Comparing apples

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” (Albert Einstein)

From the Fibonacci of phlox and forget-me-nots to the extraordinary resilience of a garden-variety dandelion, many lessons can be gleaned from nature. Strong as an oak. Red as a rose. Blue as the sky. Quiet as a mouse. Noisy as an oyster.

“A noisy oyster?” you ask. Everything is possible in a metaphor.

When contemplating the nature of transformational change, it helps to think about nature itself, comparing apples to, well, apples.

inception slideleadership slideadaptation slidechallenges slidefruition slide

Further reading on: leaders, leadership and change management.

 

Leading

There is no substitute for experience, with many professional lessons learned by working with different leaders and different leadership styles and approaches. Here are some of the qualities I’ve found to be common in the best leaders – regardless of level – and the nuances that take them from good to great.

Integrity. Whereas authenticity is about being genuine in the moment, integrity speaks to creating and sustaining trust by what you say and do in the longer term, with words consistently matching behaviours.

Clarity. Great leaders are clear in their vision and communicate it in a way that engages and motivates. Leaders with clarity have the strategic foresight to divine the path toward the desired state and effectively lead others to achieve it. As thoughtful decision-makers, they consider the totality of the situation. Their measured approach arises not from a big-picture perspective, but a full-picture perspective. They don’t abandon the details, but consider the weight of their associated consequence accordingly.

Creativity. Great leaders can think outside the box even when they must live within it. They are the innovative pragmatists who navigate the limitations of the current state, facilitating forward motion toward positive change. They expertly translate by connecting dots and drawing pictures – through language, whiteboard, stylus or serviette – to ensure complexity is made clear.

Adaptability. While steadfast in their vision, great leaders adapt to evolving circumstances by updating plans and correcting the course as necessary. They don’t waste precious time and resources on lamentation, but remain sensitive to helping others along the way.

Humanity. The best leaders remember that people are behind every achievement. They value the strengths of individuals and build complementary teams. They treat everyone with respect and encourage others to do the same. They create a culture where competition truly is friendly, not fearful, and drive innovation through positive reinforcement. They also recognize the importance of coaching and mentoring future leaders for succession management.

Charisma. That certain je ne sais quoi, while not essential, certainly helps. It’s that special combination of ability and likeability which instils confidence and influences outcomes. When people speak a leader’s name with a degree of reverence when they’ve nothing to gain, charisma is at work.

Connectedness. The broader a leader’s network is, the greater the options and opportunities for recruiting the best talent and expertise. Acting as a conduit to connect others also builds the foundation for future partnerships.

Tips from the train

Tips from the train

During a recent morning commute, I overheard a conversation between what appeared to be two former colleagues. I wasn’t eavesdropping per se, but as their chatter effectively disrupted my usual quiet contemplation of the day past and the day ahead, I lent them an ear. After the usual exchange of pleasantries, they provided some excellent reminders about ‎what’s important for organizations undergoing significant change.

1. Within every larger workplace culture, there are many smaller workplace cultures.
If you want to influence individual groups within the whole, you need to do your homework and find out what matters to each group specifically and help them to understand how their role fits into the bigger picture. Nuances matter (i.e. don’t assume the accounting department is happy with that new electronic-only filing system unless you ask them).

‎2. Communicate often, both formally and informally.
They discussed a large, all-staff meeting where the delivery of information from certain speakers was far more memorable than what was actually said. How people felt about what was said stuck; not the messages themselves. Integrity and inspiration are essential to formal presentations like these, and in this case, the obvious sales pitch fell flat. If it’s not authentic, it won’t resonate.

Amplifying the message through informal dialogue is also important. People need to know that their ideas are heard and become part of the plan. It bolsters a sense of belonging and ensures that people have a say in determining their own destiny. This leads to engagement and investment in the change, and can turn naysayers to advocates.

3. Don’t underestimate the “contagion effect” of interdependent working groups.
The issues of one team affect others with close, interdependent working relationships even if the impacts are not experienced first-hand. Address emerging issues as they arise and similarly, share the success when milestones are achieved.

4. Expect people to talk publicly about what transpires, whether you want them to or not.
It’s human nature to celebrate and also to gripe. Give them more reasons for the former than the latter so that when the discussions occur in coffee shop lines, at baseball games or on subway trains, a positive narrative is left with bystanders instead of a cautionary tale.

Leading the way

paint brush

Leadership styles rise and fall in popularity and consequence with ‎the issues of the day, competitive influences, and evolving organizational priorities. There are the decisive, get-the-job-done-no-matter-what types, who charge forward and sometimes leave people feeling ignored, threatened or bewildered. Their opposites espouse a let’s-take-our-time-and-talk-about-our-feelings-on-this-change approach, sometimes losing the balance between morale-building and task completion. There are also the neck-deep-in-the-weeds types, who focus so much on detail that the bigger picture is lost. I once heard someone complain about this leadership style, declaring with exasperation, “Forest, trees, needles. They are always in the needles!”

Visionary leaders excite and inspire hard work as long as people share at least some of their enthusiasm and their vision is clearly articulated. By definition, visionary leaders think outside the confines of the current state, but they often have to wait for others to catch up. Patience and fortitude are required to bring visionary thinking to fruition, and these qualities may not be their strengths. They are the masters of the “What if?” scenario, generating multiple concepts to reach a novel ideal, but they are not always sure how to achieve it.

There is another kind of leader who can be a great asset to them: the innovative pragmatist. They’re usually found a few tiers down on the organizational chart as managers or team leads, and help visionary leaders achieve their goals by translating them into tangible, step-by-step results that lay tracks toward the new. Innovative pragmatists know how to maneuver effectively within the evolving current state and its sometimes scarce resources. They are creative and solutions-oriented, with the ability to motivate on-the-ground teams to support a changing corporate agenda.‎ They find better ways of doing things through incremental improvements that form the longer journey.

Organizational change – especially the transformational kind – cannot happen overnight. It takes planning, design and execution, with many course corrections along the way. Innovative pragmatists are the human equivalent of GPS: they know how to navigate the daily challenges and continue moving forward, rerouting plans as necessary. They also engage others in determining how to get from point-A to point-B and all of the other milestones along the way, ensuring everyone has a vested interest in reaching the destination.

When innovative pragmatists ascend the corporate ladder, the momentum they create goes with them. Like their visionary leader colleagues, they are capable of imagining ‎a better future state. Further, they know how to divine the path that leads from ‘here and now’ to ‘there and then.’ While they might not always captivate with the most glittery of ideas, they provide something no less inspirational: the strategic foresight that drives productivity and sustainable change.