Are you an attacker, a defender, or a sitting duck?

By Ram Charan – World Economic Forum

The time has come to make your own preparations for leading your business. Conditions are changing, and so too are the capabilities demanded of leaders. Management training programs and career paths that move you up step by step in a functional silo don’t cut it. They were designed in earlier times when external conditions were more stable. They do little to prepare you for an environment in which industries and market spaces can get obliterated practically overnight. Nor do they help you develop the large-scale entrepreneurialism that underlies many recent successes, from Facebook and Google to Netflix and Twitter.

What matters now is how quickly you can spot the opportunities that are emerging and mobilize the organization to pursue them. You need to be on the offense, ahead of the curve, creating a bend in the road that other players have to negotiate around.

Think of how Apple changed the game for the music industry with the iPod and iTunes, putting a permanent chink in the profitability of the big music producers. Or how Amazon undermined the big book retailers Borders and Barnes & Noble when it was first to sell books online. Now AirBnb is attacking the hotel business, while Uber and Lyft are taking on taxi’s.

The truth is that few leaders areattackers. Many more are defenders,who struggle to maintain their existing business when shifts in the competitive landscape and money making have already begun. Still others are sitting ducks, unaware of the changes that are underway until it is too late to recover.

Where do you stand? Answer the following questions to rate yourself on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 is “not at all true” and 10 is “very true.”

  1. I am aware that structural change is occurring more frequently and that it is my job as a leader to detect it.
  2. I frequently scan the external landscape looking for developments that might impact my business.
  3. Instead of ignoring, fighting or worrying about structural change, I look for opportunity in it.
  4. I consider it part of my job as a leader to create structural change that benefits my organization.
  5. I regularly look beyond my industry to monitor the geopolitical and other macro factors that can impact the global economy and business landscape.
  6. I have created disciplined routines for myself and my team to rise above the daily details and sharpen our ability to detect and predict structural changes.
  7. Whenever operating problems arise, I check to see if they are related to any signs of structural change.
  8. I track companies that are using mathematics and advanced computing power to transform their businesses—even if they are outside my industry—and imagine how some of them might destroy our industry and reshape our market space.
  9. I accept the fact that uncertainty is here to stay, and that I may need to make bold decisions even when some of the deciding factors are still not clear.
  10. I am psychologically and organizationally prepared to recognize structural uncertainty and convert it into breakthrough opportunities.

Now add your points. If you scored 90-100 points, you qualify as an Attacker. Congratulations. If you scored 60-90 you are a Defender. You should up your game to keep pace with the speed of external change. If you scored lower than 60, you are a Sitting Duck, at risk of being blindsided by an attack you don’t see coming.

Here are some steps you can take to better prepare yourself for going on the attack:

  • Reflect on your attitude about structural uncertainty. Think of structural changes you have witnessed in recent years and consider who created them and how others responded to them. As you reflect on leaders who created a structural change for other companies, think about what they saw that others didn’t see.
  • Commit to widening your lens, scanning the environment broadly for things that are new and different, from technology developments to social trends. Seek ways to turn them to advantage. How might these transform the consumer experience?
  • Decide on one or two new habits you will adopt to stay better attuned to external change, particularly outside your industry. These could include a daily practice of reading the newspaper–for example, the Lex column in the Financial Times–or setting aside ten minutes at the beginning of every staff meeting to discuss with others what they’re picking up from the outside world and what it might mean for your business.
  • Recognize that in today’s world total clarity may come too late. Go beyond hard facts to make judgments about what is unfolding and encourage others to do the same. Test your hypotheses, then muster the courage act on your new insights.

Author: Ram Charan is a Global Adviser to CEOs & Corporate Boards.