Q&A with Jesse Stoner on Challenges Facing Leaders Today
Why Smart People Make Dumb Decisions

leaders need to know

You might get away with ignoring these truths for the short term. You can rally people with charisma and through fear for the short term. But if you care about the long term, to successfully face today’s challenges, leaders need to know how to deal with these 10 truths.

1. You can’t go back.
It’s a waste of time trying to make your organization “great again.” The future does not lie in the past. If you want your organization to be effective over the long-term, don’t rely on inducing nostalgia. Instead of trying to go back, go forward. What does great look like in today’s world? Articulate an inclusive vision of a positive future that resonates throughout your entire organization – a vision that unifies and mobiles people to move forward together. Walls do not make your organization strong. To create a strong organization you must unite disparate factions.

2. You are not in control.
You cannot dictate what will happen. It doesn’t matter what level you are at. You might be able to control things when you’re around, but don’t count on it when you’re not present. People follow leaders by choice. You can get compliance through imposing your authority, but you will not get people’s commitment or full engagement. And if you push too hard, you will meet a passive resistance that grows to match your own efforts.

3. Your people are not your people.
They can’t be owned. They are not assets or resources. They are human beings, and not to be taken for granted. Your organization does not exist without them. The health and well-being of an organization is dependent on the health and well-being of all its members.

Your role is not to manage people, but to bring them together to engage in dialogue around mutual concerns, to help them develop the skills they need, to provide feedback, to remove roadblocks, and to provide resources that enable them to do their work. People want their organizations to be successful, and when their participation is valued and utilized, they respond with their best thinking and contribute fully.

4. Everything you say and do is now public knowledge, or will be soon.
Technology has created the opportunity for information to be accessible, whether you want to share it or not. Values-driven leadership is essential. You can’t hide your morals behind closed doors. It might once have been possible to get away with questionable ethics, but there’s nowhere to hide anymore. When you are a leader, your actions are being scrutinized every moment. Everything you say and do is magnified. Your character is your most precious asset. Don’t squander it frivolously. Behave as if everything you do will become public knowledge, because it likely will.

5. If everyone on your team is the same, you need a new team.
It might feel comfortable if everyone on your team looks the same, acts the same and shares the same mindset. But don’t count on original thinking or the ability to respond to unpredicted challenges and opportunities. In fact, you probably won’t recognize opportunities and you might not notice the challenges until it’s too late.

The perspectives that others bring because of their gender, nationality, etc. make discussions richer, more robust, and more relevant. Conflict and disagreement, when focused on the issues (not on personality), serve as the “grain of sand in the oyster” to produce creative new ideas, approaches and solutions. If there is any question in your mind about this, watch Halla Tomasdottir‘s TedTalk on how her financial services firm used five traditionally “feminine values” to lead Iceland’s recover from their economic collapse in 2008.

6. Your questions are more important than your answers.
Instead of seeing your role as providing answers, good leaders ask really good questions. Before jumping to a conclusion, ask questions that increase possibilities like “What don’t we know yet?” Asking questions like “what do you think?” invites others to share thoughts you might not have considered. And these kinds of questions help people find their own solutions.

7. Your competitive advantage lies is your ability to collaborate.
You have a choice: compete for market share or expand the market. Make the shift from a zero sum game mindset to a collaborative mindset. Power in the 21st century is about making alliances, not coming out on top. Collaboration is one of the four fundamental principles described in reknown futurist Don Tapscott’s TedTalk on “Four Principles for the Open World.” Creating productive partnerships with other organizations changes your competitive advantage to what Rosabeth Moss Kanter calls a Collaborative Advantage.

8. Your footprint matters.
How you impact your environment affects the success of your organization over the long-term. The world is too interconnected now to take an isolationist stance or to be unconcerned with the well-being of the environment that hosts your organization. Organisms that take from their environment and don’t give back are in effect parasites. And it is a law of nature that parasites die if they kill their host. This is true with the physical environment and also in relation to other organizations. Tred lightly. You become stronger by treating those who are not part of your organization with respect, not distain.

9. You are better off in the matrix than the pyramid.
Hierarchical structures create boundaries that impede work, not support it. Silos didn’t work well before, and they are impossible in today’s world. The work is too complex and the world too interconnected.

Hierarchical structures do not produce good leadership. Too many people with the designated title of “leader” are not leading at all. And often the real leadership that occurs emerges from within the organization, not from the top. Hierarchical systems replicate parent–child relationships and create dependency. Worse yet, these authority-based systems are a breeding ground for abuse of power and are prone to creating oppressive work environments.

Matrix structures and networks are messy. It’s difficult to see the whole picture. But leadership can emerge where it is needed, not necessarily from an assigned position. And innovation and creative solutions emerge more naturally as a result of the informal interactions that occur between individuals.

10. Your strategic plan is useless.
You no longer have the luxury of time to plan everything out before you start a new project or change initiative. And even if you do, it’s likely that unforeseen circumstances will send you back to the drawing board. However, jumping ahead with no plans is a recipe for disaster. Instead of strategic planning, with planning and execution as separate steps, approach it as an iterative process. Do both at the same time. Think of it as building the vehicle while you are driving it. Strategic planning becomes strategic thinking and strategic doing. It’s a way of doing work on an ongoing basis, not a one-time activity.

10 Awful Truths Leaders Need to Know
Photo credit: Bigstock/Andrey Kuzim

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