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.
Jesse Lyn, more that merely a great list, these are foundational, timeless and transformational. #6 is perfectly expressed! The days of leaders pronouncing answers with certainty are a thing of the past. Thank you!
Indeed, the only thing wise leaders know for certain is that they don’t know everything. I appreciate your weighing in, Tom!
You have some very powerful statements, that hit hard to reality and so close to home (actually just wrote a blog with some similar ideas). Our organization is going through lots of change, including leadership. The individuals are becoming resistant and unproductive due to all the change and uncertainties. What are your types of changing the negative culture? How can leaders gain trust? How do you control productivity, and make individuals productive without controlling them? One of my favorite quotes from this, “strategic planning becomes strategic planning and doing.”
Good questions, Tammy. The best people to answer are the people in your company – from leaders to supervisors to individual contributors. Respecting people enough to engage them in the conversation is the first step in making the changes that are needed. There are many ways to approach change. You might find these articles helpful in determining your approach: 3 Approaches to Culture Change: What Works and 3 Guidelines to Avoid Resistance to Change Good luck!
What a great list! Thank you.
Thanks, Betsy. So glad you found it meaningful.
OK, Jesse..I didn’t think your writing could get any better but this piece is so clear, so hones, so upfront AND exactly what we need in all leaders. As I look at the presidential campaign, my question is which candidate acknowledges these truths. Ummm It’s why we crafted http://www.trueleadecreed.com A million thanks for an amazing piece of work.
Thanks, Eileen. Your “True Leadership Creed” is a great way for people who believe in these leadership principles to make a statement.
Nailed it, Jesse. You had me at “You can’t go back.”
It continually surprises me how many times you hear about “the good old days” in one form or another. What doesn’t surprise me is that the research says that we are all delusional about those days; that we make stories up to bolster our ego or worldview.
This post was so good that you could take each one of the 10 as the subject for your next 10 posts.
Great point about nostalgia and how the stories we tell about it reinforce our worldview. You reminded me how it keeps us locked in certain ways of thinking that shape the way we see our current experiences. By changing the meaning we have assigned to events, we can free up the possibility of new experiences and new ways of thinking. Thanks for your kind words about this post, Mark. Indeed it simply touched on each topic and there is much more to be said about each.
Numbers 3 and 5 are my favorites. Thanks!
Thanks, Fay. Did you watch Halla Tomasdottir’s TedTalk? Powerful
What a total pleasure to read, Jesse. These are all the issues leaders are either struggling with – often still coming down on the wrong side – or avoiding altogether. Though because they have a sense something is undermining their once solid surface, they no longer find it possible to head off in the wrong direction confidently.
I think these 10 principled concepts are going to be very helpful. This is not an objective survey; each discussion identifies clearly the right side to land on and why.
And yes, I saw Halla’s talk – it has taken so long to see that male and female differences are so very useful, and to say that these differences are crucial to global survival. Totally Agree.
Appreciate your description of the effect of these issues on leaders today. I believe we are in an interesting time of transition which is inevitable, and that understanding these truths can help leaders support the transition. Much thanks for your clarifications and insights, Sharon!
Thanks Jesse for this list. Excellent insight to what will and no longer work as an organizational leader.
The last sentence of #10 is the only way I ever believed strategic planning would be useful. So I applaud your succinct ‘definition’.
I believe all ten of these could be wrapped up into a neat, tight package, they would make for a great ‘foundation’ to develop upon and and implement a culture of accountability.
Interesting idea to look at these as the foundation for a “culture of accountability.” Thanks for that thought and for your kind words, Steve.
I would like to use this in the Coast Guard Auxiliary Deck Plate Leadership program. I cite the author and the web site. I make up a story board which is used to create a video. Thanks.
I am glad you are interested in using this in your program. We will send you a private email about how to obtain permission.
Thanks, Jesse, for sharing wonderful insight on leadership. All TEN points are wonderful starting points for an enriching discussion on the topic.
A leader certainly cannot go back in times. He cannot continue to live in the past. However, he can always go back to the boardroom and make changes in his strategies and decisions. Sometimes he can take a U-turn on his previous decision as you mentioned in your following point, “You are not in control”. A leader presents an idea, shows a direction, led in a director, however, once he has done his part, the market and customers take control of it. They can either accept the idea and approach or they can suggest changes.
People don’t belong to a leader. They follow a leader for a vision and a value system and for his promise of helping them fulfill their dreams. Any change in the vision, value systems, and goals will deviate people to another leader.
Thanks again for sharing wonderful note.
So glad my post stimulated your thinking, Sanjeev. You remind me of the very important space between understanding you are not in control and that you do have a choice to change your behavior. Perhaps a good metaphor would be gardening? Thanks so much for sharing your insights and deepening the conversation.