Category Archives: Leadership Implementation
Cartoon – Biggest Obstacle to Success
The Other Machiavelli: Finding lessons for leaders in a lesser-known work by the Florentine political philosopher
However cynical it may seem, Machiavelli’s The Prince has long been recognized as a source of insights for anyone trying run a business or gain power in one. A ferocious little treatise of under 100 pages, The Prince was aimed at Lorenzo de’ Medici, the iron-handed Florentine ruler, by an author hoping to regain the proximity to power that he formerly enjoyed.
But modern corporations aren’t principalities ruled by autocrats. They are, in fact, more like republics, their leaders dependent on the support of directors, employees, customers, investors, and one another. That is why, in turning to Machiavelli for management wisdom, we would be well served to leave aside The Prince in favor of another of his works, one that is less known but perhaps more to the point. Don’t be fooled by the academic-sounding title; Discourses on Livy has a great deal to teach us about leadership in any organization resembling a republic. Chances are, that includes your business.
Published posthumously in 1531, Discourses draws on the ancient Roman historian (among others) to analyze the nature of power in public life. Like The Prince, this is not a handbook for saints. But the author was a brilliant student of human nature, and not one to underestimate the potential of a determined individual. In Discourses, he firmly asserts the importance of an individual founder in establishing or renovating a republic—and by extension, for our purposes, a business. A prudent founder, he writes, “must strive to assume sole authority.”
Yet a single person cannot sustain an enterprise in the long run. That is only possible if the founder’s vision and talents result in an institution supported by stakeholders who can carry the venture into the future. “Kingdoms which depend only upon the exceptional ability of a single man are not long enduring,” Machiavelli writes, “because such talent disappears with the life of the man, and rarely does it happen to be restored in his successor.”
Besides, princes have no monopoly on wisdom. Despite the notorious unpredictability of the mob, the author acknowledged the wisdom of crowds when he asserted that “the multitude is wiser and more constant than a prince.” Machiavelli was also insightful about succession: “After an excellent prince, a weak prince can maintain himself,” he observed with admirable economy in one chapter’s epigraph, “but after a weak prince, no kingdom can be maintained with another weak one.”
Many of the epigraphs are bull’s-eyes of this kind. Take this one, for example: “Whoever wishes to reform a long-established state in a free city should retain at least the appearance of its ancient ways.” This is worth doing even if you make massive changes, because, Machiavelli notes, “men in general live as much by appearances as by realities; indeed, they are often moved more by things as they appear than by things as they really are.”
Honesty may be the best policy, but that is not a maxim ever attributed to Machiavelli. In keeping with the notion that people attend largely to appearances, he says leaders compelled to do something by necessity should consider pretending their course of action was undertaken out of generosity. In another chapter, he argues, “Cunning and deceit will serve a man better than force to rise from a base condition to great fortune.”
Machiavelli, of course, took a hard-headed view of humanity, believing that people act largely out of self-interest, whether to gratify their egos or sate their desire for material wealth, and that, for better or worse, actions tend to be judged by their consequences. Indeed, he was very much what philosophers call a consequentialist, arguing that, in some contexts, bad things must be done to achieve good ends achievable in no other way. This is not to say that law-breaking or other unethical acts are justified—even some of Machiavelli’s contemporaries considered such advice controversial—but every business leader knows that hard decisions must be made, be it the closing of a venerable division or taking a company in a risky new direction, for the long-term good of the enterprise.
Even when advocating something like mercy, Machiavelli did so with consequences in mind. He argued, for example, that failure should not be harshly punished, especially if it arises from ignorance rather than malice. Roman generals, he notes, had difficult and dangerous jobs, and Rome understood that if military leaders had to worry about “examples of Roman commanders who had been crucified or otherwise put to death when they had lost a day’s battles, it would be impossible for that commander, beset by so many suspicions, to make courageous decisions.”
If punishment should not be meted out lightly, neither should rewards be delayed. If you don’t cultivate loyalty and support from others in good times through open-handedness, Machiavelli says, those people certainly won’t have your back when things get rough. Doling out rewards only in the face of tough competition or harsh circumstances will lead subordinates to believe “that they gained this favour not from you but from your adversaries, and since they must fear that after the danger has passed you will take back from them what you have been forced to give them, they will feel no obligation to you whatsoever.”
Republics, in his view, have no choice but to grow, for “it is impossible for a republic to succeed in standing still.” Companies are the same. But acquisitions—whether in battle or by purchase—must be carried out with care, for “conquests made by republics which are not well organized, and which do not proceed according to Roman standards of excellence, bring about their ruin rather than their glorification.”
Finally, Machiavelli was well aware of the risks of advice-giving, so much so that he gave one chapter the title “Of the danger of being prominent in counselling any enterprise, and how that danger increases with the importance of such enterprise.” Consultants, take note. Just don’t let the clients catch you reading Machiavelli.
Acknowledging the losses that come with a new strategy
Embarking on a new strategy requires myriad organizational changes—which will inevitably come with losses. Some parts of the business, people, roles, processes, and traditions will inevitably be deemphasized, or even eliminated from the organization. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review identifies how leaders launching new strategies typically spend a significant amount of time trying to plan for the unpredictable future, while overlooking one of the most predictable parts of any change in strategy: what will be lost when something else is gained.
The Gist: It is critical to identify, acknowledge, and plan for these losses in adopting any new strategy, as the unexpressed fear of loss is a key driver of organizational inertia and resistance to change.
With health systems deep in strategy development for the post-COVID market, leaders must take into account the wide range of challenges their organizations will face when it comes to reconfiguring investment, growth, competencies, and people, in addition to focusing on new areas of opportunity revealed by the pandemic.
Failing to confront these tradeoffs head-on may sacrifice any strategic gains resulting from new initiatives.
Thought of the Day: On Accomplishment
Cartoon – We have a Strategy
Cartoon – Status Quo Strategy
Oracle, Cerner plan to build national medical records database as Larry Ellison pitches bold vision for healthcare
Oracle’s chairman Larry Ellison outlined a bold vision Thursday for the database giant to use the combined tech power of Oracle and Cerner to make access to medical records more seamless.
Days after closing its $28.3 billion acquisition of electronic health record company Cerner, Ellison said Oracle plans to build a national health record database that would pull data from thousands of hospital-centric EHRs.
In a virtual briefing Thursday, Ellison highlighted many long-standing problems with interoperability in healthcare. “Your electronic health data is scattered across a dozen or separate databases. One for every provider you’ve ever visited. This patient data fragmentation and EHR fragmentation causes tremendous problems,” he said.
“We’re going to solve this problem by putting a unified national health records database on top of all of these thousands of separate hospital databases. So we’re building a system where the health records all American citizens’ health records not only exist at the hospital level but also are in a unified national health records database.”
The concept of the national health records database, which would hold anonymized data, Ellison said, is to help doctors and clinicians have faster access to patient records when providing care. Anonymized health data in that national database could also be used to build artificial intelligence models to help diagnose diseases such as cancer.
“Better information is the key to transforming healthcare,” he said. “Better information will allow doctors to deliver better patient outcomes. Better information will allow public health officials to develop much better public health policy and it will fundamentally lower healthcare costs overall.”
Oracle also plans to modernize Cerner’s Millennium EHR platform with updated features such as voice interface, more telehealth capabilities and disease-specific AI models, Ellison said.
He highlighted a partnership between health tech company Ronin, a clinical decision support solution, and MD Anderson to create a disease-specific AI model that monitors cancer patients as they work through their treatments.
“The people at Oracle are not going to be developing these AI models. But our platform, Cerner Millennium, is an open system and allows medical professionals at MD Anderson, who are experts in treating cancer, to add these AI modules to help other doctors treat cancer patients,” Ellison said.
The purchase of Cerner, which marks Oracle’s biggest acquisition, gives the database giant a stronger foothold in healthcare. Ellison said the company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) and HR software already is widely used in healthcare.
But the company will face the same long-standing barriers to sharing health data that have stymied other interoperability efforts. There also could be pushback from the industry to any effort by a tech giant to build a nationalized health database.
In March 2020, the federal government released rules laying the groundwork to give patients easier access to their digital health records through their smartphones. The regulation, which went into effect in April 2021, requires health IT vendors, providers and health information exchanges to enable patients to access and download their health records with third-party apps. Under the rule, providers can’t inhibit the access, exchange or use of health information unless the data fall within eight exceptions.
Interoperability experts point out there are already efforts underway to create a more unified database of health records, such Cerner competitor Epic’s Cosmos, which is a de-identified patient database combining the company’s EHR data of over 122 million patients.
Former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair is backing Ellison’s vision for building a unified health database. Blair, who leads the nonprofit Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, partners with Oracle to use its cloud technology to tackle health issues.
Speaking at the virtual event, Blair said a unified health records system will “empower citizens and provide clinicians and other care providers with immediate access to their health history and treatment without chasing it down from disparate sources.”
David Feinberg, M.D., who took the reins as Cerner CEO just four months before the acquisition was announced in December, said he was excited about the potential for Oracle and Cerner to advance data sharing.
“We’re bringing world-class technology coupled with a deep and long history of understanding how healthcare works. I don’t think anyone’s ever done that,” said Feinberg, now president and CEO of Oracle Cerner.
Patton’s Principles of Leadership
BORN in San Gabriel, California, in 1885, George S. Patton, Jr. was the general deemed most dangerous by the German High Command in World War II. Known for his bombastic style, it was mostly done to show confidence in himself and his troops, says author Owen Connelly.
On December 21, 1945, Patton died in Heidelberg, Germany. The following day the New York Times wrote the following editorial:
History has reached out and embraced General George Patton. His place is secure. He will be ranked in the forefront of America’s great military leaders.
Long before the war ended, Patton was a legend. Spectacular, swaggering, pistol-packing, deeply religious, and violently profane, easily moved to anger because he was first of all a fighting man, easily moved to tears because, underneath all his mannered irascibility, he had a kind heart, he was a strange combination of fire and ice. Hot in battle and ruthless, too. He was icy in his inflexibility of purpose. He was no mere hell-for-leather tank commander but a profound and thoughtful military student.
Everyone is to lead in person.
Commanders and staff members are to visit the front daily to observe, not to meddle. Praise is more valuable than blame. Your primary mission as a leader is to see with your own eyes and be seen by your troops while engaged in personal reconnaissance.
Issuing an order is worth only about 10 percent. The remaining 90 percent consists in assuring proper and vigorous execution of the order.
Plans should be simple and flexible. They should be made by the people who are going to execute them.
Information is like eggs. The fresher the better.
Every means must be used before and after combats to tell the troops what they are going to do and what they have done.
Fatigue makes cowards of us all. Men in condition do not tire.
Courage. Do not take counsel of your fears.
A diffident manner will never inspire confidence. A cold reserve cannot beget enthusiasm. There must be an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace.
Discipline is based on pride in the profession of arms, on meticulous attention to details, and on mutual respect and confidence. Discipline must be a habit so ingrained that it is stronger than the excitement of battle or the fear of death.
A good solution applied with vigor now is better than a perfect solution ten minutes later.
The important role of the CFO in innovation
Although CFOs often hold the key to resources, acting as gatekeepers, they can also be critical allies in innovation, enabling programs and initiatives, according to an April 12 McKinsey report.
While innovation is often thought of in a traditional sense, with new offerings and services coming to mind, innovation can also mean disruption and change in business models, productivity improvements and new ways to service consumers. The CFO has the perspective to see where fresh ideas are needed in the business from a financial perspective, and the power to make them happen.
Innovation also requires resources and capital, of which the CFO has control and say as to how it gets used. The CFO is an important part of determining which innovations will go ahead and is akin to a venture capitalist, deciding whether to invest in a start-up.
As members of the C-suite, CFOs also have an important role in encouraging a culture of openness and innovation where staff members feel comfortable coming to company leaders with new ideas. By creating an atmosphere of innovation, the company can build a pipeline of innovative talent and concepts, which the CFO can help bring to fruition.