FILE2480I invited Sabrina Clarke, Founder and CEO of Build Global, to share her thoughts on how game changing trends have required today’s global leaders to future proof their competitive advantage after listening to her fascinating talk at the US National Diversity Council’s Women in Leadership Symposium in London last December.

Sabrina believes that the ‘corporate playbook’ is essential for tomorrow’s success and, in this article, she explores how incorporating strategies will result in purposeful outcomes and timed results.

When I was growing up I loved to play the two-person game Connect Four. In Connect Four, each player chose chips from two colours. Once selected, if a player got four chips in a row, they would be the victor. What made this game special for me was the fact it was one of my early introductions to strategy. You couldn’t simply win by dropping chips, you had to pre-empt the other player’s move. The chips could only fall in three directions in order to win, vertical, horizontal or diagonal. Once a player won, the trap door would open in the frame and the game started over again.

As I reflected on corporate life, it struck me how the game Connect Four generally mirrors the ‘corporate playbook’ for progression pre-economic downturn. Namely, individuals were progressing through the ranks horizontally, vertically and diagonally. Some people came into their organisations as graduates and progressed (vertical). Others progressed at one organisation then achieved seniority at the next (diagonal). Other individuals left one organisation to take the same role at a competitor because of the promise of progression (horizontal). Each strategy connected to achieve the goal of SVP, CEO, Chief, General Counsel, or the corporate title relevant to the desired industry.

The ‘corporate playbook’ had opposition that came in the form of redundancy, leadership changes and, like Connect Four, once stacked there was no way to connect the chips. Particularly for women and minority groups who are consistently disproportionately impacted during these times. To compound this, the game changing trends happened: disruptive technology, five generations in the workplace, growth of micro and macro entrepreneurs, increase of women owned businesses or women owning a majority stake in companies. As a result, future proofing in the form of rebranding and repositioning was required to remain solvent, profitable and competitive. This is the time we find ourselves as leaders, being in a constant state of shift, to rebrand or reposition. I submit the Connect Four approach to the ‘corporate playbook’ is obsolete.

To be clear, of course there are leaders who have adapted a diverse approach to the ‘corporate playbook’ with more in the past 5-7 years becoming visible. However, what I have observed is that as we experience growth, old habits come back quickly while some habits haven’t left. The same people are in the same roles. So what? How do you craft a playbook that is also future proof? Let’s explore. 

Do you want to play this game?

Before you do anything else, you have to decide if you want to play this game? I say this game purposely because the game has changed. Understanding your identity as a leader today will influence how long you engage and will determine your approach.

What does success look like for you?

Is work/life integration a success indicator? Are family, travel, status, net worth, ownership, assets important? Your decision to be married or not, to become a parent or not, to increase your net worth or not will come with expectations that present challenges, which its why it is crucial to define what success looks like for you.

Strategy is not binary

You will need offensive and defensive strategies to achieve your goals. Your offensive strategy is the proactive steps you take in order to achieve your desired outcome. Your defensive strategy is the steps you deploy to protect your position and mitigate risk. For example, an offensive strategy that I adopted was quitting my job at a domestic company and moving to London to get international experience. I then shifted to a defensive strategy by ensuring I was not relegated into one industry. Your offensive and defensive strategies will require thought but will yield purposeful results.

Line up your players to execute  

Your players are the individuals required for your success. In my experience, the essentials are your team, your bench, your VIPs. Your team are the individuals you rely upon to deliver. These are the individuals who are in your sphere of influence but out of your immediate team or direct reports. Your bench are the mentors or coaches in your life who can give you the unadulterated truth about what you need to do, how you need to do it and why things aren’t working for you. Your VIPs are your sponsors and advocates. What’s the difference? I think of it as advocates prepare the meal, sponsors cook it. The advocate and sponsor respect, value and believe in you. Advocates position you through conversation while the sponsor uses their organisational capital for you.

Organisation acumen test 

Use your organisational acumen as the test. What do you know about the organisation? How will this impact your goals? What is happening within your immediate team that could positively or negatively impact your play? Does this fit into your timeframes? If you don’t have the answers to these questions, then you know that you have a lot of work to do in ensuring your playbook is successful and will not impede your progression.

World-class athletes never go into the most critical games of their lives without a thorough strategy. I believe we are at the tipping point for leadership that we have not seen in previous generations, so let’s leave Connect Four for social gatherings and disrupt the future.

If this article brought to light any challenges you are facing developing your career progression ‘game plan’ please get in touch. Christine Griffin, Executive Coach – christine@griffinity.co.uk – +44 (0)7796 147127 – www.griffinity.co.uk.