The fastest transition from inept to adept occurs when leaders turn the topic of change on themselves. When was the last time you changed something about you? Not someone or something else, but your thinking, your philosophy, your vision, your approach, your attitude, or your development. Most leaders are quite skilled at embracing change – except when the focus of the change initiative happens to be on them.
Turn Innovation Inward.
Innovation continues to be a hot topic, and rightly so. Few things can change the course of a project, career, company, category, or industry like successful efforts in innovation. That said, there is one aspect of business often-overlooked by change agents when it comes to innovation, and it also happens to be the area that offers the greatest potential returns – leadership. If we’re consistently talking about the importance of leading change, it should be just as important to recognize the importance of changing how we approach the practice of leadership. The truth of the matter is if leaders spent half as much time applying the rigor and discipline of change to themselves as they do talking about the practice to others, I wouldn’t be authoring this post.
The Practice of Leadership is in need of a Makeover – an Extreme One.
“Leadership” has been inappropriately hi-jacked by the politically correct who mock it, the avant-garde who belittle it, the naive who discount it, and the public who seems to be growing tired of hearing about it. There was a time when the dismissive attitude people displayed toward leadership befuddled me. I was left wondering how we could have arrived at such a place? How could something so valuable be trivialized by so many? Then it dawned on me – people are tired of leaders who talk about change, but fail to embrace the concept they too must change.
Are We Better Off Today?
Think about this for a moment – with all our experience and all the research, with all the resources and all the focus on leadership, do you find it perplexing, if not altogether disturbing, that our world has never been more lacking for true leaders? Casual observation might lead you to conclude leadership has devolved rather than evolved. If you pay close attention to the media and world events, it would appear those serving themselves greatly outnumber those who place service above self. Here’s the thing - we’ll never all agree on what leadership is, or is not, but I think most reasonable people will concur it’s time for a change.
Society has essentially commoditized leadership resulting in a leadership bubble of sorts. Because leadership has become the latest version of an entitlement program, too many unqualified leaders have been allowed to enter the ranks. When leadership is perceived as little more than a title granting access to a platform for personal gain, rather than a privilege resulting in an opportunity to serve, we’ll find it difficult to convince leaders of the need for change. We’ll also continue to find ourselves in a crisis of leadership. We must either convince poor leaders to change their approach or we must change leaders.
It’s The People – Always.
At its essence, leadership is about people. At its core, leadership is about improving the status quo, inspiring positive change, and challenging conventional thinking. As long as positional and philosophical arguments are more important than forward progress, as long as being right is esteemed above being vulnerable and open to new thought, as long as ego is elevated above empathy and compassion, as long as rhetoric holds more value than performance, and as long as we tolerate these things as acceptable behavior, we will all suffer at the hands of poor leadership resistant to change.
Don’t Wish for Change – Demand It.
So, how do we get leaders to change – we demand it. It’s less about structure and more about vision and philosophy. Nothing inspires change and innovation like great leadership, and likewise, there is no more costly legacy system to maintain than poor leadership. It is tolerating poor leadership as the norm, and not the exception, which allows the status quo to prosper, and the inept to thrive.
Organizations should strive for and demand that a culture of leadership replace rigid frameworks. We must transition from highly structured organizations to loose communities of collaborative networks. Complex decisions should no longer be reserved for someone sitting atop a hierarchical structure, but must be driven to the absolute edges of the organization. Think open-source not proprietary, adaptive not static, actionable not theoretical, and progressive not regressive. The best way to create a culture of leadership is to value and reward authentic and effective leadership open to change. Create a culture based upon an ethos that empowers, attracts, differentiates, and sustains. The only culture that flourishes over the long haul is a culture of leadership. A culture of leadership can only exist where the willingness to change is valued.
By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth
“You can either manage the legal process, or let it manage you.”
Lawyers – just the word conjures up negative feelings for many. The funny thing is even a lot of lawyers tend to dislike other lawyers. But regardless of your feelings for the legal profession, dealing with attorneys just goes with the territory when you’re a CEO. Whether you have a large in-house legal staff, and/or manage a series of one-off external legal relationships, not understanding how to effectively work with your legal advisors can at a minimum be a source of frustration, and worst case it can be a career ender.
There’s often a very subtle difference between those who lead and those who lead well – those who lead well are very forward focused. If you’re more interested in protecting what is than you are finding the answer to what if you might be in a leadership role, but your likely not leading well. Order isn’t all it’s cracked-up to be. In fact, I’d go so far as to say routine is the great enemy of leaders. Conformity to the norm does little more than pour the foundation of obsolescence by creating an environment that shuns change rather than embraces it. Disruption is never found by maintaining the status quo, but it’s most commonly revealed in the chaos that occurs by shattering the status quo. Smart leaders don’t think “best” practices – they focus their attention on discovering “next” practices. The simple fact of the matter is too many leaders are concerned with fixing things, when what they should be doing is breaking things.
The principles outlined in the opening paragraph apply to every facet of business, but nowhere do they create more impact than when applied to leadership itself. You see, leadership development and succession are only positive practices if they’re applied to those worthy of the investment. Do you ever wonder how businesses can fall from the pinnacle of success to the depths of stagnation in only a few short years? One of the main contributors to corporate stagnation and decline is keeping the wrong leaders in place for the wrong reasons. My premise is a simple one – because the marketplace is ever changing, corporate leadership must adapt and change with the times in order to survive. Leaders who are not growing simply don’t have the capability to lead a growing organization.
The point I ask you to ponder is this: Leadership teams often espouse the need for change and innovation, but rarely apply this thinking to themselves – why? Ego, pride, arrogance, fear, or just being out of touch with reality can cause major blind spots. Leadership is not a right of entitlement, but rather a privilege that must be earned. Leaders who view themselves as a protected class are leaders not living-up to their obligations and responsibilities. Leadership teams on autopilot, while they may be adept at maintaining course, will rarely soar to new heights. If you take one thing away from today’s message it should be this: the most costly legacy system a company can maintain is poor leadership.
A lack of fluidity, development or contextual savvy can cripple even category dominant brands. Case in point – I recall reading an interview with Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of GE in which he touted the fact that his top 175 executives have been with the company an average of 21 years. While Mr. Immelt may actually believe this is a good thing, I would submit it is far from a foregone conclusion. Creating a fraternity does not constitute great leadership. It is simply not possible that all 175 of these executives have been the best people for their respective positions for the last two decades. A cursory examination of GE’s stock performance over the last decade would tend to support my logic.
Need to reinvigorate a stale enterprise? Try changing the corporate landscape by shifting existing roles and responsibilities, or by bringing in fresh talent from the outside. If you want to drive innovation, lead change, and create growth, stir the pot – go break something. It has been my consistent experience that when longevity of leadership is brandished as a badge of honor, it is usually just the opposite. The length of someone’s tenure is not nearly as important as whether they are the best person for the job. Smart companies realize that if someone is performing below expectations, they need to be coached to productivity or replaced – there is no third option if a healthy organization matters to you.
Static organizations tend to embrace comfort zones, and are often built upon the “DITWLY” (Did It That Way Last Year) principle. This attitude precludes the advancement of change initiatives and cripples innovation. Albert Einstein said it best when he noted “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result each time.” Be the leader who is never satisfied with what is – be the leader who is focused on what if? Savvy leaders understand “fixing” something creates a false sense of completion, whereas “breaking” something creates a vision for a new beginning.
I’m asking you to consider breaking the existing leadership paradigms within your organization. Find a few sacred cows and lead them to slaughter. Examine what you measure and why you measure it. Look at how decisions are made and who is allowed to make them. Inject youth where none presently exists. Replace the office squatters (those who have mentally quit, but failed to physically leave). Don’t reward static thinking, encourage dissenting opinion and diversity of thought. Go break something.
The bottom line is this…Great leaders constantly challenge the present in order to find the path to the future. They challenge themselves, and they encourage others to challenge them as well. Leadership isn’t about being right, it’s about achieving the right outcome. Don’t agonize over this, and don’t ask permission; go break something. Meritocracy or Mediocrity – the choice is yours…
Negotiation isn’t all it’s cracked-up to be. In fact, I believe negotiation to be an inherently flawed business practice. Negotiation is not an art to be mastered, rather it’s a sloppy approach to be avoided. While many a consultant, author and trainer have made personal fortunes teaching the finer points of negotiation, it is my belief they have accomplished little more than to create legions of inept business people who view themselves as being much more savvy than they actually are. If you’re truly interested in becoming more sophisticated and effective in your approach to reaching an agreement, then I would suggest you replace your tendencies to negotiate with something more substantive…
There are many who would say negotiation is just part of doing business, and that you cannot be successful as a leader without becoming a great negotiator. Conventional thinking would have you believe that to be a skilled negotiator is to be held in high esteem in the world of business, and in some circles, is worn as a proud badge of honor. It would lead you to further believe if you possess a reputation as a shrewd negotiator, then you would certainly be feared in the boardroom as an adversary to be reckoned with.
WAKE UP – please don’t tell me you’ve fallen for the ego-centric propaganda supported by conventional wisdom. True wisdom is rarely conventional, nor does it encourage being a bad actor in a charade. If you find yourself negotiating you are likely doing little more than posturing, spinning, manipulating, being slick, and perhaps even deceitful. Negotiation by its nature is a zero-sum game (my gain is your loss). In other words, the goal at the outset of a negotiation is to benefit from someone else’s loss, which should be an unacceptable premise for doing business. If your goal is to be feared, to take advantage of a person/situation/circumstance, or to manipulate an outcome to meet your needs, then you may be many things, but a leader is not one of them.
Win-Win Scenarios Do Exist – But Only If You Look for Them
Sure, there are those who say “win-win” scenarios are altruistic fantasies that don’t exist, but I’m here to tell you all good agreements are in fact win-win scenarios. Negotiation is adversarial, and savvy leaders focus on expanding relationships and spheres of influence, not shrinking them by creating enemies. When you’ve concluded an agreement with someone, wouldn’t it be better to have them be excited about doing business with you again, as opposed to spending hours in reflective thought regretting the day they met you? When I hear someone reminisce about the great deal they just negotiated all I can think of is, will the deal stick, and even if it does get traction, what about the bad taste left in the mouth of the other party? While it may seem tempting to exploit the immediacy of a situation or circumstance, the long-term consequences of such actions are detrimental to your reputation and credibility.
So, if you don’t negotiate what do you do? Try engaging in meaningful conversation – one where you listen more than you speak. Negotiations look for a victory, while good discussions look to create opportunities for others, to add-value, to align interests, to understand needs, to facilitate, enable, educate, mentor, and inform. Smart leaders influence rather than negotiate. They seek the correct outcomes rather than just seeking to win. Conversations are not competitions – you don’t win them, but you should enrich them. Don’t be lazy and trick somebody just because you’re smart and you can, rather be a professional, do your homework and help people attain their goals & objectives.
I don’t know about you, but I know how it feels when someone is “negotiating” with me vs. how it feels when someone is having a “discussion” with me. They are not one in the same, and the latter is definitely preferable over the former. Think about it like this – you cannot lose a negotiation you don’t become a party to. When a one sided negotiation is taking place the other party cannot prevail as they are simply negotiating against themselves. Don’t get sucked into the flawed logic that negotiation is a tool for the powerful – it’s not.
What say you?