STRATEGIC EXECUTIVE LEVEL THINKING
Nine-tenths of tactics are certain and taught in the books; but, the irrational tenth is like the kingfisher flashing across the pool. This is the test of generals. Success can only be ensured by instinct sharpened by thought. At the crisis, it is as natural as a reflex. (T. E. Lawrence)
As a former executive at Hewlett Packard (Chief Financial Officer – Latin America Region) behavioral finance are the effects of psychological, social, cognitive, and emotional factors on the economic decisions of individuals and institutions and the consequences for market prices, returns, and the resource allocation. This includes how market decisions are made and the mechanisms that drive public choice. As T. E. Lawrence states, this cannot be taught, it’s a combination of training, experience and natural born instincts.
The Science of Guerrilla Warfare
“What will give a CPA a competitive advantage as a strategic leader?” A corollary question is, “How do you develop the requisite skills in order to gain competitive advantage?” Military organizations, and organizations in general, are concerned about leadership and leader development. Until the 1980s, the focus was on the direct level of leadership. Only recently has executive level thinking become significant. A CPA who is a strategic leader operates within an increasingly complex environment, characterized by greater information-processing demands and a need to solve more ill defined, novel, and complex organizational problems. Certified Public Accountants must develop skills and cognitive capacities to navigate successfully within such a complex environment. CPA’s who are strategic leaders must not only possess these capacities and skills but also be able to apply them, and effective application of these capacities requires highly developed self-awareness.
PERSPECTIVE How do executive-level leaders regard decision making and thinking at the strategic level? At this level, there is a great premium on anticipation. If I am not drawing on my experiences and an intuitive sense of understanding of the situation, then I am not functioning at the C-Level. One of my first requirements is to be a good anticipator. Number two is that at the C-Level, if I am anticipating right, I can shape issues, rather than issues shaping me. When anticipating, I have to have an intuitive judgment that says, “These things are important.” The anticipation and shaping of issues are what this job is all about. Certified Public Accountants who previously succeeded at the C-Level levels have the individual capacity to cope with complexity, amorphousness, and uncertainty. You do not have to have everything laid out for you. You have the resiliency and ingenuity to adapt to new and different circumstances. The most important phase in the exercise of strategic leadership is the front-end work. The in-depth, serious thinking by a leader and his or her team results in the creation of an intellectual framework for the future. Imaging the future first takes place in the mind of the leader and then must be communicated throughout the organization. Intellectual change guides the physical changes that manifest transformation. Without the tough up-front work of intellectual change, physical change will be unfocused, random, and unlikely to succeed.
TAXONOMY OF LEARNING
UPPER LEVEL THINKING SKILLS
LOWER LEVEL THINKING SKILLS
The strategic environment requires leaders to develop both individual and team thinking skills. It is important to differentiate between individual and collective thinking. You will find a paradigm for a team approach to strategic thinking. This collaborative problem-solving approach is what your CPA will participate in and manage as your business grows. A group/team approach to decision making requires you to adopt a different frame of reference about your own work in relation to others.
CAPACITIES VS. KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS
The hypotheses for understanding executive development were presented at a U. S. Army Conference on Strategic Leadership. This theory suggests that executive development should be divided into two major areas. The first area accents technical, intellectual, and inter-personal knowledge and skills. The second area, one that is of particular interest to us, stresses capacities. Capacities include perspective-taking, visioning, and metacognition. Traditional military education emphasizes knowledge and skills as most important. This focus may just be the primary reasons for the huge success of leadership at the direct leadership level in the defense community. However, research evidence suggests that capacities are essential for the executive leader at the strategic level. This is not to say that knowledge and skills are unimportant, only that the importance of capacity increases significantly at the strategic levels.
A CPA with executive training posse’s self-awareness with the ability to reflect on and accurately assesses his own behaviors and skills as they are manifested on the job. It is an important ability for achieving leadership excellence. Rarely are self-assessments and assessment by others completely congruent. We call the lack of agreement between self assessment and assessment by others “the coefficient of self delusion.” This coefficient can be positive (when others’ ratings are higher than self ratings) or it can be negative (when others’ ratings are lower than self ratings). The positive coefficient of self-delusion occurs with people who either are genuinely humble or may be trying to avoid over-inflating their self-ratings for a variety of reasons. The negative coefficient of self-delusion usually occurs with people who are not conscious of the impact of their behaviors on others or they have an inflated sense of self. In either case, it is important to investigate why the assessment gap exists and reflect upon ways that it can be narrowed, perhaps even closed.
As you begin to understand what influences your decisions, it is also critical to understanding of metacognition so that you are better able to control and influence your own thought processes. Metacognition is a key variable, which differentiates effective thinkers from less effective thinkers. Cognition is the mental faculty or process by which knowledge is acquired through perception, reasoning, and intuition. The basic process of acquiring knowledge is simply learning. This includes the creation and management of aggregated knowledge in the form of complex cognitive structures or mental maps. Metacognition is cognition directed at monitoring and controlling the process of cognition. Metacognition is thinking about thinking. The result of metacognition is the conscious regulation and rearrangement of how you think in the face of complex problems requiring novel solutions. Metacognition is both a process and a skill. As a skill, metacognition is about self-awareness and strategic management of self. As a process, metacognition involves conscious, self-directed investigation of one’s mental process. This includes perception and understanding of context as well as the notions of perspective-taking and multi-frame thinking-walking in another’s shoes. Therefore, the process of metacognition often involves temporarily suspending assumptions, including one’s own values and belief systems. This also can be construed as placing self in perspective, or “decentering.”
A CPA must be able to make choices about decision alternatives and problem solutions at all levels. Further, at higher organizational levels, problem types and decision choices become more ambiguous, less structured, and more differentiated. The complexity of the organization-environment interaction requires more productivity and planning within longer time frames that add to the cognitive demands of senior leaders. An effective executive-level CPA or leader is expected to have a high level of conceptual capacity. Having worked for executive-level leaders gave me considerable conceptual capacity and ability to understand the issues and problems at that level, and a higher probability of being a valued asset to the client.