Choice is a critical element in being a leader. This choice is made daily, during challenging times, moment to moment. The choice to be a leader can be thought of as choosing between the comfortable and familiar vs. potential discomfort and unfamiliarity. Articulating this choice so as to be understood is challenging.
Robert Frost gives us a wonderful analogy for this choice, and the journey which follows in his classic poem, “The Road Not Taken”. This poem describes the story of a person walking in the woods who comes to a fork in the road and has to choose one of the two paths. The choice is between the familiar and comfortable vs. the less familiar and therefore less comfortable. This poem speaks to the heart of the matter for being a leader. The poem reflects a personal choice that is faced, like a fork in the road. The road less traveled is the only one that will create sufficient possibility for enrolling and inspiring others. The road frequently taken is the comfortable, familiar road that will feel good but not produce the desired outcomes.
The starting point for talking about business transformation is leadership. Leadership is the lifeblood of transformation. Transformation simply will not happen without leadership. This leadership begins with executives and senior managers. For this leadership to be successful, there are 7 hurdles which executives must overcome for success.
They involve understanding and accepting the following:
Importance of Personal Involvement
Leadership and Management are Different
Embrace Feeling Odd or Strange
Commit to Being a Team
Engage and Unleash Informal Leaders
Importance of Inspiring and Mobilizing People
Prepare Your Team for a Breakdown
Writing in the Financial Times, Simon Caulkin asked a powerful question: “Have we created an unachievable myth of leadership?” His opening paragraph said:
Leadership is possibly the most written, lectured, TED-talked and blogged about topic in management. Companies in the US alone are reckoned to spend $14bn-$20bn on leadership development and training every year. It is a staple of business courses. Yet despite the confidence with which formulae are dispensed for success in transformational, authentic, servant or level-five leadership, to name some current varieties, it may also be the least understood.
Not only are the concepts of leadership misunderstood, but confidence in leaders is also low. Calkin wrote:
Consider: never has public trust in corporate leaders been so low. That may be no surprise. Among contributory causes to the crash of 2008, leadership failure ranks high, as it does in the rule of greed and the rise of inequality. Other leaders do not trust them: witness the increasing speed with which boards push peers out of top office. That is no surprise either, given the finding of a survey of research studies of leadership compiled by the Center for Creative Leadership, a training provider, that half of all managers and leaders are seen as “a disappointment, incompetent, a mis-hire or a complete failure” in their current role. In another study, 35 percent of US employees said they would forgo a pay raise to see their direct supervisors fired.
He went on to ask, “Have we created unrealistic expectations that those at the top will never be able to match?” Clearly, Caulkin presents impressive data about disappointments with leadership and raises an interesting question about myths regarding leadership.
Why does it matter what the word leadership means? What difference does it make to people who are already too busy doing their “day jobs”?
That’s a great question. Let’s see if this sounds familiar:
In business organizations around the world the tempo continues to increase to the point that it seems like there is not enough time to do the basics, much less worry about leadership. Further, the magnitude of challenges in markets and the competitive landscape are accelerating. The digitization of many industries and other forms of disruptive changes is altering the landscape. Technology, which was intended to make our lives easier, seems to have made it more complicated. There are endless meetings which, if well done, produce an array of action items. The challenge is to become more disciplined and organized in order to stay on top of things, because it seems we never have enough time.
Did at least some of those statements sound familiar? I hear them all the time. When I’m listening to executives and managers say these things, I listen patiently. Then, when the other person has finished talking, I say “Yes, you have just given an excellent description of the challenges facing management”. Then I ask, “So what’s missing?” Slowly the answer turns to, “We are so busy dealing with the day-to-day that we have little time to think about growth and innovation”. For most organizations, growth and innovation will not happen naturally. It requires attention and interventions to promote change.
In short, it requires leadership.
Topics: Leadership Accountability
“What is Leadership?” is an interesting question.
At first this may seem like a dumb question, since “everyone knows” what leadership is. That is, each person knows how they use the term leadership. In spite of our confidence that we all know the answer to “What is Leadership?”, in reality the best answer might be “It depends”. To be thorough, the most accurate response is “It depends on the context in which the word leadership is used”.
Let’s explore that further. Each of us uses a word like leadership inside of a context in which we are thinking at that moment. To better understand the word context, think of it as assumptions, beliefs, and experiences which, while in the background, actively shape how a person perceives events and phenomenon as they occur. While we are largely unaware of our contexts, these contexts shape our experiences, perceptions and thinking. As example, if you are in a business conversation, the term leadership will be shaped by your experiences in business as well as how the organizations with which you are engaged use the word leadership.
The context in which words are used clearly shapes the meaning of that word. As example, consider how the word beauty takes on very different meanings given the specific context. “Beauty” can be used to describe an attractive woman as well as “beauty products”. However, the same word (beauty) can be used to describe a physical injury to the eye (a black eye as expressed as “that shiner’s a real beauty”), and many physical objects such as an auto, classic sailboat, etc. Same word, but very different meanings given the context in which the word is used.
Leadership is crucial for business. Leadership is a starting point of strategy. It’s the magic elixir for achieving sustainable growth and value creation. Leadership is at the heart of engaged employees, innovation and vibrant cultures. It is what makes organizations thrive and prosper. Yet for all its importance, leadership is widely misunderstood because many people consider leadership and management to be the same. This confusion is evident as these two terms are routinely used as if they were interchangeable.
While they are both very important for a business, they are not the same. Management and leadership are different, though both are important. Most businesses will not be successful over time without the contributions of both management and leadership. But make no mistake, they are different.
Topics: Leadership Accountability
(Author's note: this is a long-form (7,500 word) thought leadership article on the importance of transformation in the execution of growth strategies. To download the PDF version, go here.)
Growing a business is a daunting task for many, if not most, executives. While growth is considered fun, and what executives dream of being engaged in, achieving sustainable growth is another story. For example, meaningful growth requires leadership skills, not simply management know-how. While executives may bristle at this assertion, their angst is based in the assumption that they are already skilled leaders—typically, nothing could be further from the truth. They likely are skilled managers, but they equate management capabilities with leadership capabilities. Therein lies the problem.
Successful growth strategies, by definition, require transformation of the organization, which can only happen with strong leadership. Strong leadership is ultimately needed throughout the entire organization and must start as a model from the very top.
Topics: Strategic Execution
I frequently hear the question, “How do I know that we are doing the right things to execute our growth strategies and transform our organization?” What a great question! To have the insight to craft such a question, one has to be aware that executing strategies and transforming organizations requires something “out of the ordinary”. Success in creating value through growth strategies and transformation requires an exceptional approach. Simply doing more of the same is unlikely to be successful, so something out of the ordinary is required. This level of change requires strong leadership. It will not happen simply through good management. Strong leadership must be actively involved.
This brings us to the question of “how do I know we are doing the right things?”
The answers center around:
* “Are you being a leader?”
* “Can your leadership fingerprints be seen on the execution actions and change efforts?”
Begin with Value
Laying the foundation for successful transformation begins with stark clarity on how the organization creates value. Then an assessment is made of the level of value which meets or exceeds expectations of key stakeholders. Growth is the secret for sustaining outstanding levels of value creation. Outstanding success in delivering value will lead to the desired branding, competitive position and reputation for the organization. The reasons for transforming an organization should be obvious to those who are looking with “open eyes”. It should be well understood that success in this current transformation will require changing the mindset of frontline employees, which in turn will translate into their actions on what may initially seem like “fuzzy little things” but can turn into big things.
Elements for Achieving Success in Transformation
We assert that achieving success in transformation requires:
- Dynamic, strong leadership. The word leadership is used here to have meaning very different from management
- Clarity on the Invented Future which the transformation is designed to achieve
- Clarity of the architecture or design for the transformation
- Comprehensive use of change elements known to be effective in transforming organizations
- Engaging the hearts and minds of people to the point that they drive change