Bold Leadership for Organizational Acceleration

In his new book, consultant Jim Tompkins prescribes inspirational leadership as the cure for executive overload and calls for a focus on core competencies and resilience


Interview by Andrew K. Reese

Leaders today must balance hectic business and personal lives that can leave them feeling like they are trying to squeeze 15 pounds of apples into a five-pound bag.

As a result, says business consultant Jim Tompkins, CEO of Tompkins Associates, leaders too often find themselves facing extreme overload, powerless to cope with constantly evolving challenges, incapable of leading others and unable to concentrate on the big picture. But in his recent book, Bold Leadership for Organizational Acceleration, Tompkins proposes a plan to help executives get out of overload mode, professionally and personally, so that they can be more effective leaders in all aspects of their lives.

Supply & Demand Chain Executive recently spoke with Tompkins about his prescription for addressing organizational and personal overload, and we began by asking him about his motivation for writing the book and addressing this particular topic at this time.

Jim Tompkins: I have watched very good companies — and even great companies — become like deer frozen in the headlights of an oncoming car when they start to experience what I call "organizational acceleration." As they have downsized, everyone in the company, from the CEO down to the lowest-paid, newest employee, starts trying to fit 12 pounds of apples into a 10-pound sack. And then they add on top of that their personal lives, where they've got soccer practice and baseball practice and piano lessons and dance lessons, and there are simply not enough hours in the day.

I've seen this type of situation more and more often, and, to be perfectly honest, it became a frustration to me when I saw companies that needed to hire our firm to do consulting work, but because they were so busy "doing nothing," they never had time to get together and decide whether they should hire a consultant or not. As I started to think about this frustration, I came up with three answers to address this problem.

Number one, we've got to understand how to take off of our plates those things that can be done by others. This led me to believe that the process of inspirational leadership — which is a process that I introduced at Tompkins Associates some 10 years ago — needs to be spread throughout the world. Secondly, we've got to make sure that our people only focus on things that are truly core and that we don't waste our time on non-core activities. And thirdly, we've got to build a structure that plans and responds to surprises. If we don't have good resiliency, if we don't have proper contingency plans, if we don't properly understand the process we need to deal with disruptions, we're never going to be able to achieve success in our business.

That became not only the inspiration for writing the book but the solution to the never-ending organizational and personal acceleration that was consuming companies and people and resulting in a tremendous amount of heartbreak and ulcers and alcoholism and disrupted marriages, etc., etc. So I see this organizational acceleration as a cancer, and this book is the cure for the cancer.

Supply & Demand Chain Executive: Why "bold" leadership? What separates a bold leader from "just a leader"?

Tompkins: The traditional textbooks and literature on leadership teach us that leadership is something that one does or that one exhibits. That was great back when life was slower and organizations were slower. You could have three leaders in the company and everyone else could be a follower, and you could be successful. But we need to take a different approach to leadership now because there's simply 100 pounds of leadership to be done, but the maximum that anyone can handle is five pounds. The true test of a great leader today is not your own leadership skill but how many leaders you can create within your organization. What I, as a leader, need to do is identify the boundaries of what you are capable of performing, prepare you to do those things, and then inspire you to become a leader at the right time to get those things done. That's what I mean by "inspirational leadership," which is the first facet of bold leadership.

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