Walker Webcast: Carolyn Dewar and Six Successful Mindsets
McKinsey & Co. Bay Area Senior Partner Carolyn Dewar believes that mathematician Abraham Wald and his study of U.S. World War II air bombers offers an interesting lesson for leaders and CEOs.
During the Second World War, when airplanes returned with holes in their wings, the go-to solution was to reinforce the wings to reduce damage. But this didn’t make much of a difference; planes were still riddled with bullet holes.
So Wald stepped in and suggested that the emphasis and analysis were misplaced. His thought was that “we’ve got to find the planes that didn’t make it back and where they got hit,” Dewar said. “That’s what we need to reinforce. That made a huge difference and saved thousands of lives.”
Dewar said that the World War II planes is applicable to the C-suite, suggesting that senior leaders could do well to avoid confirmation bias and using information to prove a point. Instead, leaders should examine other angles. “I think, as a senior leader, with everyone else so busy in the day-to-day, you have a chance to raise your head up and see the bigger picture,” she commented.
This tied into another important issue of successful leadership: Cultivating a learning mindset. Dewar said that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella embraces learning, embedding it into the Microsoft culture. “He talks about the shift from being a know-it-all-culture, where the smartest person in the room has won . . . to a learn-it-all culture that celebrates learning and asking questions,” Dewar said, Nadella also walks the talk; his learning agenda includes analyzing and information from the best thinkers in the world. “Once a month, he blocks half a day or a day, just to learn,” Dewar said. “That’s a pretty huge investment.”
In discussing the six mindsets (direction-setting, alignment, mobilization, engagement, connection and effectiveness) Dewar suggested some of the following attributes of successful leaders:
“Why” Rather than “What”
When Herbert Hainer took over as Adidas’ CEO, his differentiator against the other athletic titans was the reason for the company’s existence. The “why” was to help athletes excel by delivering outstanding products, science and technology. “The focus was on making products clients want, customer service on top of that, and the rest happens after that,” Dewar said.
Sprints versus Marathons
Dewar said that corporate success isn’t a sprint. Nor is it a marathon. Rather, it involves a series of sprints. Using Singapore bank DBS as an example, Dewar explained that the company first focused on being the best in Singapore, then the best in Asia, then one of the best in the world. “People thought they were crazy,” she said. “But as you go through those series of multi-year sprints . . . the organization builds the muscle to take on that next journey.”
The moonshot strategies involving mergers and acquisitions, doesn’t mean “betting the whole farm on some huge megadeal,” according to Dewar. Rather, the strategy should be expansion of specific capabilities, potentially meaning several smaller acquisitions. Also important is cultural integration following an M&A. “It’s not about comparing processes and notes and how we do things,” she said. “It’s about how we think about what excellence looks like. All behaviors will flow from that.”
Path to the C-Suite
Finally, for those hoping for a C-Suite position, Dewar suggested the basics: Do an excellent job, navigate and align with functions and teams and mobilize stakeholders. Additionally, “If you have aspirations beyond what you’re doing now, don’t get completely distracted and obsessed with that,” she said. “Frankly, it’s a distraction and other people don’t love it.”
Also important? The learning mindset. Participate with a cross-enterprise initiative team or join a board Dewar said, adding that “the learning mindset takes place all the way through and should never stop.”
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