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leadership - Derek's Blog on everything and everything else...

Derek's Blog on everything and everything else...

The Derek Hendrikz blog mostly relates to issues of organisational leadership, management, relevance and performance, but there are times when it does not. This is an interactive forum where we debate relevant and not-so-relevant issues… No holy cow’s kept alive here, thus please say it as it is (according to your world)…

What is Leadership?

What is Leadership?


By Derek Hendrikz


What is leadership? A question that has evaded precise definition for decades now; and I certainly have no intent to solve this conundrum where answers equal the number of people who attempt such. Each bestseller has new advice, and now and again someone claims deeper thinking on this matter. The best I can do, is to give my opinion and experience on what leadership is, but more importantly, what I believe it is not...


Through the years I have worked hard as leadership trainer and strategy development consultant to determine some common characteristics to leadership. My criteria for such dimensions was that it must be applicable to leaders in government, business, religion, non-profit causes, science, academia or any other sphere where a person has taken leadership. This is what my research produced…


The purpose leadership…

Before understanding the purpose of leadership one needs to understand the purpose of organisations, since no leader can exist outside an organised system. Consequently, without organisation there can be no leadership. The purpose of organisations are to stay relevant and to perform. This is what all organisations do, irrelevant or their sector or industry. Performance is the ability to maintain established cyclic processes and relevance is the ability to stay externally sponsored. At the workplace we mostly refer to processes as operations. This is where we repeat and perfect that which we have done yesterday. In my experience this is a management function. To stay relevant, on the other hand, requires an ability to negotiate sponsorship from the environment who warrants your existence as well as the competence to initiate and execute projects, which ensures the change that is necessary for continual survival. Thus, the purpose of any leader is primarily to influence change and to negotiate relevance. This could be a military General on the battle field, a supervisor leading a team who are developing new prototypes, or any other person who acts as guardian against the kingdom of irrelevance. To define the purpose of leadership seems straight forward, but the question remains, what common characteristics do leaders have?


The character of leadership…

Over the years, literally hundreds of qualities have been ‘bestowed’ on leaders. Some of the most assumed traits are, pro-activeness; good communication skills; respectfulness; quiet confidence; enthusiasm; open-mindedness; resourcefulness; the need to reward others; creativity, organised; consistent behaviour; delegators; positive attitude; intuitive; well educated; open to change; interested in feedback, just to name a few. Yet, with a bit of thinking, I was able to create doubt on almost all of the characteristics named above. In my research, I could only find two truly common virtues that great leaders must have. These are…

  1. The ability to create vision; and

  2. The ability to influence others to work towards such vision.

Some leaders might have good communication skills, are respectful, interested in feedback, etc. but many are not. To my mind, the only true characteristics of leadership are vision and influence. All other attributes relate to mere personality preferences and follower needs. This brings me to the next point, which is that much of what we believe of leadership are mere myth…




The Five Great Myths of leadership (what leadership is not)…

1.    Leaders have high Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

It is most common of blog-authors and motivational speakers to endorse the ability of leaders to be intra- and inter-personally intelligent. Of all the leadership myths, I believe this one to farthest from the truth. In his book, ‘A First-Rate Madness’, author Nassir Ghaemi draws strong links between leadership and mental illness. All you have to do is pick the name of a great leader and google will prove that there is a 5/10 chance that such person suffered from some type of emotional disorder. Nelson Mandela cheated on his first wife and was married three times; Charles Darwin suffered from severe agoraphobia and had an intense fear of people; Abraham Lincoln, Ludwig von Beethoven, Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, Marlon Brando, Jim Carry, J.K Rowling, Ernest Hemingway and Vincent von Gogh are but a few examples of immensely influential people who all suffered from bipolar disease and manic depression; Lady Diana, princess of Wales, had an bulimic addiction and suffered from severe depression; Heath Ledger, Kurt Cobain, Elvis, Michael Jackson and Witney Houston all suffered from drug addiction and suicidal depression; George W Bush, John F Kennedy and Franklin D Roosevelt are only a few examples of American presidents who have been reported to abuse alcohol; and it is recorded that the father of modern science, Sir Isaac Newton suffered from bipolar disorder combined with psychotic tendencies and a total inability to connect with people; Benjamin Franklin was addicted to a mixture between alcohol and opium up to the day of his death; Pope Leo XIII was addicted to cocaine; Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., both made suicide attempts in adolescence and had a number of severe depressive episodes in adulthood. I could go on and on with this list, to the point where it becomes a recipe for insomnia. In the 2013 Forbes article, ‘Why The Brains Of High-Powered People May Be More Prone To Addiction’, author Alice Walton explains, “that the best leaders among us – the most driven, dedicated, and outside-the-box thinkers – are wired a bit differently from the rest.” Two things that we have to agree with here, is firstly, that all the people mentioned above were great leaders in their respective fields, and secondly, that being chronically depressed, suicidal, avoiding people and drug abuse absolutely contradicts the notion of being intra- and interpersonally effective. In reality, there is probably a greater case for emotional dysfunction than emotional intelligence as common factor to great leadership.

2.    Leaders are Proactive

In his book, ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, Steven Covey argues that proactive people focus on things that are important but not urgent, whereas reactive people will focus on things that are both urgent and important. Much of the motivational gospel today claims that leaders must be proactive. Yet, great leaders are made in times of mammoth reaction. Winston Churchill was immortalised through his reaction to Hitler in the Second World War; Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein both changed science history when they reacted to incorrect thinking in this field, and today, the most powerful person in the world (Forbes List 2015, December), Vladimir Putin, made social media waves when reacting with large scale attacks against Syria after a Russian fighter aircraft was shot down. In terms of Covey’s definition, I would suggest that leaders are far more likely to be created in circumstances where things are both important and urgent as opposed to where things are important, but not urgent. Thus by nature, leaders are reactive. This explains why leadership mostly creates an immense amount of dependency with those that follow them. Of course, you could argue that many leaders react as a proactive measure, but I would counter argue that even the most proactive action is a reaction to something, thus making pure proactive action impossible.

3.    Leaders are Positive

In the 30 June 2011, Wall Street Journal article, ‘Depression in Command’, Nassir Ghaemi states, “Normal, non-depressed persons have what psychologists call ‘positive illusion’—that is, they possess a mildly high self-regard, a slightly inflated sense of how much they control the world around them. Mildly depressed people, by contrast, tend to see the world more clearly, more as it is.” As stated earlier, leaders change things. Where no change is needed, leadership becomes irrelevant. Mostly this change is the result of being negative about something; e.g., Mandela was negative towards apartheid, Ghandi was negative towards British rule in India; Steve Jobs was negative towards the current state of home computing, etc. A common trait in leadership is that leaders are mostly negative towards the past and positive towards the future, especially if such future is a creation of their own vision.

4.    Leaders put People first

Leadership implies followership. Thus, by its very nature, people are important to leaders, because without such they cannot exist. Studies have shown that depressed people often demonstrate a higher level of empathy towards others. Earlier I have eluded to the possibility that many high powered people are often depressive, and therefore possibly care deeply about others. There is thus no question that great leaders care and feel deeply for their followers. But do leaders put people first? My research has shown that, although most leaders care deeply about their followers, it is their vision or goal that comes first, even if this means sacrificing the same people that they love. The greatest leaders of our time, including political leaders as Mandela, Ghandi, Lincoln, business leaders and even spiritual leaders did not blink an eye to sacrifice their own people and in many cases themselves for (to their minds) the greater goal.

5.    Leaders are Democratic

There prevails a strong romantic notion that leaders are democratic. There are even a number of psychometric tests that aim to verify that you have democratic tendencies, and if so it is professed that you will be a good leader. But, in my research, I could not find one great democracy brought about by democratic leaders. When the South African Government wanted to talk to Nelson Mandela, whilst he was still in prison, fellow political prisoners, outvoted such move, but Mandela nevertheless went ahead. After his release from prison, Mandela’s executive team voted that the Springbok rugby emblem must be changed to a Protea (the official South African flower). Mandela had a vision of uniting the South African nation and knew that changing the emblem of a sport mainly supported by white South Africans could do much more harm than good. Subsequently he made a very autocratic decision to keep the emblem. This decision later proved immensely wise when South Africa won the world cup in rugby on home ground. Similarly Abraham Lincoln was outvoted when suggesting that they should abolish slavery, and neither did Ghandi ask Great Britain to leave India, he told them to go. These are small and mediocre examples of how great men made high impact decisions against the wishes of their constituencies. In fact, I found the greatest democracies of history being established by incredibly autocratic leaders. The mere semantic of leadership implies autocracy. The true nature of leadership is much more autocratic than democratic. Leaders who have left legacy beyond comparison, all very much knew their own autocratic tendencies, and for this reason they knew when to leave. Mandela only stood as South African president for one term, Ghandi refused presidency of India, Bill Gates reigned as CEO in 2000, etc. But, this is a topic for another article.


Are Leaders Born or Made?

This is a favourite debate during leadership workshops. The easiest way to answer this question is to revisit our primary characteristics of leadership, namely the ability to create vision and the power to influence others towards such vision. In terms of influence, of course it can be taught, coached, mentored, etc. Negotiation skills training is a good example of teaching people to influence others. Thus we can teach a prospective leader in the art of influence. But can I teach you to create vision? This becomes more problematic, and if not impossible, very close to such. Then there are the circumstantial factors, such as upbringing, problems posed by the environment, etc. Throughout history leadership has been very context specific. Most great leaders were made during a very specific time and within a very specific environment. To answer the initial question, I would advocate that there are leadership characteristics that can be taught, such as the art of influence, but that there are an equal amount of characteristics that cannot be taught such as the ability to create vision. Also, you cannot teach a person to be born at a specific time within specific circumstances and in a specific environment.


Thus far, I have been focussing on international leaders that have influenced the world, but most reading this article will need to understand leadership in a much smaller and localised environment, such as their organisation. I do not think that the character of leadership is any different on any level. I do, however, believe that people loosely use the term leadership for contexts that actually imply management. A lot of the characteristics like emotional intelligence, democracy, positive thinking, pro-active action and people orientation are strong requirements for management. Most books, articles and workshops on leadership are often more directed at efficient management, although it is sold as effective leadership. I am a strong advocate that the one is not more important than the other, and that these crucial elements should be in equilibrium with each other. In essence leadership is about changing things and management is about maintaining things. The former is project-based whilst the latter focusses on cyclic processes. Together they keep the system relevant whilst ensuring that it performs optimally.


To answer the question to what leadership is, I would simply say that whoever you are and within whichever environment you function, the need for change will determine and endorse your leadership behaviour. High impact change such as establishing a new government will require highly disruptive leadership, whereas low impact change such as arranging a year end function will favour a process efficiency approach. It all begins with a clear goal or vision, which is then translated to a strategy, executed by a team, and sponsored by an external environment…




  • Analysing the environment
  • Setting goals
  • Creating options
  • Creating strategy
  • Innovative solutions                                           
  • Selecting a team
  • Motivating people
  • Getting the environment to sponsor your vision
  • Securing stakeholder goodwill


If you are a prospective leader, then the best advice I can give is to find your place of influence and then to make things happen by using what you have at your disposal. Find your strengths, and know that even weaknesses such as depression, peculiar looks, a terrible childhood, etc. can be strengths. Use everything at your disposal as a tool of influence. Danny De Vito used his peculiar body type to become one of Hollywood’s top comedians, Arnold Schwarzenegger used his strange accent as a trademark and Churchill’s depressive personality drove him to immense defeats. Secondly, turn all the energy of those around you towards achieving your vision. Create a powerful team and sell your vision with all that you have. Where your team believes in your vision they will follow and become an army of focus.


In my strategy development and implementation workshop, I work with strategic leadership, which combines leadership skills with strategy development and implementation.

Click Here for more information on Strategic Leadership Training


Derek Hendrikz; © 29 November 2015

Strategic Leadership and Organisational Performance Specialist




© 29 November 2015 Derek Hendrikz Consulting www.derekhendrikz.com

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Can you manage change from the bottom up?

Can you manage change from the bottom up?

By Derek Hendrikz


Where strategic leadership engages in a strategy formulation process to create strategy, the resulting change is purely a matter of execution efficiency, in other words we must translate strategy to action. Therefore it is preferred that organisational change initiatives are part of a strategy development session, for the simple reason that such change will be fully authorised. But, where there are high flyers within the organisation who have great ideas, change management becomes a bit more difficult. The reason is quite straight forward. Change that is not directly authorised will not be executed immediately. Unfortunately, irrelevant of how good any idea is, it will need allocated resources such as money people and assets to manifest. Even where executive management authorises a junior task team to develop an implementation plan for change, such might (more often than not) never see the light.


It is unfortunate that many executive teams fail to milk junior employees for brilliant ideas since the front line who produces the bottom line often knows best what the solutions to complex executive problems are. Frontline employees and junior managers know since they operate where rubber meets road. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney and Oprah Winfrey are but a few examples of employees whose brilliance were overlooked by the companies who employed them. These same employees later became their former employer’s greatest competition.


So what does a young bright employee do to bring his or her great idea too life? Well, firstly, it is important to note that the primary difference between top-down and bottom-up change is that the former is a matter of execution efficiency and the latter a matter of influence. Reality is that most organisational change will take place from top-down since, at some point, change must become authorised and resources must be allocated. The implication of this is that where a junior employee wants to bring about change, he or she will first have to get such approved, which becomes a matter of influence.



Herewith Seven tips to those ‘not so authorised’ organisational rebels who wants to effect change…


1.       Make sure that your desired change will enhance mission and vision. No senior manager will support an initiative that does not strengthen purpose or which does not assist in the execution of strategic intent. Ask the right questions to ensure that there is no strategic disconnect...

2.       Learn to build a business case. Those in power are more interested in the probability and impact of results than they are in the technicalities of your ingenious thinking.

3.       Hone up your negotiation skills. You will need this more than anything else. People of influence have mastered the art of hearing others say ‘YES’.

4.       Practice your presentation skills. Your ideas needs to be heard and understood. Brilliance means nothing if no one knows about it.

5.       Be a bold. You will not succeed if you live in fear of making career limiting statements. Realising change requires courageousness, confidence and taking of risk!

6.       Get into project management. If approved, you will have to prove your ability to execute. The only way to ensure efficient and effective transformation (from idea to practical reality) is through applying proven and tested project management principles.

7.       Build a competent army. You cannot do this alone. It takes one person to generate an idea, but it will take a team to execute.


You might succeed or fail; heaven forbid, you might event get fired! But, you will get stronger. The key is not to give up. Great rewards await those who can bring about change. In fact there is ample evidence that the highest paid employees in the world today are those who can see what needs to change and then effectively produces such…


In conclusion, make the decision and then make it happen… In my Strategic Leadership Master Class we thoroughly work with the art and science of change management…


© 27 April 2015

Strategic Leadership and Organisational Performance Specialist






© 27 April 2015 Derek Hendrikz Consulting

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What is the difference between Vision and Mission?

What is the difference between Vision and Mission?

By Derek Hendrikz


When dealing with issues of strategic leadership and strategy development mission and vision becomes both first and foremost… But what is the difference, which one first and how do you determine them?


The difference between vision and mission, to my mind, is one of the most confused and misunderstood concepts in any strategy formulation process. Even in fortune 500 companies, one finds missions that should actually be visions and vice versa… In fact, it is often hard to distinguish between the two statements in many companies. If you ask for an explanation on the difference, some senior executive will most probably tell you that vision is where we want to go and mission is how we will get there. With all respect, this conclusion makes absolutely no sense. Firstly, if mission is how we achieve vision, then what is strategy? Secondly, if mission moves us from a current to some desired state then mission should change quite often, yet some of the oldest and most powerful organisations in the world have missions that never change!


This perplexity most probably originated in our early endeavours to control the world with militant action. Armies had mission. This was a project-based concept which aims to conquer, kill and return home. Thus the aim was to achieve a state of ‘mission completed’. As we entered the industrial age, we started companies and corporations. We stole the ‘mission’ concept from our militant past, but unlike our military operations, we do not want our organisations to end. Thus, we created vision; that which cannot end… As we currently go far beyond the information age, the nature of mission and vision has dramatically changed in meaning and application. Maybe the right terminology would rather be ‘statement of purpose’ and ‘statement of desire’…


I believe that those who aim to create a direct relationship between mission and vision cause much of the above confusion. In this article, I intend to convince that mission and vision has no direct cause and effect relationship, but rather that they imply an inverse relationship that directs two very important dimensions within any organised system. These being to stabilise and to change. With this I advocate hat mission authorises processes whilst vision energises strategy. Mission brings stability and order whereas vision creates strategy and brings change and renewal to the system. Respectively, the first empowers and the latter influences. Mission directs processes and is primarily a managerial function. Vision on the other hand, creates strategy and is primarily a leadership function. Ultimately any organised system will attempt to increase relevance of its mission whilst focusing change initiatives that will make its vision irrelevant… The one implies processes-based and the other project-based activity. E.g. if I want to lose 10kg of weight (my vision) and I do so (vision now irrelevant) then my change initiative becomes a maintenance function. Thus a once-off, non-repetitive project became a cyclic process.




·      Authorises the organisation.

·      Ignites processes.

·      Contains risk.

·      Brings order to chaos.

·      Is evolutionary in nature.

·      Should not change, and if it does, change should be slow and gradual.

·      Aims to become more relevant.

·          Energises the organisation.

·          Creates strategy.

·          Creates risk.

·          Brings chaos to order.

·          Has revolutionary nature.

·          New or changed vision implies strategic effectiveness.

·          Aims to become irrelevant.


As with any strategic initiative, we must start by asking the right questions. To do such we must understand our end result. In the case of mission we ask questions that will enhance our reason for existence, thus creating a statement that we will nurture and grow with no end in mind. The end result of mission is therefore clear purpose that directs organisational performance. With vision we ask questions that query our future relevance. These questions will bring doubt to our current process efficiency and critically question our ability to effectively relate to our external environment. We therefore deliberately inject neurosis into our system. And this neurosis must be killed. Thus, unlike mission, the questions that ignite vision has a definite end in mind. We can only claim strategic success if vision dies! Where that which we once desired becomes our reality, we can either maintain such through process efficiency or we can create a new dissatisfied state by developing a new vision. It is for this reason that very old and powerful organisations are mostly process-driven. The Roman Catholic Church, Buddhism, the Rolling Stones, Coca Cola, to name only a few… Thus the end result of vision is a desired reality that will keep our system relevant. Hence, questions that create mission aims to provide certainty whereas questions that create vision aspires to create uncertainty. Together they will provide the organisational equilibrium needed for sustainable growth.


Questions asked to determine Mission:

Questions asked to determine Vision:

·      What is our purpose?

·      Why is this our purpose?

·      What makes our purpose relevant?

·      What must we do to manifest this purpose?

·      Where must we do this?

·      For whom do we do this?

·          Where do we want to be?

·          Why are we not there yet?

·          What if…?

·          What if we go somewhere else?

·          In which ways are we different?

·          When will what we currently do become irrelevant?


As mentioned above, a mission statement should give clear purpose and must direct process efficiency. To me this is the test of strong mission. To avoid confusion, a mission statement should not create a future desire. E.g. “To provide…” or “Being the…” indicates future desired action. A good mission statement implies immediate responsibility for an already existing state. E.g. “We provide…” or “At ABC we are the…”


10 excellent mission statements:

1.       “At Microsoft, we work to help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential. This is our mission. Everything we do reflects this mission and the values that make it possible.” (Microsoft)

2.       “We provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States.” (ASPCA)

3.       “We work with communities to end hunger and poverty and care for the Earth.” (Heifer International)

4.       “We fulfil dreams through the experience of motorcycling, by providing to motorcyclists and to the general public an expanding line of motorcycles and branded products and services in selected market segments.” (Harley-Davidson, Inc.)

5.       "We bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world." (Nike)

6.       “People love our clothes and trust our company. We will market the most appealing and widely worn casual clothing in the world. We will clothe the world.” (Laidlaw International Levi Strauss & Co)

7.       “We help all people live healthy lives.” (Becton, Dickinson and Company)

8.       “Our purpose is to create superior value for our customers, employees, communities and investors through the production, conversion, delivery and sale of energy and energy services.” (Duke Energy Corporation)

9.       “We provide our policyholders with as near perfect protection, as near perfect service as is humanly possible and to do so at the lowest possible cost.” (Erie Insurance Group)

10.   “Graybar is the vital link in the supply chain, adding value with efficient and cost-effective service and solutions for our customers and our suppliers.” (Graybar Electric Company)


A vision statement, on the other hand, should create uncertainty and initiate strategy to eliminate such uncertainty. Therefore, vision constructs desire, thus immediately creating a gap between current and desired reality. Finding ways to close such gap is called strategy and effectively closing such gap is called strategy execution. Unlike mission, vision implies a future state that is not yet achieved…


10 excellent vision statements:

1.       “A computer on every desk and in every home; all running Microsoft software.” (Microsoft)

2.       “That the United States is a humane community in which all animals are treated with respect and kindness.” (ASPCA)

3.       “A hunger-free America” (Feeding America)

4.       “Equality for everyone.” (Human Rights Campaign)

5.       “To be the number one athletic company in the world.” (Nike)

6.       “Our vision is to be earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online." (Amazon)

7.       “Amnesty International's vision is of a world in which every person enjoys all of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments.” (Amnesty International)

8.       "The happiest place on Earth." (Disneyland)

9.       "People Fly for Free." (Ryanair)

10.   “To provide access to the world’s information in one click.” (Google)


One last dilemma that we must work with is which one first? To me this is no chicken or egg situation. No organised system can exist without purpose. It is mission that gives birth to any system. We cannot determine where we want to go if we have no idea who we are… It is, however, common practice in marketing documents to put vision first. This is so since a vision is ‘sexy’; it creates desire and presents the external world with dynamic perception. Yet, the fact that it’s written first does not imply that it was conceived first… The power of vision is dependent on the amount of change needed. Mission can only cease where purpose has become irrelevant. As leaders come and go, visions will be born and will die. But, as long as any organised system evolves and survives, mission will stand strong. There can be no vision without mission!


In conclusion, the difference between mission and vision is not important; it is vitally crucial… In my Strategic Leadership Master Class we thoroughly unpack the nature and methodology of developing vision and mission at executive level…


© 10 April 2015

Strategic Leadership and Organisational Performance Specialist






© 2015 Derek Hendrikz Consulting

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Strategic Leadership… Not to ask but what to ask – that is the question!

Strategic Leadership… Not to ask but what to ask – that is the question!

By Derek Hendrikz


Strategic leadership and strategy development is all about asking the right questions. What, who, where, when, why and how??? Five W’s and one H… the questions we ask. Commonly known as the Kipling method as made famous by his 1902 opening poem for ‘The Elephants Child’.


Easy to say – just ask the W’s and one H… Yet, how you ask them could make all the difference. For instance ‘What must be done?’ is very different to ‘What has been done?’ or ‘What is the difference between what we do and what the department down the hallway does?’ etc… The first question requires a work definition, the second an evaluation and the third a comparison. In fact, we could probably ask any of the W and H questions in a hundred different ways.


The first problem, to my mind, when working with questions is the reality of ‘personal agenda’. This relates to motivation behind the question. Mostly there is a person with very specific assumptions and beliefs behind any question. It would be naïve to believe that many questions don’t have predetermined answers. The most obvious manifestation of this dynamic would be the rhetorical question; e.g. ‘management would never say that about us, or would they?’ In this example the purpose of the question was to make a point.


The only way to deal with this possible elephant in the room is not to let it in… It is for this reason that there should be rules for questions. In other words, we must create a basic ‘if…then…’ set of assumptions – if we ask questions for this purpose then we apply those rules… In my work I mostly have one of three reasons to ask questions, and I use different rules for each. These reasons with their rules are:

·         If I want to investigate something then use questions that unveil the truth about a past event…

·         If I want to enhance process efficiency then use questions that bring order to chaos…

·         If I want to create strategy then use questions that bring chaos to order…


Below are some samples (but no complete list) of questions that can be asked to achieve different results…


Questions that aim to investigate:

Questions that define process:

Questions that create strategy:

·     Who did what?

·      What happened?

·      Where did it happen?

·      When did it happen?

·      How did it happen?

·      Why did it happen?

·      What is our purpose?

·      What must be done?

·      Who must do this?

·      Which information is needed to do this?

·      Where must it be done?

·      When should this be done?

  • Where do we want to be?
  • Why are we not there yet?
  • Why are we doing this?
  • What if we do this differently?
  • What if we do something else?
  • How did we get here?
  • When will what we currently do become irrelevant?


The article title claims information on strategic leadership, and I have not said much about that… Now, the primary task of leadership is to influence and the primary task of strategy is to keep relevant, thus questions strategic leaders ask would primarily be to influence relevance. Questions asked at operational level have much to do with empowering process efficiency. Therefor such questions aim to strengthen the genetic makeup of any organisational system. Questions that create strategy on the other hand aims to modify the genetic make-up of any system. Thus, the former enhances an evolutionary process of construction and the latter a revolutionary process of deconstruction. Every construction must be deconstructed and strengthened to stay relevant and every deconstruction needs reconstruction to perform. This is an inverse relationship that must be carefully managed. 


Central to all these question is purpose. This is the nodal point of any organised system. The answer to any question only has meaning relative to its purpose. Let me illustrate. If you jump out of an aeroplane at 30 000 feet, what is the risk? Most people reading this would answer that it is a 100% risk, since you will most definitely die! But, you see, there is one very important question that you did not ask, which is ‘What is the purpose of jumping out of that aeroplane?’ If you want to commit suicide, then it is a 0% risk, since there is no uncertainty of the outcome, but if you want to live, then it is a 100% risk. Thus, the difference between a 100% and a 0% risk lies in purpose. Without understanding purpose, no answer has meaning.


Lastly is important to note that asking questions is the foundation of learning. Therefore, the question is more important than the answer, since a right answer to a wrong question will mislead, whilst a wrong answer to a correct question will still teach!


With this I conclude that what to ask is no easy task… In my Strategic Leadership Master Class we thoroughly unpack the nature and methodology of asking questions at executive level…


In the words of Rudyard Kipling…

“I KEEP six honest serving-men

(They taught me all I knew);

Their names are What and Why and When

And How and Where and Who.

I send them over land and sea,

I send them east and west;

But after they have worked for me,

I give them all a rest.

I let them rest from nine till five,

For I am busy then,

As well as breakfast, lunch, and tea,

For they are hungry men.

But different folk have different views;

I know a person small—

She keeps ten million serving-men,

Who get no rest at all!

She sends'em abroad on her own affairs,

From the second she opens her eyes—

One million Hows, two million Wheres,

And seven million Whys!”


© 29 March 2015

Strategic Leadership and Organisational Performance Specialist





© 2015 Derek Hendrikz Consulting

  10582 Hits

Translating Strategy to Action – the Great ‘Disconnect’…

Translating Strategy to Action  – the Great ‘Disconnect’…

During the past two decades in working with more than 100 companies in the field of strategic leadership and strategy development, I found the number one complaint from EXCO teams to be “that strategy fails at the execution phase”.

 Harvard Business Review calls this the execution gap (Martin: 2010). According to Fortune Magazine (Fortune 27 December 1982, p38) as well as renowned author, Eric Kurjan (2011), 90% (nine out of ten) strategies fail due to poor execution… In fact if you google “statistics on why strategy fails” you will get 83 000 000 results of which more than 80% tells you that strategy fails due to poor or no execution… Why, Why Why???

A myriad of authors have attempted to explain this ongoing phenomena; thus my attempt here joins a list of many. Nevertheless, I have paid my dues in this field and am confident that I can add to unravelling this predictable misery. I believe, in heart and mind, that this execution gap has three primary sources…

1.       Incompetent EXCO Team…

Amazing how much blame senior management often bestows on the entire organisation for failure to execute strategy. Maybe I’m missing the boat here, but when did life start working this way? For as far as I can remember, where the team loses we fire the coach; where the General loses battle after battle we get rid of him; and yes, where the EXCO team fails to execute strategy, we need to appoint new ones. One of the main reasons for executive failure is the classic case of a Chef who became the CEO, but refuses to get out of the kitchen. Employees are paid to do work and executives are paid to keep the organisation relevant. Keeping relevant carries higher risk than executing work, thus we pay executives higher wages. Now, to keep relevant requires effective strategy. This is all that executives must do, they have no other work. Yet, according to Kurjan (2011), 85% percent of executive teams spend less than one-hour a month on strategy issues. How can this be???

2.       Strategy is only 20-30% of what we do in organisations…

Yes, strategy is 80%+ of EXCO’s work, but this does not mean its 80% of the organisations work. Most of what we do in organisations are process-based. The accountant does the books as she has done them last year and the year before, and she will do so next year and the year after that. Reality is that most employees do what they have done yesterday, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. In fact, process-based work holds much less risk than project-based work (strategy & change). The one is based on a predictable past and the other on a very unpredictable future. And YES, we must work with the future, but whilst a few well paid people do this, the rest of us must keep bread on the table. In psychology this is called countertransference. EXCO has targets and so they push everyone else to follow suit, which is immensely confusing to the receptionist – what must she do now, answer the phone 3.5 times faster than yesterday???

3.       Lack of Quantification…

If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it. Yet, from all the strategy documents I have ever seen, and I have seen many, only about 5% are measurable. Over the past four years I have spent much of my time with other professional colleagues to develop a master scorecard system, which aims to translate strategy to action through quantifying both strategic and tactical work into one scorecard. It is my view that work only starts making sense if we can accurately measure its sum total. In other words we need to create one master scorecard that measures all work within the organisation. Such quantification should be translated to other systems such as performance management, budgeting, etc. But this is a whole new story for another editorial…

      I believe that this ‘disconnect’ between strategy and action starts with a strong realisation by executive teams that strategy is their only work. To become a senior executive, you first need to be fired from your previous job. You are no longer the engineer, the accountant, the lawyer, or the whatever. Your job now is to keep this organisation relevant. Once this awareness has dawned, ask a few simple questions…

·         What must we change to achieve our vision?

·         What must we perfect to stay accountable to our mission?

·         How will we quantify the above into one scorecard?

·         Who needs to take responsibility for what?

·         How will we all behave in executing our task (our values)?


© 10 April 2014

Strategic Leadership and Organisational Performance Specialist




© (c) Derek Hendrikz Consulting

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