As a new CEO, Lou Gerstner once said that the "last thing IBM needs right now is a vision." What it needed was to bring a sense of urgency and focus on execution to an organization that had become stuck in its ways and teetered on the edge of bankruptcy. He is widely credited with reversing the fortunes of this giant of industry.

In the 20 years since Gerstner's retirement, the pace of change has only accelerated.

When things are moving so quickly—exponential technological progress, a fracturing world order, extreme weather events, or the next pandemic—the best-laid, five-year strategy will never beat focused and rapid execution.

Careful planning has a place, but it cannot become a crutch or an excuse for a failure to act.

The stakes are going up. Gaps between the winners and losers are increasing. In our annual AlixPartners Disruption Index, we looked at those companies that were growing both revenues and profits the fastest. What truly set this group apart is that they are more likely to be increasing their investments in technology and people, and they are bolder—more focused on action, rather than analysis or planning.

Falling behind—whether that means not keeping pace with shifting consumer behaviors or no longer being a locus of high-quality talent or allowing supply chain snarls to metastasize into full-blown crises—can quickly imperil the future of your company.

Growth leaders are less satisfied, and they show a determination to perform even better.

That requires a focus on many different things, which I explore further in a recent Harvard Business Review article with my friend and colleague David Garfield:

  • Getting the right people into place
  • Investing in the right technologies
  • Developing and streamlining processes and operations
  • Laying out scenarios so you can move quickly and confidently as conditions change

But one of the most essential ingredients—and, too often, a single point of failure—is leadership. Those leaders who exhibit focus and pace--the leaders of best-in-class companies—have what I call a "turnaround mindset". More on that in my next post.

Read more of Simon's 'Leadership on a tightrope' series:

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