In recruiting leaders, many CEOs speak to us about how their leadership is being challenged from technological, societal and shareholder perspectives and at an accelerated pace. Surprisingly few appreciate the importance of their “organization’s soul”… much more than a market or shareholder value proposition.
“The hardest thing to see is what is in front of your eyes.” –Goethe
Simply, as in Starbucks’ case, now with Disney and as we have seen in many others, leaders who don’t appreciate and act consistently on what the company truly stands for (e.g. Apple/“Think Differently”) regardless of “changing conditions” …can’t move their organizations fast enough to compete even if their executives acknowledge that speed and adjusting to conditions is paramount to winning or, in crisis, to survive.
What’s Holding Leaders Back?
Truly, it’s rarely about “limited resources.”
On balance, it’s more about having courageous leaders who step back and acknowledge the importance of, and truly understand, the critical and sensitive role of culture… making their norms work while outmaneuvering barriers. This means acknowledging the important role that the cultural norm of trust play for leaders in successfully challenging the status quo while addressing the pace of change. It requires a leadership sensitivity blended with boldness to reexamine “what we are at our core and what we stand for” to effectively reprioritize and reposition…to have the gumption to let go of past norms and the limits of expectations… options that no longer show, on balance, future promise… to shift to new disciplines and a way of identifying, evaluating and executing those alternatives via the teams that must deliver the outcomes of higher opportunity.
When the Bonds Are Broken
So, if a CEO doesn’t lead with a sensitivity to “organizational soul,” the risk of a successful transformation will result in a high degree of failure… Note: over 70% of transformations fail to meet expectations. Simply, the most successful require leaders who buy into a cultural value-based belief system that embraces and continually underscores the value of adjustments, however minor, every day.
“Three What If” and “How” Questions
- To offset blockages/resistance in making big shifts and to set a path forward, what if our leadership approached our culture more inclusively and embraced organizationally anxiety differently?
- While reaffirming our corporate soul, how can we refine, clearly set out and communicate the steps we must take now to accelerate?
- What do these questions teach us about how we learn, embrace the debate of different perspectives and execute?
Inevitably, the answers to these questions will lead to others centering on ways to gain team commitment to achieve meaningful and differentiated contributions, recognizing the necessity of an ongoing effort to change/adjust the mindset by which decisions are taken.
While values remain, if these inquiries and their implications are taken seriously, they will redefine and sharpen the cultural contract between leaders and their teams. Successes will reinforce the “organizational soul” and beliefs of its leaders.
The Bottom Line: Buying In
It takes steel-eyed leadership, determination and courage to make this happen.
To succeed now, given the challenges of performance under uncertainty, leaders must accept, communicate and act in a new more holistic manner and be cognizant of how the importance of aligning their culture’s “organizational soul” to their team’s commitment to agility necessary to drive superior performance. This translates to establishing and underscoring the values that leaders expect… a necessary element of getting everyone on board.
With vigilance and consistency, monitor the way messages (spoken and unspoken) are communicated and received. Disruptions and inconsistencies are costly and taking corrective actions is expensive. Quick fixes rarely work.
Most importantly, if your executives… no matter how “talented” or given past achievements… can’t relate to, nor translate/make “come alive,” your “organizational soul,” part company. The risk of retaining such leaders inevitably will result in a missed opportunities to sustain and create value.
Moreover, in recruiting key executives, go beyond evaluating experiences and achievements. Dive deeply into their value systems to assure that your “organizational soul” and performance will be enhanced by a candidate’s addition.
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