There’s a lot of talk about the move from management to true leadership, as well as the need to be human in the face of data and the impending rise of the robots. It’s easy to get lost in it all and hard to really understand why any of it matters.
The truth is that when people thrive, our organizations thrive too, so the sole function of leadership should be to enable people to be their best and do their best work. Leaders today are the creators and custodians of platforms for human success.
Here are 10 ways every leader can contribute to the platform, enable people to thrive, drive organizational success and get more from their own role. These are inspired by research which has encountered leaders across organizations of all shapes and sizes, with common factors in success shining through.
Things move fast in modern business, and the people who have the greatest insight are those closest to the customer. Insight is the evidence that should drive strategy, and the faster we can access it and use it, the more plugged-in our organization is to what the world needs from it. Take time every day to talk to your people, find out how they are doing, and what issues they face. Then offer support and congratulate them on their success. In workplace change, one of the major factors that contributes to things going wrong—which happens in 70% of cases (McKinsey, 2015)—is the feeling that management isn’t listening. Give people a voice!
“Insight is the evidence that should drive strategy.” –Andy Swann
Your job as a leader is to ensure you have the right people, in the right places, doing the right things. If your recruitment process is right, then the people are right – there’s no need to micromanage every task. Trusting the individual to find their own best way to succeed, within the most basic parameters that they need to operate in, not only empowers them, but allows them to do their best work. It also reduces the workload of the leader – instead of box-ticking, you can be out there involved with your people and collecting valuable insight.
“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” –Ernest Hemingway
I’m not sure about you, but it’s hard for me to take much more of the political fights happening throughout my social media world. It’s obvious that we are in unchartered territory here in the United States because I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
“A person’s a person, no matter how small.” Dr. Seuss
I’ve seen leaders ask more questions to understand and clarify. Instead of proving someone wrong and the rightness of a position, I watched someone modify language and communication. Or, try this: Start with the positive before you believe the worst about someone. And especially gratifying was when two people agreed to actually talk. Yes, talk—you know, when you are actually sitting down, face-to-face and having a real conversation instead of a social media onslaught. What an idea! Finally, I was particularly pleased when someone took my counsel. My advice was to see if you could argue the other side passionately and factually. That required research and time, but I was told it was an incredibly enlightening process. He didn’t change his mind, but he did reach a common understanding with his friend.
“Leaders start with the positive, always believing the best first.” -Skip Prichard
Reduce emotions by hearing the stories behind the raw emotion
Modify language from extreme positioning
Increase face-to-face conversations
Learn to articulate the other side with passion and facts
I can’t say that I’m not frustrated with it all. I still cringe when I see someone post a question as bait ready to hook someone into an argument. At least now I’m hoping for a more positive resolution.
“Respect for ourselves guides our morals, respect for others guides our manners.” -Laurence Sterne
Ellen R. Auster and Lisa Hillenbrand are the authors of STRAGILITY:Excelling at Strategic Changes. Ellen Auster is Professor of Strategic Management at York University. Lisa Hillenbrand is the founder of Lisa Hillenbrand & Associates. Their new book provides an actionable guide to helping strategy turn into successful execution. The authors have joined forces and have a new consulting firm called Stragility Change Management.
I recently asked them about their research and work in helping leaders excel at strategic change.
“In a period of rapid structural change, the only ones who survive are the Change Leaders.” -Peter Drucker
Stragility is our word for Strategic, Agile, People Powered Change. It is the skills we all need to successfully lead organizational change. Tragically, 70% of changes fail — leaving companies and careers in ruin. Stragility skills can help all of us beat these odds. Whether you are a CEO, a midlevel manager, or front line supervisor, our book will help you lead successful change.
There are four critical Stragility Skills: sense and shift strategy, embrace the politics to build support for the change, inspire and engage the organization, and build change fitness to counter the change fatigue that is epidemic in our organizations today.
Skills to Excel at Strategic Changes
The title of Chapter 2 is intriguing “From Lock and Load to Sense and Shift.” Would you explain a little more about this shift in thinking?
Faced with relentless pressures, locking and loading on strategy is tempting but not a good idea. The world is always changing, and we need to stay ahead of the pack to succeed, or we’ll get blindsided. So sensing and shifting is about checking macro forces, keeping an eye on competitors’ moves, and watching those on the periphery on a regular basis. That way we can avoid, for example, what happened to Blackberry – once so dominant in cell phones, but so focused on competing incrementally that they totally missed the disruptive game-changing iPhone.
“Unless people are convinced about what you are asking them to do, they are not going to make it happen.” -Ravi Kant
Doing regular internal check-ins to see what’s working well that can be amplified or re-applied and to identify what’s not working well that needs to be addressed is also key to continuing to evolve and staying out in front.
For example, Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren has successfully steered Macy’s through a decade of growth by sensing and shifting strategies to delight customers. They’ve tailored offerings in each store, focused on developing employees’ selling skills, and become increasingly good at embracing new channels – like mobile and digital sales. We advocate that all organizations, big and small, sense and shift strategies to better serve customers and deliver their missions.
“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” -Plato
Politics is a negative word to most, but you say to embrace it. Why is this so critical to change management?
Ignoring politics or trying to push people forward when they’re resisting usually backfires and leads to more escalation not less. However, when we enroll people in the changes, understand their point of view, and address their concerns, then we not only can move forward, but we build commitment, passion and ownership. As a result, everyone offers their best ideas and helps to propel the change forward. Beyond the immediate change, this is also essential for creating receptivity to future changes.
In his first week as President of KFC, David Novak faced a national franchisee meeting full of angry franchisees. Business was soft and they were furious. In the face of this, Novak needed to marshal his political skills. Instead of getting defensive, he began the meeting by reminding everyone of their shared purpose and mission and then listened to concerns. Then, he divided the group into breakout sessions, each with the task of imagining they were President of KFC and coming up with an action plan. The groups returned with three proposals: improve quality, train people, and launch new menu items. And that’s what they did. And in the process they got back to growing. It is a great example of managing the politics and emotions of change.
McKinsey Study: Organizations built on strengths 2x more likely to succeed than those focused on problems.
Talk a little about the importance of key influencers in driving change.
Key influencers are individuals who are the opinion leaders in the organization. These key influencers often have the resources, skills or social networks needed to win over the hearts and minds of the larger group. Influencers can also be very helpful in enabling their groups or teams to understand the pros and cons of change from the standpoint of different stakeholders, and in persuading others to support the change.
In addition to listening and engaging with those predisposed positively towards the change, we also need to work with key influencers who are more skeptical. Most leaders are inclined to pay attention to the supporters and ignore the skeptics. As tempting as it is to walk away from so-called skeptics, this is rarely the best approach.
In reality, many are what we’d call “positive skeptics.” That is, they believe that the change has flaws that need to be addressed. Engaging these skeptics has many benefits. They can be catalysts for rethinking different aspects of the change to make it more successful – which can save teams months of rework by catching flaws early. Second, involving them often leads to their increased ownership and commitment. Instead of standing on the sidelines, they often become change as the change rolls out. Finally, engaging them sends a powerful signal to the rest of the organization that all voices and opinions are important, alternative points of view can be heard, and constructive feedback on this and future efforts is welcome.
“People often have insufficient understanding of why they need to change.”
A few years ago, I launched this blog with the idea of sharing insights, ideas, and inspiration. It is my hope that the lessons and ideas shared here help you in some way whether that is fast-tracking your career or overcoming procrastination.
When I started, I thought it was worth it if I made a real difference to just one person.
I’m happy to report that at least one person has found it life-changing. That person is me. I learn far more by sharing these ideas than you can imagine. What an incredible experience to have the opportunity to learn from so many people.
Thank you for reading, for commenting, and for sharing these posts. I appreciate all of you and look forward to getting to know you better in the coming months.
Below are some of the leadership interviews and posts with thought leaders from a variety of fields on numerous topics. I hope you find one you missed and that it positively influences your year ahead.
Here’s the point: Even if you find “playing politics” distasteful, as a leader you’re a part of your organization’s political environment whether you like it or not. That’s because any time a group of smart, ambitious, type-A, competitive, achievement-oriented people gets together, there will be conflict of various kinds.
“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” -Plato
In your leadership role, you will experience disagreements, deals gone sour, questionable ethics, undermining, jockeying for position, currying of favor, backbiting, and all of the unsavory things that arise when the stakes are high, resources are scarce, power is to be gained or lost, and reputations are on the line.
In short, this is politics.
The reality is that if you if you want to get things done, you need to learn to play the game well.
“If you want to get things done, you need to learn the game of politics.” -Joe Scherrer
Simply stated, your political force field consists of the dynamic interaction of leaders, each of whom seeks to:
use and increase their power in order to
advance and achieve their agendas and to
protect and satisfy their self-interest.
As a result your political force field fluctuates constantly as power is gained or lost, agendas succeed or fail, and self-interest is fulfilled or frustrated.
Let’s look at what it takes for you to maneuver successfully within your political force field.
3 Essential Keys for Successful Navigation
Of course, the ideal policy would be to act altruistically in the service of the organization with the expectation that those around you will do the same. However, since the real world falls short of the ideal, you must adopt other methods to navigate successfully through the human minefield that is the politics of leadership.
Key #1: Maintain Your Integrity.
Know what you believe in and remain grounded in your values. Although you’re playing in the arena of high-level professional politics, it’s neither necessary nor advisable to sacrifice your integrity to do your job.
Key #2: Realize You’re Not Above the Politics.
Since you’re part of the system, the way you handle yourself and deal with situations will cause the political force field around you to flux and change.
Key #3: Be Aware of the Politics.
Part of your problem-solving calculus and decision-making process must include an assessment of your political force field. Leaders who fail to account for the political situation wonder why their solutions don’t fly and their decisions fail.
Completing these five straightforward steps will allow you to map out your political force field, remain aware of your status within it, and take action to navigate it with confidence.
Step 1. Identify the key actors who make up the political situation in which you find yourself. List all the people who control, influence, or otherwise affect your ability to produce results and achieve your goals.