strategies, and so on.

Know when to Turn

While leadership plays a critical role in setting the tone (create vision, inspire and motivate, take risks, focus on the horizon), it is management that needs to keep the orchestra to play in tune (execute vision, maintain and administer, control risks, and have their eye on short-term goals and objectives).

To know when to turn depends on the information that management captures and passes on, allowing for leadership to ‘make sense’ of it all, and to determine when the firm needs to change its course.

In ROUNDMAP, management needs to maintain and administer the health of four lifecycles to control the risk of the course of action while keeping an eye on the short-term goals and objectives:

  • Business Carousel (= Business Plan)
  • Product Carousel (= Product Development)
  • Customer Carousel (= Customer Development)
  • Growth Carousel (= Growth Development, including the Learning Cycle)

The trigger to know when to turn is when any one of these lifecycles stalls or contracts unexpectedly.

For instance, if the entire sector changes from as-a-product to as-a-service, as was the case with Netflix, you may need to turn your ship around. Or when fewer customer return, you may need to revisit your retention strategy.

X marks the Spot

To visualize Strategy we often use the analogy of a treasure map. Sadly, that paints the wrong picture. After all, we won’t know whether we’ve been on the road to oblivion until we actually reach the X-spot and dug a hole. The analogy leaves no room for intermediate evaluation or correction.

Strategy is to bring about the vision of the future. If we want to mark the spot, it has to be a spot that tells us where we want to be, who to market to, and how to differentiate from the competition.

A better analogy of ‘marking the spot’ is by referring to King’s Day in the Netherlands. For one day, everyone is allowed to sell stuff in the streets. Often, the night before, people go out and mark their spot with the word “BEZET”, which means ‘reserved’. The reason is simple: some spots are better than others and to claim a spot early means that you stand a better chance of selling your stuff the next day.

The Course of Action: Know When to Turn 1

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