More than 40 years ago, I was a serviceable Division 1 tennis player. Yet, my college career didn’t last long because of an injury to my wrist and two surgeries to try to fix it. After the second operation, I felt that going back to a practice regimen of 6 hours a day would only lead to a third surgery, so I stopped competing at that level. Over the years, I’ve only played sparingly, as my interest in tennis gave way to golf – an incredible metaphor for business and life, by the way. That said, for this piece, I’ll stick to tennis.
A Tennis Metaphor
Whenever I would return to the game, usually after several months (if not years), I could hit the ball fine. On the one hand, it was like riding a bike. On the other hand, I realized that my reaction time had slowed considerably. It comes with age and lack of practice. Yet the more deeply I thought about it, the more I realized there was more to it. For me, it boiled down to three things:
- The Game Got Faster – Between advances in equipment that have sped up the game and because tennis is taught differently than when I was growing up, today’s players emulate the pros by hitting every shot with incredible pace because it was how they were brought up to play.
- My Reflexes Are Not What They Use to Be – As much as I would like to believe that I am as quick as I was at 21, we all know better—enough said.
- I Don’t See Things as Early – Here’s the big game-changer. It exacerbates the impact of the first two points. At 21, my vision was sharper, and I was able to respond to the way my opponent would telegraph where he would hit his serve or his next shot. I was either leaning or moving to a spot before he ever hit the ball. So, imagine a faster game, with my having slower reflexes and being challenged to respond to a shot after it has already come off my opponent’s racquet. Too late. It’s why I play golf now.
Relevance to CEOs
The world is moving faster. Read The Exponential Age by Azeem Azhar (as soon as you can). If this book doesn’t blow your hair back, nothing will. Even if your mental reflexes haven’t slowed, a faster world means quicker decisions and more immediate response times. So, what can you do to give yourself a fair chance? Do what you can to see things early.
Consider this: I have spoken with dozens of CEOs who survived the 2008 financial crisis. When they describe why their company weathered the storm while many of their competitors did not, they suggest that it wasn’t because of poor management but a lack of preparation.
Business owners who survive the hurricane are more likely the ones watching The Weather Channel versus those looking out the window. Seeing things earlier helps you get ready to lead through what’s next.
How Peer Advisory Groups (Forums) Help You See Things Earlier
When you are part of a forum comprised of CEOs representing various sectors of the economy, you are surrounded by leaders who make the early warning signs more visible. If a hurricane, so to speak, is coming your way, you help each other prepare your businesses to withstand high winds and rain. Conversely, for those who are heads down in their business, the hurricane feels more like an earthquake. Such an event is not only unnecessary; it’s CEO/leadership malpractice. A big part of your job is looking out over the horizon for what’s new and what’s next (good and bad). The more eyes on the horizon, the greater your chance of preparing for the next challenge or opportunity – to see things early enough to make a decision that isn’t a day late and a dollar short.
As we’ve shifted from a VUCA World to a BANI World, we must double down on our efforts to address the human condition. BANI refers to Brittle, Anxious, Nonlinear, and Incomprehensible – a more relevant and contemporary take on VUCA. It’s not just about what’s happening in the world; it’s about how it makes us feel and how we respond and lead. Since it’s never been more critical for people to collaborate, cooperate, and innovate, leaders need to provide their people with a mechanism to do so. The bottom line is that we need one another more than ever now. Since the stakes are higher than in a tennis match, it may be time to get serious and engage your peers.
Have you read?
The Global Passport Index: The World’s Most Powerful Passports.
Countries With The Most Billionaires, 2023.
Top CEOs in Switzerland, 2023.
Biggest banks in the world, as measured by total assets, 2023.
The World’s Richest Self-Made Women, 2023.
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