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Creating a Sustainable Competitive Advantage

Most MWBs focus on market-related initiatives: developing and introducing new products, reviving a brand, entering a distant geographic market, or a new segment in a home market, and so on. By definition these battles are important. But competitors will respond to your moves–doing their best to copy or exceed your efforts, and acting in ways that will take away the uniqueness of your offering to customers. It is very difficult, in short, to create a sustainable competitive advantage. A better market objective in today’s world is often to create a renewable competitive advantage.

But we believe that you can use your MWB journey to create a real sustainable competitive advantage. This is the creation of a management team that truly functions as a team. As we have argued, and will again in Chapter 3, top managers rarely function as teams. So if you can build your key players into a real team, you will have a competitive advantage that will be very difficult for competitors to match. Your top team, operating as a team, should be able to implement new initiatives more quickly and with more force than competitors. In other words, having a sustainable competitive advantage in the way people work together at the top of your organization should allow you to create a series of renewable competitive advantages in the marketplace.

As the leader your most important job is to take that group of people at the top and turn them into a team. It will not be done overnight, and it may not be possible with the cast of characters that you have in place right now. The MWB journey is a tool we have seen managers use to build such a team, but let us re-emphasize that the key is to simultaneously lead your people on a journey that is both intellectual and emotional. This is difficult because it means that the leader has to continuously embody the blend of both intellectual and emotional openness that he or she is asking of others. The rewards, however, in terms of business results as well as the personal development of the leader and of the team members, are great.

If you are attracted by the possibility of using an MWB journey to create focus, energy, and a real team in your business, read on. We offer you a guide to the journey, including tools and techniques that can be used at each stage, plus advice on how to use them. These are not just nice ideas, we have personally used these tools, and seen MWB leaders use them. They work.

As you move forward through the book, you may wonder whether the MWB approach is right for your company–and for yourself as a leader. The questions below are, hopefully, useful prompts for your deliberations.

  1. Is an MWB journey what our business needs?

  2. Assess the health of your business, management team, strategy and organization. If performance is good, the top team is functioning well and the organization is working effectively, you probably do not need an MWB journey. However, if this is not the case, you should consider the ideas and examples in the book and decide whether the journey would make sense for you.

  3. Could we move forward on simultaneous intellectual and emotional journeys?

  4. The power of the MWB approach is in building commitment to action at the same time as defining strategic priorities. If you are comfortable with this idea, and your business needs to improve on both dimensions, then keep reading. If, however, you feel that separating strategic planning and team building is the best way forward, then MWBs are not the right solution for you.

  5. Are the most senior managers capable of handling such a major change?

  6. Most top teams need to change their behavior and mind set in order to lead a successful MWB journey. This change process can be particularly difficult if your organization is made up of independent fiefdoms led by strong-willed managers. Building these executives into a team will require a lot of debate and conflict, and as the leader you will need to manage the process. In spite of the fact that some managers will see themselves as losers in these debates, you need to keep them on board because you need everyone participating in your team at the top.

  7. If we get started, will we be able to sustain the momentum?

  8. After the kick-off event you will need to build a broad coalition of managers from all levels who will drive the MWB initiatives deep into the organization. How difficult will this be? How willingly will the organization at large embrace the idea of MWBs? You will have to monitor progress carefully, and find ways to re-energize the MWBs as you go.

  9. Given the challenges, are you ready to lead the journey?

  10. Do you have the skills and deep desire to lead such a journey? You will have to demonstrate a lot of flexibility and be willing to enter debates with an open mind, not always insisting on getting your way. And this will be an ongoing journey. Do you have the stamina? Stopping part way through is worse than not starting.

If your answer is yes to most of these questions, you should give serious thought to undertaking an MWB journey. If not, we nonetheless hope that you will find food for thought in these pages, and recognize the power of combining clarity of strategic focus with emotional commitment. Because whatever field and situation you are in, whatever the size of your business, strategic clarity and personal commitment are critical to achieving your goals.

Now, meet John Ryan. He’s a fictional character, but knows many of the senior managers we have worked with intimately because each of them is part of him.

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