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 the 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 lose 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.