Define Your Path

What Can You Actually See at 30,000 Feet?

I recall my first transatlantic flight to Europe some 20 years ago. Heading to Schiphol Airport in Holland on a traditional Boeing 747 I was eager and appreciative I would be making this trip. The business was going to expand its manufacturing presence in Europe and I was given the opportunity to help with the implementation of this undertaking. Given a short time to book the 7+ hour flight, prime seating was not available. I am a bit antsy and prefer the aisle. With some skill and luck I was able secure and sit by the window on this flight to Holland, not an optimal solution but thankfully I avoided the dreaded middle seat!

As this massive plane ascended into the late afternoon sky I watched out the window with a new found sense of interest. As this is no surprise to any of us, the objects on the ground were getting smaller but one could see far into the distance. As the plane reached its cruising altitude, I will choose 30,000 feet; objects on the ground were nothing but a blur! True, I could see far into the horizon but could not decipher the details on the ground from this vantage point.

So what does this have to do with business? Let me share my thoughts. In one of my past lives I was in a business with an uncertain future. We were struggling to keep market share and new products came to the market slowly. An individual joined the firm as the senior business leader with the express purpose to deploy a turnaround strategy. What was apparent in a short period of time, this business leader was always riding at 30,000 feet! Similar to the window seat on my transatlantic flight, the horizon (vision) was evident however the details were a blur. This leader’s expertise was only at the strategic level with broad thoughts not at the tactical or operational level where plans turn to actions. This individual could not implement. So is this a bad thing? I will say no with certain conditions. In our undergraduate and graduate teachings we learn the value and importance of a sound strategy. We as students are taught to fly at 30,000 feet. We must respect this fact, but behind a sound strategy are actions required to drive results. Without the latter failure is imminent.

We as current and future business leaders must determine how to translate what we see at 30,000 feet into a viable and usable plan. Convert the blur into something usable is a requirement. Insure we have the correct “tool box” to include people and process is necessary. Find the balance between micromanaging and hands off management. Reaching the destination still requires same distance to be covered, whether at 30,000 feet or on the ground. The only difference is point of reference!

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About the Author

Pete Papantos is an operations director at a Fortune 500 company. He is responsible for the global execution of their strategic plan and driving operational excellence using lean methods. In addition, Pete is a graduate instructor with emphasis in operations and strategic management — both in traditional and online settings.